Players Accuse Tiny Tina From Borderlands 2 Of 'Verbal Blackface' [UPDATE]

Today, an argument broke out on Twitter between Anthony Burch, lead writer on Borderlands 2 and players who think that Tiny Tina is a racist character. The issue, as some folks saw it, was that Tiny Tina appropriated African American lingo. See above video, which showcases Tiny Tina dialogue, if you want reference.

The argument on Twitter, which ends with Burch saying he'll consider changing her, is as follows:

Whether or not a change in Tina's character will actually occur is not clear, though I suspect many fans would be upset if she was altered: she is frequently cited as a favourite character.

I reached out to Burch and have yet to hear back.

UPDATE: Some are even defending Tina, as not all players believe she is racist (including Gearbox president, Randy Pitchford):

Though this is but a small sampling of the response Burch is getting, which you can view here.

I reached out to Burch and have yet to hear back.

UPDATE 2: Burch responds and clarifies:


    If she actually does offend anyone then that's their problem, this political-correctness trend of late is ridiculous!

      Bang on! Anyone who's seen an ep of "Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?" would see that, this is what Ashley Burch sounds like, and no one is criticizing her for being anything close to 'racist in that. Some of these people need to watch an episode of that (including Patricia) before they jump to conclusions, or hit us with shitty articles.

      Last edited 03/02/13 10:29 pm

        Shitty article?

        I don't see Patricia passing judgement anywhere, she's simply reporting on valid game-related news. Sure, people are over-reacting, but this is an issue at the moment.

          No, you're right, shitty was excessive, but I feel like she really overreaches in some of her articles sometimes, particularly when she wants to make a point. And to a degree, so does this one. You can say she's simply reporting it, but, as in science, you can't observe something without affecting it. Pat's commenting on this is possibly from her need for others to see this, or maybe because she may feel others would want to know about this, either way, but by posting this, she's becoming an element in this story, even if only in the tiniest way. Most of the articles I've seen on this (and I've read about 7) refer to this article first, then to the arguments on Twitter. Some of the offended seem to be making this out to be more of an issue than it actually is, most, in fact. A better example of what the complainants are talking about in regards to Tiny Tina can be found that appallingly acted game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Case in point:

          Yet little was said then. Those Twits offended by BL2 have a much stronger argument about subversive racism in that turd of a game (DE:HR) than they do in BL2. I mean, there's a marked difference between pop cultural references (combined with unchecked juvenile behaviour) and what you'll see in Deus Ex HR. No, this has the same validity as L4D2 or Res Evil 5 being racist, as in very, very little, if any at all. And whilst a few people are taking issue with Tiny Tina, given many of the articles talking about this have only spawned since this article, or refer back to it, the only person suggesting of 'verbal blackface' I can see is (Nope, I misread that. Big apologies!!), I think is suggesting it's racist more than the twitter argument suggest or is warranted. Btw, It's an incredibly loaded term. When Jon Stewart says in an overly contrived and silly (even ironic) manor on TDS, am I watching subtle blackface? No, I am not

          ps, just for the record, the earliest conversation I read about potential racism in the game was from late December and no one made any mention of Tiny Tina then... so, you know, why now? How is it suddenly an issue? Had it really been, we'd have heard about it from different organisations shortly after release.

          Last edited 04/02/13 1:08 pm

    I know plenty of white people who try to sound 'urban' and 'gangsta' in an exceedingly embarassing way. I chalk it simply up to that. This is just people overreacting and being hyper-sensitive. Yet another white person with 'white-mans guilt'.

      You 'chalk' it up? That's typed out reverse racism whiteface. Appalling.

        Cant figuree out if sarcastic or...

          Pretty sure it's a great joke.

            I'm staying away from kotaku when I'm half asleep in future, I don't get the jokes when I am... *cries*

        Chalk is multicoloured!
        Wrap your head around that one.
        "Reverse racism" is just plain racism.
        Have a nice Day!

    I didn't even pick up on it. I just thought she was kooky. Just like claptrap is a little camp.

    Some people are quite precious aren't they.

    This is a stupid argument over nothing and the people complaining should really be ashamed of themselves.

      Pretty much my thoughts exactly. The sooner these cry babies get over themselves and their version of "racism" the better. They do more harm then good, like super hardcore feminazis who think they are superior to men, they are only hurting themselves.

      Its even worse when some idiot white man says its racist, damn self haters.

    Man I for one think that people who wish to be all "white girl uses craaaazy black lingo" this does not mean it's racist it's just a game character being kooky. People should just take it as humor that is BL2.

