Ghettopoly: A New Spin On Old Behavior

By Bakari Akil II

When I first heard of Ghettopoly, my response was neither surprise nor shock. As a producer of news content and as a Black person, I often experience, witness or hear of despicable behavior exhibited against people of African descent in the US and around the globe. The board game, Ghettopoly, is just another trifling, but highly detrimental act, that Black people continuously find themselves confronted with.

Put simply, the creator David Chang has found a way to commodify the images that hound Black people in media that portray us as pimps, ho's, thugs, drug fiends and ignorant. He is profiting from a long line of exploitation that can be traced backed to minstrel shows, D.W. Griffith's, Birth of A Nation, menial roles in countless Hollywood classics, Blaxploitation films, shows like Good Times in the 70s, Gimmie A Break in the 80s, NYPD Blue in the 90s and The WIRE in 2003. Let us not forget our current era of thuggin' without a purpose music videos and BET cultural programming, which will not allow Black people's culture and identity to grow into adulthood.

As a consequence of this institutional mistreatment and validation of Black dysfunctionalism, Mr. Chang's behavior should, in fact, be expected. Furthermore, his obstinate behavior in defense of Ghettopoly and his vow to create different versions such as Hoodopoly, Thugopoly and Redneckopoly is but a symptom that is a characteristic of this type of mentality. His interpretation of Black culture and the people borne of it, is one that is held by many people within the US and many other countries that receive significant amounts of US cultural media programming.

However, what is shocking to me and confounds me on an almost daily basis can be narrowed down into two specific questions:

Why are we always reacting instead of behaving in ways that will prevent or nullify this type of negative behavior?


Why aren't Black people supporting those who are promoting positivity in media?

Let's be clear, this entire issue with David Chang and his Ghettopoly evolves around image. Black communities are already suffering from an image deficit, so when outrageous caricatures such as these come to the forefront, the dam bursts and we witness a flood of emergency responses by politicians, activist organizations and concerned citizens who attempt to patch up the damage in hopes the situation will return to its normal level.

However, this band-aid philosophy is not good enough. The issue of Black positive imagery should be addressed at all times, from all angles. I repeat, at all times and from all angles! Of course, the reaction by these groups and individuals is warranted and very necessary. Yet, at the same time, where is the continued emphasis on the creation of imagery that is positive and spurs us to progress and not influence us to behave in ways detrimental to our overall development.

What Are We Doing To Help Ourselves?

While watching this Ghettopoly event unfold, I couldn't help but think about all of the board games and educational toys that have been developed over the years to help promote positive imagery of Black culture. At the same time asking myself; how many times have I purchased those games and have the people in the communities complaining about Ghettopoly purchased games that promote positive aspects of Black culture as well?

What about all of the Black owned and operated forms of media that are out there struggling to make a difference? How much financial investment do these organizations receive from Black communities in the form of a subscription, movie rental, theater attendance, book purchase or patronage of an event sponsored by these organizations?

Instead, we traditionally pump money into media industries and social environments that history has demonstrated repeatedly will not provide a substantial amount of positive imagery that Black communities desperately need to promote their culture, enhance and maintain their self-esteem and that inspires progression, not regression.

Ghettopoly Is On The Way Out. Now What?

After the complaints die down about Ghettopoly, will we lie in wait until the next situation occurs or will we immediately spring forth and create or support organizations that provide representations that we can be proud of and that will demonstrate to the world who we truly are and aspire to be?

Like Morgan Freeman's character stated in the Civil war flick, Glory, "It's time we ante up, and kick in. Like men (and women)!" The overall economy of Black people in America is constantly touted as being so enormous and impressive. Yet, the lack of investment into Black media is atrocious. If we wish to see positive and inspiring images in the media then we must invest into those specific organizations that are creating this material, period! This is not to say that we shouldn't enjoy other forms of media, we can do what we wish. But, a specific effort must be made to empower those who will provide these images for us.

People such as David Chang and corporations out to make a quick dollar will always hover around Black communities waiting for a chance to profit from our misfortune, disenfranchisement and oppression, like a vulture over a carcass.

Although there is a duty that exists to fight this exploitation, it is even more important to use our resources in order to create infrastructures and systems that can override these conditions and will make David Chang and people of his ilk become irrelevant.

Finally, Black communities must focus inward as well. We all know that the most visible among us promote the same images that David Chang is promoting in his game Ghettopoly. We also know individuals in our respective communities that place a premium on the dollar instead of pride and self-respect. In other words, while we focus on outside treatment, we also have to focus on how we treat ourselves.

To address this issue we can't take an adversarial role against each other and call each other out disrespectfully, as we often do, which further polarizes our communities. Instead we must realize that the same people that might be an object or scorn could easily be a cousin, sibling, parent or grandparent.

Therefore, we must become more creative in our approaches and seek to open avenues of communication and ways of encouraging each other to become conscious of how we portray ourselves and how we can constantly improve our image.

A movement for positive change will not happen by chance or by accident, it must be purposefully started from within! If we don't provide that spark, who will?

Immediate Suggestions For Change:

Buy an educational game or product that promotes positivity in Black culture.

Take time out and invest (monetarily) in Black Media, in some way, today!

Publicize positive Black Media, anyway you can.

Bakari Akil teaches public speaking at Florida State University and is pursuing a PhD in Communications.

Back to home page