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Guess Who? I bet you won’t guess this . . .

Now that we’ve been told that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are not inclusive, GI Joe is too rough, Dr. Seuss’s books depict racist language and pictures, and Barbie is both too curvy and too thin, parents have to wonder, “What toy is next on the cancel culture list?” I think I found one. Guess Who? No, really, I mean it, the classic board game, Guess Who? Read on to consider how Guess Who? might just have you and your kids guessing at its makers’ motives more than the object of the game itself.

If you need a refresher on the ’80s favorite, Guess Who? is the game in which each player looks at the same 25 character faces and names on his/her board. Each player draws a card that matches the face and name of one of those 25 people, then take turns asking questions to try to guess the name of the card the other player drew. It’s a terrific opportunity for kids to practice asking curious questions (kids are often in the self-serving declarative mode), noting different but commonly experienced facial features, such as hair and eye colors, fashion accessories, and generally playing detective. Pediatric speech therapists often use this game to help kids struggling with understanding pronouns (now a fraught topic in itself) and asking questions.

In planning to add some extra fun to our spring break vacation with family and friends, I purchased the game of Guess Who? My kids are Floridians, and we were spending a week in winter weather. I suspected their thin blood wouldn’t let last long outside in the cold, and I was right. After a short while of play in the cold outdoors, in the kids came to warm up and cozy up with mom’s much talked-about new-old game. I say “new-old” because I had really talked up the activity as a game I enjoyed playing when I was little.

Upon setting up the game, I was shocked. Many of the characters had unconventional hair styles and piercings with which most young children would not be familiar. Several names and appearances were androgynous. One of the kids actually couldn’t tell if a character card in question was a boy or a girl. The kids actually found it confusing to answer simple questions, “Does your person have black hair?” A kid replied, “Well, part of it is black . . . ” because a good chunk of it was electric yellow. Doesn’t that give away the game pretty fast and prevent other deductive question-asking? Hair coloring techniques aside, my bigger concern was the race issue: many skin colorings were represented, which can be a good thing. The world is not just one color; however, I could see how in our very race-conscious culture the first question kids would ask is, “Is your person Black? Is your person white?” I cringed to think a board game was training my kids to first identify a person by their skin color. When my kids come home from school and talk about a friend with whom they played, I don’t want them saying, “Amber, the Black girl.” I want them to say, “Amber, the really funny one whose great at the monkey bars.” If they are going to describe physical features, I’d much prefer them say, “Amber, the one with pretty chocolate-colored eyes and the big smile” rather than “Amber, the Black girl.” Yet, the latest Guess Who? edition was certainly pointing toward the latter.

So what did I do? I put the game away. I went to ebay to see if you could buy the original version. You can. To my surprise, you can also buy it -- advertised as the “retro” version -- on Amazon at two times the price of the current (dare I say “woke”?) version. Interestingly, “guess who” the company is that manufactures this board game? Hasbro -- the very same company who used to make “Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head,” recently canceled “Mr. and Mrs.”, and relabeled the product to just “Potato Head.” That observation has me guessing what Hasbro is up to -- and what other products it is currently “tweaking.” Clearly the company is doing more than responding to today’s woke narratives: it advances them.

I admit I coughed up the extra money, bought the original version, and discovered that every person in that board game was of the same light-skinned pigment. I was disappointed by the uniform color among the board of 24 faces. I understand that, in some ways, by keeping all the characters one color, the focus of the game is not on the skin color and more on the stage of an individual’s development (older vs. younger, age being a variable experienced by all races) or a trait more specific to that person (short hair vs. long hair, another variable common to all races). Nevertheless, human beings are created with lots of different skin colors. I want to normalize this reality for my kids, so I understand the need for tweaks and updates to advertisements, games, and toys as appropriate. Yet what’s happened in today’s over-the-top, excessive woke efforts to improve representation in American culture has led to creating more conflicts, divisions, and controversies. All this is arguably doing more harm than good, especially within young minds which first need to grasp basic information and developmental milestones.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next. Perhaps I will mix the two character cards so my kids receive neither extreme experience. Perhaps I’ll buy the Marvel version or Disney version instead because at least those questions would have to do more with character skills and plot rather than skin color. Perhaps I’m overthinking it. Perhaps I’m not. Clearly, this guessing game has produced a whole other internal guessing game that can easily be played with just one player -- a very internally conflicted mama. Perhaps I’ll just wait until my kids get a little older and use both versions as a teachable moment, when I think they are cognitively and socially ready to tackle these bigger questions. It’s clear that fewer and fewer are the innocent parts of childhood that are remaining untouched by the increasing obsession with racial and gender identity. We are grateful to work in partnership with our readers to identify and problem-solve on how to address these ever-encroaching changes.

1 Comment

Sep 19, 2023

Wow! I'm not actually shocked that the beauty of diversity could be overshadowed by white privilege. But yet, still ... wow.

Representation matters. I bought this game for a group of students; a group of students who's diversity reflect the world we live in. The joy on their faces when they saw people who looked them, their culture represented, their hair type styled beautifully, their skin tones... I sincerely hope you could have experienced this. There were actual giggles and shrieks.

Yet, you would prefer that these children not have this moment, because your white children weren't centered. You think that children don't discuss skin tone and race? They do.... with whatever lens their parents put on it. You spent…

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