    The racist people are the ones who point out racism to begin with, living in the wrong time. Normal people don't even pick up on that stuff as racist and just live with it.

    That being said, I know Tiny Tina for the character she was and never even thought of it being 'racist' or anything of the such.

    Tina is my favourite character in the entire game. She's out of her mind, and I love the inappropriateness of the things that come out of her mouth, not because they're 'racist', but because she's 13. This whole debate is retarded, and seems like people just wanting to be offended at something. It's a pretty damn loose connection, in my opinion.

    Spoiler Alert 2nd Sentance is backed by ingame evidence and educated guess. Spoiler Alert

    First she's a little girl who lives on the fictional planet Pandora; I've come to the conclusion that everyone on this planet has gone completely insane.

    Perhaps she adopted an outdated set of lingo to cope with some guy murdering her parents infront of her and may have been rescued by Roland who she refers to as a big brother. Which could have something to do with it.

    Maybe she just loves rap music from the late 20th early 21st centuries.

    I've never thought of her words as Black or White just as Gansta Rap... I don't know anybody who talks like that but I never perceived her as Racist. Perhaps some people just need to harden up.

    Last edited 03/02/13 3:24 pm

      agreed. to me she's just a nutty character. the thought that shes a white girl using "urban" speech and that could be perceived as being racist doesnt even cross my mind. people really like to find offence in anything.

    If anything I would have said Tina was a mockery of "wiggas".
    Or perhaps her behavior is the coping mechanism of a young girl who has been exposed to deep psychological trauma and abandoned in a hostile environment, trying too hard to act tough and confident in what she imagines is the manner of grown-up badasses.
    A bit like young white males struggling for identity, confidence and cultural significance idolize rap musicians and try to emulate them and what the perceive is black ghetto-culture.

    Political correctness is getting ridiculous. I think people need to go look up some definitions of racism again because this is the first time I've seen it used over the way a person talks. It is rather strange though that throughout that whole discussion the most offensive sounding thing was the term "verbal blackface"

    So by using slang pinned by a certain culture, your, in, effect being racist? That's just..stupid..

    I like to think I'm sensitive towards this sort of thing, but I really think that these ridiculously sensationalised Twitter controversies over what are typically incredibly minor infractions really only serve to make the situation worse. Going for this kind of soundbite, tabloid controversy (something that Twitter by its nature unfortunately encourages) will also only serve to weaken the argument for when more legitimate concerns crop up.

    The previous Borderlands controversy - the girlfriend mode one, was even more ridiculous because people latched on to a couple of poorly used words instead of celebrating the fact that Gearbox were working to make games more inclusive and thereby started actively working against their own cause.

    All that said, dear lord that's an annoying character.

    I'm one of those people who love Tiny Tina.
    I think she's well written for a child who has seen her parents killed by a psycho, Raised in the environment of Pandora which is inhabited by less than civilized people and from that has no formal education and has to scrounge around just to live!

    I mean do people expect her to talk like a highly civilized, well mannered young lady?

    This reminds me of the whole Hit Girl thing when Kick Ass first came out.

    Last edited 03/02/13 3:56 pm

    to be honest there is nothing wrong with tiny tina or the way the speaks and acts with in the game and i say that as someone who hated the character and found her to be completely unfunny

    She is by far my favourite character in a game in a long time.

    When interacting with Tina, my thoughts weren't, "Black people are beneath me and they all talk like this because they're black".

    "Verbal Blackface"

    That statement is a complete contradiction unto itself

    Isn't it racist to assert that there is white people talk and black people talk and neither should do the other? WHY THE HELL AREN'T PEOPLE ASKING THAT?! In any case it's just debasing the character down to its most simple level so it suits this Mike Sacco dude's argument. If his argument is valid then everything i could possibly say about anything is valid, that the game's overuse of the colour yellow makes me think of bananas and then dicks and so the game has a misogynistic agenda. The main soldier is white now instead of black. Racist. It's tantamount to "electronic whitewashing".

    See look, I can come up with a brand new buzzword too; time to police some more video games and find the next issue i can stir up and latch onto because that's what we do nowadays don't we? I have to tentatively call troll on this guy, It's such a silly viewpoint to hold by such a silly individual. I see Tina as a kid whose historic trauma has caused her to latch on to a pop culture scene and go a little nuts. I'd also like to point out that Tina is very clearly UNAWARE of the way she acts. Now if someone else sees something different, that's cool, just stop bringing shit like racism and sexism into video games in any attempt to reach your moral high-ground. It isn't progressive if you point the finger at EVERYTHING and their are so many other ways to hipster. The other day I saw a book that was all about making quilts; buy that instead of involving yourself in pointless, arbitrary and downright insulting arguments.

