The Game of Life
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, essayist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune considers the game of life.
CLARENCE PAGE: Here’s how you play the game: You roll the dice, make your choices, and take your chances. Pull a card, any card– maybe you’ll get lucky. You can get into college. You pull a career card; good move. Hang on to it– good schooling leads to better income later. Maybe you find yourself in church. Collect your spiritual rewards. Or maybe you get a big break in show business, in glamour world; you get a starring role in a new sitcom. Don’t let it go to your head.
On the other hand, you could choose a life of crime. There’s lots of crime in the ghetto, for example. But, no matter what path you take, crime is always an option– a tempting option– that offers an immediate payback: Lots of cash, but not without risks. For example, you can get busted– go directly to court– or you can get killed. Game over. But you have better choices. You can rise in corporate America; every payday on the board will bring you a salary, but watch out for those red squares marked “racism.”
No, this is not monopoly. It’s not even the game of life– not exactly. This is “Life as a Black Man, the Game,” a board game with attitude. This is life as a black man might see it; in fact, as one did see it– the one who invented the game: Chuck Sawyer, 33, a former advertising executive in Redondo Beach, California, who sells it mostly on his Web site. You might bristle at its stereotypes, but this game, like life, offers you an opportunity to rise above those stereotypes, too. Like Bill Cosby used to say on the Cosby kids, you can have fun, and you might learn something.
SPOKESMAN: Okay, here we go.
CLARENCE PAGE: What better way than a board game to illustrate the difference that race still makes in our American lives, and also, how little difference? It reassures us to see our chaotic, high-risk lives reduced to their essence in a neat and orderly little morality play. Such is the appeal of board games. They offer us a non-threatening version of life, one that rests on a reassuring subtext of hope. No matter how tough things get, the game tells you, you can survive. If you lose, no matter how badly, you can always play again.
My only quarrel with “Life as a Black Man, the Game,” is with the object of the game. The first player to reach freedom wins. Freedom seems like a modest goal for us African Americans to be seeking now, after all these years, after all those hard-won victories of the Civil Rights movement. Freedom for what? And to do what? Freedom is not the end of hard work and tough choices. Freedom only offers us more opportunities for hard work and tough choices in pursuit of greater goals. You roll the dice, make your choices, and take your chances. That’s life. It’s what you make it.
I’m Clarence Page.