Game is symptom of larger problem

Leonard Pitts Jr.

I guess I’m obligated to be offended by this new board game. After all, Al Sharpton says I should. And not just Rev. Al, either. Many other people — including NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and radio host Tom Joyner — have pronounced themselves offended by the game.
Not that I blame them. It’s called Ghettopoly, a take-off on Parker Bros. venerable Monopoly. Except that this game isn’t about moving a car or a top hat around the board, buying properties and landing on Boardwalk after somebody has put up a hotel. In Ghettopoly, your token might be a crack rock, a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor or a basketball, and your goal is to build crack houses while pimping “hos” and getting carjacked.
The game reportedly features an image of Martin Luther King scratching the front of his pants and proclaiming, “I have an itch.”
So no, you won’t find “Ghettopoly” under my Christmas tree. Nor does it break my heart that retailers have been pressured into removing it from their shelves or that Hasbro, which owns Parker Bros., last week filed suit against the game’s creator, David Chang of St. Marys, Pa.
For all that, though, I am not angry at Chang, who seems more misguided than malicious. To the contrary, it’s the campaign against him that gets my dander up — not because it’s wrong, but because it’s about 15 years late.
I keep wondering where all this fury was when rappers like 50 Cent, Nelly, Ja Rule and Snoop Dogg first started pimping, drug-dealing and drive-by shooting all over the video channels.
Where were the boycotters when these people and others were creating the template Chang drew from?
Where was the moral indignation when black people were reducing black life to caricature?
Or is it just easier to raise rage against Chang because he is not black? With a few isolated exceptions — activist C. Delores Tucker, the Rev. Calvin Butts — blacks have been conspicuously silent as black music, once the joy and strength of black people, has detoured into an open sewer of so-called “hardcore rap.”
The vast majority of that genre’s practitioners are nothing more and nothing less than modern-day Uncle Toms, selling out black dreams by peddling a cartoon of black life unencumbered by values.
It is a cynical, knowing act, promulgated by young men and women who get rich by selling lies of authenticity to young people, white and black, who are looking for lessons in blackness.
They are as much minstrels and peddlers of stereotype as Stepin Fetchit, Bert Williams or any black performer who ever smeared black goop on his face or shuffled onstage beneath a battered top hat.
The only difference — the only one — is that Bert Williams and Stepin Fetchit had no other choice. My personal theory is that black people of my generation – I’m 46 — have resisted speaking forcefully against this because, like all baby boomers, we are deathly afraid of appearing less than hip.
But as I recall, our parents never worried about that. They understood their role to be not hipness, but guidance. I am of a generation that has largely failed that role, that turned “judgment” into a four-letter word.
The fruit of that failure lies before us: an era of an historical young people who traffic in stereotypes that would not be out of place in a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
And I’m supposed to be angry at David Chang? I’m not. He’s just a good capitalist, just regurgitating what he has been taught in hopes of turning a buck.
My anger is not for the student, but for his teachers. And not just my anger, but my sorrow, too.
I’m not losing sleep worrying about what David Chang thinks of black people. I’m more concerned with what black people think of themselves.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.