Growing up, I loved Monopoly. Something about the competition, the thrill of imagining what my life would feel like if I really did own all those expensive places and have all that money and power made me feel good. And yes, I usually won- fairly, of course.

When I was young, we had a tree in our yard. According to local lore, it was an Indian path marker, pointing to the water of Puget Sound about a half-mile across the woods and over the bluff. I loved the mystique and would often sit on its curved trunk imagining life back then. One thing that disturbed me was that the tree was not so big. Did this mean that it wasn’t really an authentic Indian path marker? Perhaps someone had bent and trained the tree in an attempt to make it look authentic. Or perhaps it was an Indian path marker, and the history was a lot more recent than I wished to know. Why would anyone leave this beautiful place and go away to somewhere else? There hadn’t been drought, or devastating natural disaster in recent local history as far as I knew.

In 1855 at the Treaty of Point Elliot (present-day Mukilteo, WA), 81 Native American leaders met with government officials and agreed to give up their land in exchange for cash, continued hunting and fishing rights (on the lands they sold) and reservations. Even sketchy documentation written by the winners in this exchange show that the concepts of individual property rights and written contracts in an oral culture were not understood in the same way on both sides.

I loved Monopoly; so does my son, but not my daughter. Too many times she was cajoled out of railroads, tricked into handing over a red, a yellow, a green or a royal blue property with a pleasing presentation of a partial truth. By the time she realized the rest of the truth- that although one lonely color in her hand did not add much to her income, it wasn’t worthless- it was always too late.

To this day, Charles Brackett is lauded as the founder of Edmonds, the man who built a beautiful town out of the wilderness with his ingenuity, foresight, and hard work. The Edmonds Historical Museum preserves his name and carefully records the history of Edmonds from his arrival on.  Strictly speaking, Edmonds as an entity didn’t exist before him, but the land, other people, and another history did.  All over the United States (and many other countries as well) honor and prestige are given to the winners, and obliteration of memory and history are expected of the losers.

Most of us are uncomfortable with racism: We know it is not good, and don’t condone it. However, almost as many of us are unaware of the systemic, corporate nature of racism, and our complicity in it. To quote from Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism:

“If someone were to come to you and offer a building lease for no cost and promise to provide labor at no cost, you would have to be the worst business person in human history to fail at that business. Economic success can be assumed when you have been given free land and free labor. The American economy was built upon free land stolen from the Native American community and free labor kidnapped from Africa…If we live as financial beneficiaries in the twenty-first century of this system of injustice, we have a corporate culpability and responsibility, even as we claim innocence in our personal, individual lives” (p. 71).

My daughter doesn’t want the title deed to Marvin Gardens or Pacific Avenue back anymore. After all, it was only a game, and so long ago. She is content to avoid the game except when a vulnerable friend in a similar position needs her advice. I admire that, and think she is gentle, generous and wise beyond her years. I’ve a feeling though, that if the stakes were higher, say, real land, real power, real access to opportunities otherwise denied her and her children, she (and I) would feel quite differently about it all. And  this time my son, unlike many of the victors in history, would have to do more than just explain once again how he won the game fairly.

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under culture, History.

One Response to “Monopoly”

  1. Andy, your writing style is no less professional nor engaging than the op-eds that I read in the NYT’s. Your writing structure, flow and content is spot on! What a privilege to eat it up like a fabulous meal. You best start submitting your writing for money in some way or many ways for that matter. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing!

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    Posted by Julie Wiley on 12/13/09 June 9th, 2010 at 3:18 PMReply

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