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On Guess Who?

November 29, 2008

Opponenet: “Is your mystery person black?”

Me: Shit!!! “Yes.”

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I had Thanksgiving dinner at a friend’s house, and while I was there, her daughter pulled out the classic game “Guess Who?” and challenged me to a round.*

The second I saw the box and the name, I was thinking to myself, “Holy sh–. Guess Who!! I remember that game! I used to play that all the time as a kid.” The thoughts that quickly followed covered my memories of the ridiculously small number of people of color in the game (all black), and the fact that there had only been one woman of color in the whole game. I recalled the feeling of knowing I had all but lost when I drew that card with the black female face on it. And I was interested in seeing how the PC police had updated the game since my childhood.

The answer? NOT AT ALL. I mean – honestly- not one bit. Although the style of cartoon was a bit different, the numbers were the same: 24 faces; 5 faces of color (all black); 5 female; one black female. Sure, there were a couple black-haired folks that could possibly represent other races, but they certainly seem white. Either way, the messages remain the same: It is a negative thing (i.e. you’re going to lose) if your person is black because – 1) White male people are the norm. 2) There are some black people, but they are rare. 3) Black women are extremely rare (and unacceptable). 4) Those are the only two races in the world that matter (even if one of those races hardly matters) – white and black. Forget Asian, Latin@, Arab, Native Indian, Pacific Islander, or any other such “abnormal” races. 80% white. 80% male. Nothing else matters.

It kind of blew my mind. And it hurt. Fresh from my “encounter” with the young Asian kid from the YouTube video I put up on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one other arena in my youth where I wasn’t “normal” enough to count or be counted. One more straw reminding me of my outsider stance in this country. A freaking kids’ game!!! Just like all the other manufactured kids’ games I played throughout my youth – not a single one had an Asian kid, that’s for sure (most didn’t even have a single non-white kid).

Otherization. Constant messaging throughout every mass-marketed second of my childhood. And from these two recent examples (Guess Who? and the YouTube kid) – none of it has changed. Sure, we elected a black president – that’s beyond huge – but where the Hell will my kids go to feel like part of it all?

————————————————————————————————-

Opponent: “Is your mystery person Asian (or Arab or Latin@ or Native Indian or Pacific Islander or mixed)?”

Me: “Yes.”

Opponent: “That’s not possible – you must be cheating.”

* For those that missed the “Guess Who?” boat, the rules are simple: each player has a board filled up with a bunch of cartoon faces (the same for each player) on plastic tiles that can be lifted or put down. You each draw a card with one of those faces on it, and then you proceed to try to guess your opponent’s face by taking turns asking 20-Questions-type questions, flipping face-down any face that doesn’t fit the characteristics of your opponent (“Does your mystery person have a mustache?” No. Flip down all people with a mustache).

** When looking for images for this post, I actually found images of a current version of the game where EVERY face is white – only one slightly-tan face in sight. And people say we’re “post-racial.” How I’d like to cave their f-ing heads in . . .

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8 comments

  1. aah I have played the new, no folks of color version, as well as the older version. I think that it is time we start creating our own products to fill the void and do a better representation of people of color. You know Asian invisibility is a necessity if white people want to continue to think they aren’t really the world minority, and the implications of that truth.

    I will help you with the game line prototypes. I think Life needs an update too- as if you could pay off your student loans in a couple of paychecks!

    And instead of Monopoly, we should design a community co-op game where the goal is to have the most friends and barter and grow the networks of local folks towards self determination.

    It sucks being invisible, and the way that our racist society’s fictitious “norm” spreads through every facet of our life, even a board game when you are trying to have family fun.


  2. I’ve never heard of this board game before.

    I do remember the old Clue game with the Asian woman depicted as an exoticized dragon lady, however.

    These board games do bring back old memories of childhood. Monopoly, Risk … I played many of them.

    Why can’t all board games be more like Candyland? 😉


  3. Never played this game…a little after my time. Must say, though, that I’m not surprised.

    Much obliged to Ugly Black John who highlighted your spot on his blog.


  4. And I thought I was the only person who had a bad racial experience playing a board game on thanksgiving. (did you know “Japanese” is a card in the overworked white-college party game Apples to Apples? I do now, much to my dismay.) Thanks CVT for posting this, selfishly, so I can commiserate.


  5. A friend and I recently planned to make our own Guess Who? game for the queer space we help run, including not only a decent number of diverse races and potentially mixed race folk, but a variety of genders as well as gender nonconforming and gender nonspecific people.

