Learning about racial inequality through Monopoly

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On Sunday, Nov. 8, in Golub House’s great room, students gathered to enjoy pizza and games of Monopoly while learning about income disparity in America. The event, entitled “Exploring Inequality with Monopoly,” was sponsored by Rights House.

Unlike regular Monopoly where everyone starts with the same amount of money, the rules for the event were modified to reflect the actual socioeconomic standings of different races in the United States.

Before the banker distributed the game money, students selected a green, red or blue card. Each of the colors represented the racial group a student would play as during the game, but it was not until the end that the player learned of his or her identity.

Green, which represented white Americans, received a starting amount of $1,500. Students who selected red, which represented Hispanic Americans, received $1,000, and those who chose the blue cards, which represented African Americans received $1,200.

Rights House member Andrew Cassarino ’18 determined the monetary values by utilizing the United States’ most recent census data.

Cassarino explained that white Americans earn an average yearly income of $44,512, while African Americans earn four-fifths of that amount, and Hispanic Americans earn just two-thirds.

The amount earned by each race was further reflected by how much each received after passing “Go.” Following traditional rules, the green team received the full $200. But under the new rules, the blue team received $150, and the red just $120.

It quickly became evident to the students with red and blue cards that they could not buy the more expensive properties that also offered higher rental payments.

The green team, though, could afford to purchase most of the properties and negotiate with other players to buy properties from them.

The struggle to catch up was especially clear with how each team entered jail.

If you’re familiar with the regular rules, then you know that when you roll three doubles in a row in Monopoly, you go directly to jail. Well, when rolling just one set of doubles the blue team, representing African Americans, was automatically sent to jail.

Cassarino determined this based on the census data indicating that the incarceration rates among African Americans are six times as high compared to white Americans and double that of Hispanic Americans.

Rights House members Etsegenet Ayele ’18 and CJ Morgani ’18, who both drew blue cards, discussed that they struggled to even earn money from passing “Go” because they spent so much time in jail. They lost even more money from having to constantly pay their way out of prison.

The vicious cycle of poverty and incarceration was clearly evident with Cassarino’s modified rules.

After a little over an hour, students put the games on hold to start a brief discussion. Many of the comments centered on the income disparity between the different races and the struggle to buy property as a result.

Director of Student Activities Matt Milless, who also attended the event, asked students how this version of Monopoly influenced their thoughts on the state of racial equality in America today.

Milless said that while the United States certainly treats racial issues better now than the country did 20 years ago, there is still a long way to go in leveling the playing field, as proven by the census data utilized to create the new rules.

In the end, the game encouraged students to walk away with a better understanding of income disparity among the races that remains prevalent for Americans across the country.

 

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