The Vault

A ’70s Board Game Designed to Teach Players About Race, Housing, and Privilege

In May 2012, science-fiction writer and blogger John Scalzi published a post titled “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” “I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word ‘privilege,’ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon,” Scalzi wrote. His solution: an extended metaphor drawn from role-playing games.

This 1970 board game, Blacks & Whites, created by the magazine Psychology Today, anticipated Scalzi’s argument, designing game play to teach adult players about racial privilege and housing. (This particular copy of Blacks & Whites sold at auction in New York yesterday.)

The game, a sideways adaptation of Monopoly, allows players to choose white or black identities.”Black” players start the game with $10,000; “white” players with $1,000,000. Rules for each of the game’s four housing zones—in “Estate Zone,” players playing as black could buy “only when they have one million dollars in assets”—are calibrated to make it hard for the “black” players to climb out of their initial cash deficits. “The goal of the game is to achieve economic equality,” writes Swann Auction Galleries’ Wyatt H. Day, “yet the game is strategically designed to make a black win impossible.” 

Psychologist Nicholas Charney founded Psychology Today in 1967. In an advertisement for the new publication that ran in New York magazine in 1968, Charney listed “topics in psychology” that he believed were poorly covered by the media and that his new magazine would explore with rigor; that list started with “racial prejudice.” 

Box for  Blacks & Whites: The Role Identity & Neighborhood Action Game, created  by  Psychology Today, 1970. 

Swann Auction Galleries

Blacks & Whites: The Role Identity & Neighborhood Action Game,  board game created by  Psychology Today, 1970. Click on the image to reach a zoomable/legible version. 

Swann Auction Galleries 

Rulebook for  Blacks & Whites: The Role Identity & Neighborhood Action Game,  board game created by  Psychology Today, 1970.

Swann Auction Galleries