Letter to the Editor: Monopoly played unfairly

by Clive Craigen faculty

Imagine yourself playing a game of Monopoly. The rules have been changed. Certain players can collect money when they pass Go. They can buy property and build houses and hotels. Other players cannot collect money when they pass Go. They are only allowed to own certain properties. They can only build houses on them.

The results are not surprising. The system has been rigged.

But halfway through the game, the players change the rules so that everyone has the same opportunities and challenges. The game continues from this point on. Some players had to stop playing, so they passed on their legacy to the next generation. The new players continue to treat each other according to the rules. No player does anything wrong to any other player, but the individual actions of the players matter very little. Even though the discriminatory practices have ended, the historical consequences are still present.

This analogy can be very helpful in understanding white privilege. At the founding of the United States, the system was rigged. Only white men who owned property were allowed to vote, hold public office and serve on juries. Native Americans, women and slaves could do nothing of the sort.

Thankfully, those laws have been changed and the system is more equal. But in the Monopoly game and in real life, playing by the rules did not change the outcome. Working harder and knowing the rules better did not change the outcome.

The rules of the game define the system, giving certain players benefits and advantages. Privilege refers to these advantages. Privilege is the current expression of historical realities.

This is not about the individual per se. It is also not a moral judgment. Being a recipient of advantage or privilege does not make a particular player good or bad. Privilege is that which one cannot change, no matter what one does. The intersection of circumstances with privilege can worsen one’s situation. A white person who is poor can possibly overcome his or her poverty, but does not have to overcome his or her whiteness. A poor person of color can overcome his or her poverty, but not his or her color.

This discussion of white privilege is not intended to coerce white people into guilt. It is not about them. It is about justice. The real question is what will we do with our privilege? The Monopoly players with privilege could choose not to exercise it or they could choose to exercise it for those without privilege. The moral judgment God makes will be based upon how we steward that which we have received.

Please lean into the discomfort of this conversation. Defensiveness, blaming, ignoring, redefining or dismissing someone’s experiences and feelings rarely resolve problems. Stop talking and listen. Ask questions and learn.

I want to applaud The Moody Standard and its staff and advisor for providing a platform for difficult but important conversations. While I disagree with Bryan Litfin on this issue and believe he fundamentally misunderstands it, I want to thank him for writing what many think, but never voice. I look forward to more conversation.

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