    DO NOT CHANGE ANYTHING. Depiction is not endorsement. She's a kid who speaks funny, if anyone immediately accuses her as speaking "urban", then please have a good hard look at what racism is. The game didn't apply the stereotype, you did.

    It's disappointing to see the comments awash with people dismissing these concerns, especially when the person who was accussed of writing a racist character was substantially more open minded. If you're trying to understand how Tiny Tina could be considered racist then Alex Ziebarts tweet towards the end "@reverendanthony I don't think you meant to make Tina racist but it's a reasonable view IMO. She equates stereotyped ebonics with wacky.".

    I'm not suggesting people should start forming a mob and demanding Anthony Burch's head, but neither should we pretend there is no chance a problem exists. If you do that you're only inviting problems of racism to fester and grow.

      Honestly, the whole game is full of satire and parody. If people are going to get up in arms about Tiny Tina speaking 'ghetto', they should probably also be upset about the depiction of midgets, making fun of rednecks/hillbillies (Scooter), the countless mysoginistic jokes and dialogue from the raiders and other bit characters, and the way it treats mental illness (i.e, pretty much everybody on Pandora).
      If they don't like it, fine. It's not a game for them. However, the game is a work of comedy. It might not be to everybody's taste, and they have a right to not like it. They can even be offended by it all they want, but that doesn't mean they have an inherent right to NOT be offended either.

        Here's the thing, the people who suggested that Tiny Tina may be racist weren't 'up in arms', they were asking that it be changed for future content. The only people I've seen that are up in arms are those on the other side of the debate, those that flatly refuse to even consider that anything about that character might be problematic.

        Anthony Burch, the writer of Borderlands 2 is able to consider that possibility, why can't you?

          Anthony Burch has an obligation to remain diplomatic about these situations. We don't. And just like Anthony Burch, we've considered both sides of the argument and have determined, perhaps vehemently, that his initial stance was/is correct, and that those who feel the character is racist only do so because of their own misguided interpretation, and proclamations of 'fact' over what is clearly circumstantial evidence.

            Personally for future content, i would take out the 'wackiness', make it as boring as batshit and then credit everyone in the twitter thread for the creation of the future of this character, and forward all email to them. Hooray, first world problems FTW!!!! Lets make everything boring.

      There is no problem that exists in any form. By your logic, a Cowboy is racist, a Medieval Knight is racist, a Zulu warrior is racist, a Viking is racist.

      If so lets just burn every single last piece of history and pretend we all did that same things and came from the same place, look all the same, all speak the same language and nothing at all differentiates us.

      Stereotypes, both good and the bad exist for a reason. Many are exaggerated, granted, that doesn't mean they are inherently racist.

      Example; Many Americans still think that most Australians are carbon copies of Mick Dundee, ride kangaroo's and chug beer like its water. I'm Australian, some would even call me a 'bogan' so I fit this stereotype pretty well. By your logic I'm being racially abused. But I don't see it this way, nor am I offended in the slightest. But if you switch my skin color to black, it's apparently racist and disgusting. Do you see this? Or do you have your head firmly planed up where the sun doesn't shine mate?

        You seem to have missed the point entirely, nor do you seem to have any interest in actually having a discussion. So instead of trying to clue you in I'm just going to suggest that you try re-reading that tweet I quoted again. See if you can figure out what it's actually saying, then we can talk.

          I did read it. He is only back pedaling to save face because the PC cancer lynch mob has him in their sights, which unfortunately are quite numerous and vocal. If he thought that anything was racist, he would not have put it in the game in the first place.

          There is 0 issue. African Americans speak in a slang, which has become pop culture. There is nothing racist about this, regardless of the skin color of the person who speaks it. Suggesting otherwise IS racist. YOU are drawing a line based on skin color, which by YOUR definition is racist. But it only seems to be an issue when a white person says it, which again, is racist.

            Actually I was fortunate enough to hear him talking about this earlier today on the HAWP twitch channel and he was genuinely interested in figuring out if there was anything racist about this character, he wasn't simply attempting to placate people. It's wrong to think racism only occurs when people conciously choose to be racist, far more often it occurs when people aren't ever aware of the harm they're causing.

            That's why it's important not to just dismiss these kinds of things right off the bat as so many people have done here. The point isn't 'this is bad and racist and this person should feel bad', it's that we should take these sorts of concerns seriously because it's all too easy to overlook these problems, especially when you're not part of the group that's directly affected.

