March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review
by Shakirah Peterson
Where the Black people at? I ask the Black man next to me. He’s playing DragonBall Z: Dokkan Battle – a mobile game based on the DragonBall Z franchise with over 300 million players worldwide. I watch his lips twist while his index finger scrolls and scrolls and scrolls through a list over 1,000 characters.
Eventually, I stop watching him search for a thing that doesn’t exist. Ain’t none, huh?
He takes his oversized Android and drops it into my lap. His finger pointing to a character with a skin tone comparable to his: Uub (lit. “Oob”) – a young, dark-skinned boy with dark eyes and black hair and a (pretty cool) mohawk. This almost shuts me up but instead, I ask more questions. Yeah? What’s his story?
Characters in DragonBall Z go through transformations to tap into greater stores of strength. Uub is a human reincarnation of Kid Buu – a little pink alien guy with an antenna curling from his forehead. He wears baggy, white, MC Hammer-like pants, and a black belt. Eventually, he’ll become Majin Buu (lit. “Demon Person Buu). Of all the forms of Kid Buu, this one is the most irrational. His personality is like a spoiled, selfish child. For pure amusement he wipes out entire planets with no mercy or empathy, laughing hysterically at his own destruction. Eventually, he’s defeated by Goku who wishes that one day he’ll be reincarnated into a good person. Goku’s wish comes true and Uub is born but, with Majin Buu hidden inside of him. So, the one Black character in this game has a little pink psycho demon living inside of him?
When Uub turns 10, he fights Goku again, in his new form, at the World Martial Arts Tournament. He loses but Goku sees the good in him and offers to train Uub into a confident fighter. Unlike the little pink psycho demon living inside of him, Uub’s life mission is to vanquish all evil – not be the source of it but, Goku teaches him to tap into the anger of the pink psycho for power. I want to like Uub, to accept him as a fair and worthy representation for all the little Black boys watching DragonBall Z but I can’t. Do we really need Black boys/men trying to channel their inner demons on the playground/life to fight, to rage?
I tell the Black man next to me, nah. He don’t count.
He leaves Dokkan Battle and takes me to YouTube. We watch a scene with Star Officer Black – a bald, tall, dark-skinned man with no hair. In a scene where no one has lips, human or alien, Star Officer Black has large, pink ones. He resembles another character, Killa – except he has hair. So, Blackface? Nah. They don’t count either.
Now, I’m obsessed. Where the Black people at???
Dokkan Battle tells users how many days in a row they’ve logged on. The Black man next to me has logged on 497 days in a row. He plays constantly and consistently without ever seeing himself in the entertainment he tirelessly consumes. This doesn’t sit well with me.
Hold on. Let me see something. I search the fandom pages in search for a positive representation in the DragonBall Z world. Just one will put my unease to rest.
With patience, I find King Chappa – a warrior who lives with his wife Ruhna and three children: Sapa, Peruka and Chapu…a family man? Ok.
He won the world Martial Arts Tournament without being touched the whole time …a family man with some skills?? Okay.
His address is SSR 249905 C, a Buddhist-style temple where he trains students. I throw my arms into the air …a skilled family man who gives back to the community??? Oh-kay. This one counts.
In a spin-off manga, it’s suggested that King Chappa was the one who trained Uub until he turned 10, gifting him the necessary skills to fight Goku in the World Martial Arts Tournament.
Did you know? I ask the Black man next to me – he didn’t.
Ugh, Uub. Why didn’t you stay with King Chappa?
King Chappa’s temple is moated, sitting on a still body of water underneath a glowing body of stars. To reach the door, you have to pass a garden of pastel flowers before walking down a long concrete walkway. Inside the dojo, there are two larger than life candles with an even taller Buddhist statue in between them. 3 rows of arched windows lace all 4 walls.
Imagine that, a little Black boy being trained by a Buddhist Black warrior, in the company of his beautiful Black family in a safe, peaceful haven. There is no place for little pink demons here.
Maybe, I tell the Black man sitting next to me, in some parallel DragonBall Z universe, all the Black people are at SSR 249905 C.
Shakirah Peterson is a writer from Los Angeles, California. She is a second-year MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the assistant editor of The Southern Review.