A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about comfort food and how my immediate family stays in touch despite our political differences by playing a game I like to call, “Jones Family Password.” For those of you not familiar with the classic 1970s television game show, the concept is that you give one-word clues to your teammate for them to guess a hidden word held by you. With each clue given, the point value goes down. Of course, the spin on our version is that most of the hidden words relate to Jones family trivia, things only our immediate family would know. For instance, nobody would expect you to be able to guess my cousin’s name based on “YMCA” and “poop” (for the record, my aunt guessed the correct answer just based on “YMCA” without needing to wait for the “poop”).
Like most games — say, backgammon, with the rolling of double dice or getting crowned in checkers by reaching your opponent’s side of the board, there are advantages to doing well either through luck or by chance. In our version of Password, if you correctly guess the answer, you get to start the next round (“Person, place, or thing?” “I’ll pick place!” “Okay, here’s your first clue with a value of five points…”). Rarely will someone correctly guess the answer on the first clue, but it can happen. Which it did two Sundays ago.
The four of us were playing — me, my brother, my dad, and my Aunt Barb. Let me preface the following by saying that I love my Aunt Barb. She’s a retired former schoolteacher and a widow, but also a bit of a “Karen” in public. Despite her politics, her heart is in the right place. We started playing, and my brother was on fire, correctly answering “peach” (clue “Georgia”), “shag carpet in our basement” (clue “orange”), and “Cher” (clue “gypsies”). But his streak was broken with the fourth hidden word (“Uncle Russ”), despite great clues like “murdered” and “drunk.” Go figure.
The game continued and each person eventually had their moment to shine, but nobody came close to my brother’s winning streak. After I announced the final score naming my brother the winner, Aunt Barb said that maybe I should revisit the rules. “It’s not fair, I only got a chance to answer half of the questions because your brother and dad got their answers with the first clue!”
Before I had a chance to respond, her inner “Karen” kicked into overdrive and she complained that maybe a better way to play would be to alternate each round, so that everyone gets a chance to start, and that way everybody could feel like they had an equal opportunity. She finished by saying, “It’s not fair that one person gets to keep building upon their lead, so that the rest of us can’t even play.”
Because I’m a Democrat, and an empathetic person by nature, I felt her frustration, but coming from a life-long Republican, someone who loves it when Tucker Carlson “owns the libs,” it was a little jarring to hear Aunt Barb start sounding like Bernie Sanders.
I wanted to tell her that essentially what she was asking for was, if not Affirmative Action, at least something suspiciously similar. I should have used the opportunity to tell her that in real life, outside of our little game, the upper 1% of Americans makes $1.7 million in annual income, while the median “average” American only takes home $82,535. The income disparity obviously also drives wealth inequity, I felt like I should tell her. The fact there are just three white men who have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of America (170 million people) should be all one needs to know to begin reexamining the rules of American society. Which is why it is so maddening to see the obvious wealth disparity between African Americans and their white counterparts — persistent due to generations of enslavement, Jim Crow, and continued racism — met with a collective shoulder shrug by the majority of Americans.
When you make more money, you can buy and save more as well, handing down to the following generations the accumulated wealth gained from years of social capital, networking connections, and the magic of compounded interest from investments. It is why the elite of the country can buy the best education, the best lawyers, and their own politicians, guaranteeing that they maintain their supremacy. It is what is driving so many people into believing the false promise of QAnon and the fake populism of Trumpism, as we see the unrelenting corruption of the elites while the vast majority of Americans’ hopes stagnate.
So yeah, Aunt Barb, I get it.
The following week I changed the rules to the game. No longer would winning a question guarantee that they would have a head start in answering the next. Instead we would rotate, regardless of who won. I called it the “Aunt Barb” rule.
And while she didn’t win that Sunday night, this past weekend she did.
I wonder what a corollary to the “Aunt Barb” rule would be for America?