Now the efforts to inject a discussion of racism into every aspect of American life have reached a game that most Americans have cherished for decades: Monopoly.
In a piece for The Atlantic titled, “The Prices on Your Monopoly Board Hold a Dark Secret,” and subheaded, “The property values of the popular game reflect a legacy of racism and inequality,” author Mary Pilon writes that a 1930s New Jersey realtor named Jesse Raiford “affixed prices to the properties on his board to reflect the actual real-estate hierarchy at the time. And in Atlantic City, as in so much of the rest of the United States, that hierarchy reflects a bitter legacy of racism and residential segregation.”
Pilon writes of Cyril and Ruth Harvey, “friends of Raiford’s who played a key role in popularizing the game,” that they lived on expensive Pennsylvania Avenue but had “previously lived on Ventnor Avenue, one of the yellow properties that represented some of Atlantic City’s wealthier neighborhoods, with their high walls and fences and racial covenants that excluded Black citizens.”
“The Harveys employed a Black maid named Clara Watson,” he notes. “She lived on Baltic Avenue in a low-income, Black neighborhood, not far from Mediterranean Avenue. On the Monopoly board, those are priced cheapest, at $60.”
After quoting Temple University history professor Bryant Simon stating, “Atlantic City, like all mass resorts, manufactured and sold an easily consumed and widely shared fantasy,” Pilon continues, “Around the time that Monopoly was taking hold in Atlantic City, ballots there were marked ‘W’ for white voters and ‘C’ for ‘colored’ voters, Simon said. It would take countless demonstrations and protests and a long struggle by the city’s Black residents to secure their civil rights, but the Monopoly board records a world of ubiquitous racism.”
Pilon notes there were other versions of Monopoly that featured other cities, noting, “people localized the boards to reflect their own communities.”
Of the Atlantic City Monopoly board, Pilon writes, “The board didn’t just record exclusion and discrimination; it also hinted at the dynamic life of the diverse city where the game was played. The city’s thriving Black business community centered on Kentucky Avenue, often known as ‘Ky. at the curb.’ … Farther down the board, restaurants run by Chinese Americans thrived on Oriental Avenue and Jewish delis could be found in the area.”
Turning to the current era, Pilon states, “The impact of the decisions made during Monopoly’s heyday is still felt today. Atlantic City is a ‘redlined epicure’ of the state, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and it leads the state in foreclosures. The rate of white homeownership in New Jersey stands at 77 percent, but Black homeownership is scarcely half of that, at 41 percent.”
Pilon concludes, “commonplace objects tucked into our closets and handed down from one generation to another can tell us important things about our past.”
Sometimes, those objects “reflect patterns that many Americans, particularly those who have benefited from them, don’t even think to question, arrangements that have been naturalized over time.”
“Monopoly still offers us the chance to understand how deep-seated those injustices can be,” she writes. “We simply have to look closely enough at the board.”
In September 2019, The Daily Wire reported of a new version of Monopoly created to please feminists:
CNN reports that “Ms. Monopoly,” unveiled this week, will celebrate “women’s empowerment” by reconfiguring the classic Monopoly board to be more “female-friendly,” including bumping the pay of female players who make it all the way around the board’s list of properties by rewarding them with extra pay. The theory is that women make only around $.70 for every dollar men make in the real world, so Monopoly will give them an advantage.
“Unlike the classic game, women will collect 240 Monopoly bucks when they pass ‘go,’ while male players will collect the usual 200. The idea is to create a game where women make more than men, the first game to do so, according to Hasbro,” CNN reports.
It’s “a fun new take on the game that creates a world where women have an advantage often enjoyed by men,” the company said in a statement emailed to major news organizations.
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