    You’ve re-inspired me. 🙂


  6. My post isn’t really about Guess Who? But, I can’t let the opportunity pass without saying how much I hate that game! It was my older sister’s favorite, and she always conned me into playing it. I remember us joking that everyone was White, but my main objection was that I found it deathly boring. And we played it all the time. And although I promise that I’m still not trying to take over your blog with my super long posts, I’m happy that you’ve given me a space where I can vent my Guess Who? hatred to somebody!

    My post is actually about Avatar: The Last Airbender, the live action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon.

    CVT wrote:
    Otherization…Sure, we elected a black president – that’s beyond huge – but where the Hell will my kids go to feel like part of it all?

    In summation, Avatar follows Aang and his friends as they try to save the world. The characters come from fictional countries, but they are obviously based on East Asia (people speak actual Chinese, use chopsticks and teacups without handles, etc.) The creators, two White men, are pretty explicit about this. All of the races are based on Asian and Inuit people.

    My six-year-old niece is a huge fan, which is how I first heard about the show. I was just happy she wasn’t caught up in the Hannah Montana craze, so imagine my surprise when I learned more about Avatar. Apparently, it isn’t just good for a children’s show; it’s much better than that. It is universally renowned for its storytelling and attention to detail. With strong girl and boy heroes, it doesn’t reinforce stupid gender stereotypes. And the young people saving the world are children of color (and Asian, at that). I was so happy.

    So what does the movie studio do when it’s time to cast the live-action film? First, they hire an Asian-American director in M. Night Shyamalan. Then they cast a whole bunch of White people. They took a show about Asian kids, a critically acclaimed show with a large fanbase, and hired people who look nothing like them for the movie.

    Even though it’s Hollywood, I have to admit I’m shocked. The main justification for whitewashing films – like 21 – just isn’t there. They didn’t hire a bunch of well-known actors with solid fan bases to ensure the movie would do well. Instead, they found one of those actors at an open casting call in Texas. You don’t go to Texas if you’re looking to hire young Asian-Americans.


  7. A lot of what I’ll say is covered in the links below, but this thing has gotten me really upset. I think some statements are worth repeating:

    – Avatar has a built-in audience, so all of the usual excuses about actors of color (especially Asian-American actors) not selling tickets don’t fly. Kids would see this movie even with a cast of complete unknowns.

    – The characters are Asian, even if you think they look White. What European countries/languages do you know that use Kanji?

    – Just because they don’t have exaggerated features doesn’t mean these characters don’t look Asian.

    – People of fictional races aren’t White until proven otherwise.

    – “Maybe they cast the actors for their eye colors” is the dumbest of all excuses (In Avatar, different races are distinguished by their eye colors). I’m guessing these people have never heard of either blue-eyed Asians or colored contacts.

    The filming starts in May, so there’s more than enough time for the casting to change. I’m not sure how much of an effect the general public can have, but lots of people have been making noise about this.

    My personal favorite, the painfully funny Avatar Racefail Bingo Card (and lots of other great links)
    community.livejournal.com/deadbrowalking/315016.html

    Another Bingo Card
    community.livejournal.com/capslock_atla/823264.html

    Angry Asian Man: A break-up, of sorts
    vagabond-sal.livejournal.com/142204.html

    Advice on writing a letter to the studio
    aang-aint-white.livejournal.com/646.html

    I know you’ve mentioned that you teach middle school. Is Avatar a show that’s popular with your students?


  8. I’m a little late on commenting on this, but I was pondering this over my Christmas vacation. I played Clue with my grandparents and cousins frequently as a child, and one thing we knew NEVER to do was ask “is your person black,” because 99% of the time it wasn’t, and you had “wasted” a question. This promotes the idea that we don’t need to acknowledge or discuss the existence of “others” because its a waste of our time. I like to think that as I child this sort of messaging didn’t affect my day-to-day life or my consideration of other people, but I think its a hard thing to learn how to learn from others who are different from you if you aren’t exposed to a view where they are treated as equals, even in a “child’s game.”

    Things like who are considered one’s equals are learned, and those ideas as I’m sure you know are formed at a young age and highly influenced by the people and things around you. If children aren’t taught and exposed to things that portray people of ALL nationalities as equals, they’re handicapped in life. As I’ve entered my adult years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to spend time living in other cultures and really live as an equal with those who are profoundly different from me both in culture, race and life circumstances (economically, educationally, etc.), but I still feel somewhat handicapped because of my upbringing in a predominantly white town.



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