              It's the wrong way to go about things. On the internet especially things like this quickly devolve into everyone just trying to defend their own little egos.. by being such a whiner you're only aggravating the people you're trying to convert. You're doing nothing but harm your own cause.

              I still firmly believe that if someone is going to be offended by this then that's their problem and the rest of the gaming world shouldn't have to suffer just because they have an inability to control their own emotions. There are plenty of potentially 'offensive' stereotypes in BD2 and that's okay, it's a game. Perhaps we should ban all FPS because tragedies happen and they may bring back horrible memories to someone who genuinely have a reason to be upset about them? Where does it end?

              Censor nothing or censor everything. If you can't deal with it then don't sook to me about it.

                I love this Ted, because it's so true. People seem to not realise that these articles are about creating censorship of freedom of expression through harnessing mob behavior.

                People who want to combat the evils of the world should probably get out there and start doing so, rather than having little tanties on the net about how they don't like things. When i was younger and found out something was wrong,i went out and tried to fix it. The new generation seems to love just talking about it. Put your money where your mouth is, don't buy the game or resell it. And if you want to combat racism, get out there and for gods sake do something. Having a little moan on the internet just makes you look like a spoilt brat.

              @rjbone - I really liked what you said and how you said it. However, I don't fully agree with you. You said:

              "The point isn't 'this is bad and racist and this person should feel bad', it's that we should take these sorts of concerns seriously because it's all too easy to overlook these problems, especially when you're not part of the group that's directly affected."

              Sensible words, except that society only takes CERTAIN concerns seriously. Or, more correctly, concerns regarding certain groups, seriously.

              I may not be a black American but I AM a white Englishman. Do you not also see how Sir Hammerlock could be offensive? The character is portrayed as a stereotypical English hunter, off on safari in the colonies, practicing naturalism through mass killings of indigenous species. He must of course, also have a buffoonish quality as well because after all, all English are stuffy fools.

              Do you think anyone else will take my concerns seriously?

              The answer is no because we seem to have a book of unspoken guidelines that sets out exactly which groups of people are entitled to feel offended and which are not.

              More amusing to me is that we have people outside of those groups who tell us that we can't really understand so we better just accept that it is, ipso facto, offensive and be quiet. Those same people who tell us we can't understand also invariably seem to be the ones who dictate to us what is offensive - on behalf of a group they don't belong to and by their own admission, can't understand!

              What people need to realise is that, by the ridiculous PC mores we are forced to ingest, everyone has cause to feel offended. The biggest discrimination in modern, 'enlightened' society today is that which decides which people can and a cannot be offended. 'Nigger' is unspeakable but 'honky' is okay. We have to say 'African American' but 'white' is fine. Raising your hand to a woman is shameful abuse, but television can show men being slapped in the face by women almost on a loop and no ones seems to mind. Gay pride parades are 'fun' and 'empowering' (actually, they are pretty fun) but strongly heterosexual behavior is boorish and uncouth.


    Having a 13yr old daughter myself, if I heard speak like that out of her mouth there would be trouble. But in the context of the game - Post Apocalyptic and brutal, it's acceptable to have a possibly crazy individual talk "cArazy!". Still she does annoy the hell out of me.

    Did I miss something or are the people involved in this discussion exclusively white? I'm not saying only minorities can be offended by racism but this is really the sort of thing where a person who isn't part of the group should limit themselves to supporting offended individuals rather than championing causes on their behalf.

    Last edited 03/02/13 5:04 pm

    So, is it racist when a black man speaks with full and correctly structured sentences?
    Next youll be considered racist if your pants are too low. "Only blacks are allowed to have their underwear showing above their pants."

    And the most ridiculous thing about this racism cry is the people complaining are WHITE!
    Seriously, f*** racism! Sick of it!
    Im offended by these white guys pathetic metro-sexual , whiny bitch attitudes. F*** off!

      well said, agree completely, sick of whinging morons with nothing better to do than make shit up to cause great things to be ruined.

      Warcroft, you should never be sick of racism, you should always see it for what it is. But in this case you are correct, there is no racism.

    These people shouting "racist, racist" obviously haven't listened to Justin Beiber talk.

    I just watched Undercover Brother again...

    Can we please get a twitter movement going to vilify Eddie Griffin for his portrayal of Whiteface and stereotypical racist against whites humor?

      You think that's bad? Try watching Rasta Mouse on ABC for Kids....


        lol I keep thinking that guy is about to light up a doob.

    When Mike Sacco discovers white rappers it's going to blow his mind.

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