LOS ANGELES — When Elize Diop was younger, she vividly remembered telling her older sister she wanted to be lighter.
The daughter of a Senegalese father did not have the same long, curly hair and light complexion as the “pretty girls” at her school did. Instead, she was dark and weave-less with her natural hair styled in a ponytail.
For Diop, those scenarios became increasingly visible as she aged. While attending the UC San Diego, she used the obstacles to create the board game “Black Blocks” for an ethnic study course.
“Black Blocks is a game that puts a face to the issues of today’s society,” Diop said. “It humanizes ‘controversial’ subjects like race, class, gender and religion, and makes these subjects not only approachable, but fun to talk about.”
The creator shared an exclusive interview with The Wave to discuss the board game, her thoughts on Black History Month and her Kickstarter campaign.
Q: How did the concept for Black Blocks develop?
A: It started off as a class final project to show what we learned in the course. The board game is about race and performance. Every part of the black body is stigmatized from your hair to your nose to your body. I hadn’t realized that until I took the course. Originally, the game featured three African-American female characters pieces, or clay balls, ranging from dark to light skin tones. The clay balls are based on stereotypes of black women, so the darker game piece had an angry expression, the brown piece had a single track weave with a smile on her face and then the lighter one had an Afro with a blank expression on her face. Nowadays, the game has evolved to feature males and females who face micro-aggressions on a daily basis.
Q: How is the game played?
A: You need three or more people to play the game. It features 300 cards with scenarios for both genders, multiple-choice questions, true or false and trivia. Each player starts with four black blocks and one red block, which is used for true or false, short writing exercises or trivia. The blocks represent obstacles seen in life. The goal is to be the first player to get rid of all your blocks. For example, say you pick up a scenario card with the question: “You say the ‘N’ word so much that your ‘non-black’ friends are starting to say it too. What do you do?” The available options are (a) ask them to stop saying it (b) shrug it off (c) neither. Once the player choses his/her answer and explains why, the other players have two minutes to decide whether or not that player should loose his/her’s block or hold unto it. Other ways of accumulating more blocks include giving an incorrect answer.
Q: What sort of response have you received?
A: Everyone is saying you can play this game in so many different settings. Some say, ‘Oh, my boss needs to play this game because he’s the most insensitive person.’ Or, ‘I could use this in my diversity training class.’ It sparks so much dialogue, even though people can take forever with discussing one card, but I’m on cloud nine whenever people tell me they enjoy the game.
Q: You say your game promotes black history all year long. How?
A: Growing up with a Senegalese father makes Black History Month highly visible for me, but my problem has always been “Why is it only OK to talk about it in February?” I love that we talk about the accomplishments of black people, but why do we get a short month to speak about it? All year long, in U.S. History, it’s white history. “Black Blocks” presents information that is engaging and informative. It’s entertaining. On the bottom of certain cards, you’ll see a “Black Fact” on the bottom and you can turn to the “Black Fact Booklet” and learn more about it.
Q: Now, you have a Kickstarter campaign for the board game. What are you raising the money for?
A: To produce 1,200 units. Right now, I just have prototypes. I launched the fundraiser on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it will be over at the end of February.