Jewish World Review April 23, 2002 /12 Iyar 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

A game of another color | Here's how you play the game:

You're black, male, over 18 and struggling to make it out of the Ghetto. Where will you begin?

The military? Professional sports? "Glamourwood" (the entertainment industry)? A black university?

What "Character Type" are you? Creative? Intellectual? Athletic? You have choices.

Which way will you go? Church? Corporate America? Crime?

You could choose Crime. It is always an option, but not without some costs. Crime can get you an immediate payback with a lot of cash right away. But, if you land on Police, the Government could put you in Prison.

Then your fate will swing on a Public Defender, unless maybe you have enough money for a Dream Team Attorney.

So you choose Corporate America. There are Paydays on the board, which allow you to receive a salary if you have a career and make sure you keep your transportation, child expenses and rent paid up.

If not, you can go into Debt, which may mean a quick trip right back to the Ghetto.

You're playing "Life as a BlackMan - the Game," a creation of Chuck Sawyer, 33, a former advertising executive in Redondo Beach, Calif., who also happens to be a black man.

The game, which is sort of like Monopoly or The Game of Life with more attitude, has brought Sawyer a small frenzy of national media attention.

ABC's "World News Tonight" reported that he has sold thousands of the games at $29.95 each, even though his distribution has been limited to his web site ( and a few stores scattered across the country.

And, not surprisingly in a country where everyone has an opinion about race, it has stirred some controversy. Some people think it is divisive, that it overly exaggerates the differences faced by black males and other races or by females.

Some say it is too stereotypical, as if he is making such options as "crime" and being someone's "baby daddy" sound too attractive.

As an African-American father of a young African-American male on the brink of being a teen-ager, I understand such concerns. But I also appreciate how cleverly Sawyer shows that the very attractiveness of such options is deceptive. Crime and out-of-wedlock pregnancy do have consequences that are not fun. College and corporate careers do not pay out immediately, but lead to greater rewards down the line than most alternatives do.

Sawyer says he thought up the game while working in an ad agency in southern California. He was young, the son of a retired military officer, and unprepared for the tangle of self-doubt that the politics in his particular mixed-race office brought on. He went to a psychotherapist, he recalls, "a black woman who said basically that this is life. Deal with it. Don't let other people have power over your feelings and emotions."

That piece of wisdom helped Sawyer so much, he says, that he decided to pass it on in a way that would be educational and fun and, he hopes, profitable.

I think the game offers a clever commentary on the many cultural and socioeconomic divides that young people of both genders and all races face when they set out to make it in the world. Some people navigate across lines of sex, race, class and culture more easily than others do. Life is not fair, the game teaches us, but with skills, savvy and a little luck, you also can survive setbacks and triumph in the end.

In fact, my biggest criticism concerns the way Swanson ends the game: The first player to get to "Freedom" wins.

I suppose this version of "Freedom" as a goal, rather than the means to life's larger goal, reflects a utopian view of freedom that I have heard expressed by many of my fellow black Americans. "Once we get to (Fill in the blank), then we will be free," I hear them say.

In fact, we are free now. Freedom is something black Americans have earned after decades of hard-fought battles to open up opportunities. The big questions facing us now on the brink of a new century concern what we are to do with the freedom that we have. Freedom is hardly the end of hard work and tough choices; it is only the beginning.

That's real life. Welcome to it.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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