Ask Amy: Former student reacts to race-based game

Ask Amy: Former student reacts to race-based game

Dear Amy: With knowledge comes broader perspective. I am a person of color. While studying for my Ph.D. in clinical psychology, I have realized that many things about my upbringing were wrong. In light of the social environment at the moment, the actions of one teacher hang heavy in my heart and mind.

In elementary school, we played a game in gym. It was an obstacle course on floor scooters, and we played it in the dark. It was a huge hit, and everyone loved it. The problem is that we would play it in February, Black History Month, and the game was called The Underground Railroad.

Everyone I mention this to says how wrong this was. But I remain confused as to why it was allowed in a supposedly progressive community. It minimized what this nation has put black people through, and made it into a children’s game. Most people don’t fully understand the profound impact that constant invalidation can have on the psyche.

The teacher who led the game now teaches high school U.S. history. I fear that he continues to minimize the suffering of those this nation has held down. I don’t know the most effective way of dealing with this, I know it needs to be addressed.

— Making Change

Dear Making Change: When I was a kid, we played “Cowboys and Indians,” featuring some truly outlandish, ignorant (and, I assume despicable) depictions of Native Americans. Granted, this game wasn’t used as a teaching tool in the schools, but I use it as one example of how every generation in this country can look back — and cringe at the racism that has infused our culture, since way before our nation’s founding.

We need only look at the pace of awareness and change over the last year or so to realize that we are in the midst of a reckoning. It is real and it is painful, and while this change might seem sudden, it has been happening in incremental ways for several generations.

I’d like to return to Maya Angelou, whose wisdom turns up quite often in this space: “I did then what I knew to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

You said as much yourself: “With knowledge comes broader perspective.”

I think it would be both helpful and useful if you wrote a letter to your alma mater, outlining your experience as a student there. You could use this letter to call out this particular teacher for minimizing the experience of escaping slaves by turning it into a game, but — this is obviously a bigger, systemic issue. The “casual” nature of this example does not make it any more acceptable, but perhaps this teacher has grown over time — along with so many others.

As a scholar, you have much to offer to guide this conversation.

Dear Amy: In the past month, I have gotten engaged to the love of my life!

With the ongoing COVID crisis happening, and my sister’s health deteriorating quickly, we are planning a small ceremony at the end of the summer.

The problem is, my future in-laws don’t seem to understand social distancing!

I spend time with my sister every day, and although I am not high risk myself, I have to protect her.

How can I get my in-laws to understand (without hurting anyone’s feelings) that although I want them to be there to celebrate with us, if they are going to give us hugs, I would rather they stay home?

— Engaged and Confused

Dear Confused: You should provide all of your guests with guidelines regarding how to manage this happy occasion, while minimizing risk to all of you (including them, of course).

And I hate to be a killjoy, but you and your intended should also seriously consider hosting a completely private ceremony (with just the two of you and clergy), with a larger inclusive celebration to be held after the greatest health risk has passed.

I have read too many accounts of benign celebration gatherings that have developed sometimes tragic and heartbreaking outcomes. The risk is magnified when people travel and don’t adhere to mask wearing and distancing guidelines.

Dear Amy: “Reluctant Mom,” who was concerned about traveling to her daughter’s wedding out of state could offer to pay for a videographer to set up online viewing of the ceremony for mom and others who can’t attend in person.

It won’t replace the whole experience but would provide an opportunity to participate.

— A Reader

Dear Reader: Great suggestion!

(You can email Amy Dickinson at or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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