It would be hard to believe that you never had the board game Monopoly in your home. It’s about as classic as they come. It was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998. At one point it was the best-selling game in the nation and has appeared in 105 countries and came in 37 languages.
But Mary Pilon, author of The Monopolists, says it has a darkness no one notices. In an essay that was just published in The Atlantic, she says the game Monopoly is a lesson in racist segregation.
Jesse Raiford was a realtor who created the most common version of the game in the 1930’s and based it off the place he grew up, Atlantic City, NJ.
“Raiford affixed prices to the properties on his board to reflect the actual real-estate hierarchy at the time. And in Atlantic City, as in so much of the rest of the United States, that hierarchy reflects a bitter legacy of racism and residential segregation,” her essay reads.
Indeed the most expensive properties in Monopoly, ones like Park Place, Pennsylvania Avenue and Ventnor Avenue (where Raiford grew up) were ones where only white people were allowed to live. Boardwalk, also a premium property in the game, was also segregated in real life. Whites only. The streets in Atlantic City where black folks lived were the cheapest in Monopoly, like Baltic Avenue at only $60. Raiford’s own black maid lived there.
So Monopoly is an example of segregation and racism. Next you’re going to tell me the Get Out Of Jail Free cards were meant only for rich white guys who could afford the best lawyers. Seriously though, never once did I think about any of this when I played Monopoly. As kids we just saw it as a game. As Pilon writes, “Monopoly still offers us the chance to understand how deep-seated those injustices can be. We simply have to look closely enough at the board.”