Ghettopoly: What is your Role in It?

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 that comes along frequently.What kind
of racist nut would create a game called
“Ghettopoly” and fill it to the brim with every
conceivable racist stereotype about ghetto life?
In the game, “playa’s” must choose between
playing as a 40 ouncer of malt, a marijuana
leaf, an “oozie”, a pimp, a basketball, crack
cocaine, or a hoe. They then try to jack, steal,
and deal their way to riches in a format similar
to the classic Monopoly game. The cultural
references are obvious and offensive principally
to African Americans, but also target
other groups such as Latina/os and Asian
Americans. Once the game began to be sold
widely at Urban Outfitters, response was
swift. Protests and boycotts abounded and
Urban Outfitters,, and Ebay soon
halted distribution of the game. The creator,
David Chang, a 28 year-old Pennsylvania man
whose family emigrated from Taiwan to the
U.S. when he was eight-years old, was vilified
as a racist. Hasbro Inc. filed a suit against
Chang for creating “irreparable injury” to
their monopoly franchise with his game’s
“highly offensive, racist content”.
While it is easy to proclaim that Chang has
gotten his just desserts and commend the
banishment of this racist product, are Chang
and his game really just bad apples to be cast
away so that we can resume our travels down
the path of racial harmony? Or is the outrage
and toppling of Chang merely another cog in
the machine of American racism? Chang’s
inspiration for the game didn’t come from
some developed hatred for African Americans,
Latina/os, Asian Americans or other
ghetto inhabitants.He wasn’t some misguided
student who strayed from America’s teachings
of diversity and racial understanding. His
inspiration for the game was watching MTV
and mainstream depictions of ghetto life.
Chang was a good student, who learned
the lessons of contemporary American racial
politics well and applied them cleverly for his
own personal gain. He said that he created
Ghettopoly “not as a mean to degrade, but as
a medium to bring together in laughter” and
that the goal was to laugh “at ourselves and
how we each utilize the various stereotypes.”
His mistake was not that he held these mainstream
beliefs, but that he expressed them in a
way that highlighted them. The ugly stereotypes
Chang displays are the cornerstone for
much of our government’s public policy
toward the ghetto and the prevalent intellectual
disdain toward hip-hop culture that says;
people of color are fine as long as they are
educated and indoctrinated to write, speak
and behave in “acceptable” ways. In
showcasing these views through
his work, Chang allowed
himself to be the most
convenient scapegoat
both for
minori ty
groups looking
to hold
someone accountable
for this daily racism
inflicted upon them and
also for those complicit with
racism who perpetuate these
stereotypes, but like to view themselves
as non-racists.
You see, this was business as usual in
America; an individual acts with the backing
and blessing of institutional racism. The
minority community is understandably
upset. The individual gets crucified. The
institution is vindicated and the minority
community is appeased. So we’re supposed to
just shake our heads sadly at Chang’s
response on his website: “Ask yourself; Is Jay
Leno a racist because he made a comment
about Asian people eating dogs? How about
Snoop Dog, on his TV show on MTV, is he a
racist too?” It may be a poor defense that
doesn’t justify his racist game, but aren’t these
still good questions? Even if the answer is
“Yes, and David Chang is a racist too” then
why is he the only one getting punished and
are we going to do anything to change that?
He asks whether it was his skin color or the
content of his speech that made people so
angry. I suppose the answer depends on the
person, but the simple difference in treatment
that he receives is some evidence of racism
that we are all being complicit with. The only
way it will ever change is if all of us interested
in racial equality become less self-interested.
It shouldn’t take a personal tie to a particular
situation to change it.
The first petition I found protesting the
game contained this text, “Designed by an
Asian American, (someone who would not
be knowledgeable of the TRUE African
American perspective), it features all of the
stereotypical messages & images that have
suppressed blacks for decades.” In assuming
the impossibility of Asian Americans
understanding the African American
perspective, what hope does that
leave for a general empathy
that is necessary to
vanquish bigotry?
Perhaps this
is the
same line of
thinking that
caused the 103.9 FM
Philadephia radio station
DJ, Tarsha Nicole
Jones, to begin a “Chinkopoly”
segment in which callers were
encouraged to contribute their own
“property names” based on racial stereotypes
of Asian Americans. Asian Americans
who called in to complain were ridiculed.
Another popular response was “Why doesn’t
he make Chinkopoly?” as if denigrating one’s
own race makes it ok to denigrate others. As
usual, the greater trend of people of a minority
group being held responsible and
attacked for the actions of a member of their
group continued.
So while Chang’s reflection of hip-hop culture
is certainly racist, that doesn’t necessarily
make his detractors any more enlightened in
the field of social justice in this country.
Chang even refers to Hasbro’s suit on his site
by encouraging readers to learn more about
the history of Monopoly (and Anti-Monopoly)
as an example of a major corporation trying
to maintain control over the profit derived
from a traditional game. Do the racist elements
to his game give us a right to root for a
major corporation trying to crush a little
entrepreneur? Why is so much less being done
to attack Urban Outfitters? Not only did the
chain carry Ghettopoly, but they’ve sold a
“Chinaman” Halloween costume that stereotyped
those of Asian descent and have contributed
thousands of dollars to the campaign
of Senator Rick Santorum, who made headlines
for his equation of homosexuality with
incest and beastiality. As groups mobilized
against Chang and wrote letters to Hasbro
encouraging them to sue, thousands upon
thousands of game units were sold at Urban
Outfitters stores or via the internet. Even after
the controversy peaked and the game was
pulled, Chang’s site continues to be backlogged
with orders for the game, and demand
for the game has pushed some retailers to sell
the game for upwards of eighty dollars.
Who are these people so eager to purchase
the game? Are they supposed to be some kind
of racist nuts too? I don’t think cutting the
supply of Ghettopoly will inflict some sort of
drastic change on their conceptions of race.
What about all of us who were proud of ourselves
for recognizing the racism inherent in
the game, but had no constructive response
to the greater problem at hand? Do we seriously
believe that learning and avoiding
actions on the list of the “101 things that
make you a racist” will actually prevent our
complicity in deep-rooted American traditions
of racism and bigotry? Patting ourselves
on the back each time one of these racial incidents
occurs and we respond “correctly”
doesn’t remove our role as accomplices no
matter how many times we tell ourselves that
it does. So in a way, I want to thank David
Chang as he has given us yet another opportunity
to see that racism is not some sort of
dying fad. He has reminded us that, in our
society, color of skin is a large determinant of
the legitimacy of speech on racial issues and
that as usual, the fairer fare better. He has
demonstrated that people of color and those
empathetic with us are more likely to destroy
each other than actually address any of the
deeper social constructs of race. We need to
work to change that. So will we learn his
lessons and begin work on the tremendous
task at hand, or will we sacrifice him in our
role in maintaining the racist status quo?
The next time we encounter a social red
flag like “Ghettopoly” let’s focus our outrage
on building rather than destroying.

Xian Barrett is an Academic Professional at
the University of Illinois and has resided in
Champaign for over 13 years. He has written
on issues of race for a number of publications
including and the
Kumamoto Japan International Magazine.
His White half likes to level racial slurs at his
Chinese half in a “time-honored traditional”
way. He can be reached at

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