He who seeketh, findeth

August 12, 2007

ARE YOU BLACK OR WHITE? A Chess Perspective On Race And Racism

Filed under: Meditation,Reason for Breathing,Thoughts and Reflections,World Issues — Steve (Chessiq) @ 12:42 am

It is not uncommon for non-Caucasian Chess players to say something like: “I am white”, “I was white and I lost!” or for Caucasian or non-African chess players to utter something like: “I am black”, “I was black and I won”. When we, Chess players, say it, we do not think about race. We are talking about the color of the Chess pieces that you play during a game.
In Chess, Black is considered to start off with a disadvantage since the player with the white pieces makes the first move.
In a way, White, (the player with the white pieces), determines how the game goes. If she is a good player, she usually has
the initiative (similar to having “the say” on how things go on the chess board). However, having the white pieces does not necessarily mean that you are going to win the game. In some aspects, it is a negative thing because of the pressure; it is assumed that since you are White, then you have to win the game. Black has ways to play the game such that the advantages of White’s first move are minimized or neutralized. Black usually hopes for equality. Of course, after equalizing, Black may try to play for a win. There are tons of games where Black has outplayed White. Unlike in Chess, where one person’s gain is another’s loss, life does not necessarily work that way; two people of different races can live together, work as a team, and both come out as winners. Thinking about the “color of the pieces” has made me address a couple of issues regarding race for both from the “victim” or the “oppressed” and the “aggressor” or “offender”.

WHAT CAN THE OPPRESSED DO TO IMPROVE THEIR WAY OF LIFE?
1. You have to do your best all the time or most of the time. You are playing the black pieces. You are not the one who gets the first move, compliment, raise, or whatever it is that is advantageous. Before the first move is made, people have assumed that you are going to lose the game or at best come out with a draw. You cannot just wish that they change their assumptions. In a way, you are supposed to prove that being black, or gray, or whatever pieces you have, deserve a chance, a second look, that you have abilities on the Chess board called Life.
2. You have to have a greater goal than just playing this one game of Chess. I have talked about having goals before. (Click here for one of the articles.) When your goal is beyond just going to work or paying the bills or surviving, you are more motivated to overcome whatever hurdles come your way. For example, you can go to a tournament with the goal of winning the tournament. This goal does not give you much room to drop points by drawing or losing as Black. Other people have gone to places just to change the culture. Or to let the people know that being Black does not mean you are carrying a gun or you are lazy or … it just means that God wanted a Black or Latino or mixed or whatever image of His face on earth. Thus, you do your best to accomplish your big goal; one of your missions in life.
3. You rise above the color of the pieces you are playing. Chess teaches you to forget everything else and focus on what is happening on the chess board once the game starts. Each time, you try to make your best move and improve your position. If you lose a pawn or a piece, you still play your best to the end. In life, people will do all sorts of things, say all sorts of things, but you have to rise above it all and play your best move, each time. (It sounds pretty hard, and it is, but you if can do it consciously for 32 months, it will become a habit. You will not have to think about it.)
4. Stay out of trouble. Very few players sacrifice pawns or pieces when playing Black. There is a lesson from Chess! If things do not seem to go your way right from the start, the least you can do is stay out of trouble. Everyone needs to meditate what that “trouble” is. Just to give some example, it can be trouble with the law, debt, anger, self-esteem, education, or other (life-)skills. What you are trying to do is avoid loss of control of your life. If you are arrested, you give up your life to whoever runs the system. If you are too angry you give up control to whoever is making you angry. It is no longer just an initiative; you are talking several initiatives or tempi. (Sorry, that is too much Chess, but I could not find a better way to put it.)
5. Count your blessings. When I play Black, every once in a while I stop and re-evaluate my position to see whether I have met my expectations “so far”. Usually, I feel better because I have not been swept off the board by White! I look at ways to improve my position if it is at all possible. I think in life you have to do the same thing. If you want to really see how well-off you are, you can consider how it would have been 200 years ago or may be 35 years ago. Where would you be? Or What if you were born in a different country where there is no hope for bettering yourself? What if in addition to the current disadvantage, you also had … (you can fill in the blank – whatever would make your life horrible!) The point is to make yourself realize that you may have it bad, but other people have it worse. Hopefully, the appreciation of your position will make you think about ways to maintain or improve it.
6. Focus on the good people. This is similar to 5. above, but the difference is that here I am referring to people, specifically. There are people that, regardless of what you do, they will do their best to bring you down. There are also nice people out there; people who are just nice, regardless of who you are or what you have done. I find that focusing your attention on the good people does help. You avoid the negativity, and at the same time you learn the art of being nice to people regardless of who they are, or what their skin color is.
7. Accept that you cannot change the world. In Chess, there will always be people who hate playing Black, who are scared of playing Black, or who think that because you are playing White, you win, regardless of the results/proof to the contrary. What can you do about these people? Not much. After you have done your best, there is nothing more to do. So the same goes for life. You cannot preach to people that being this color is good or bad if they firmly believe otherwise. They may have reason to. It is their “prerogative”. Once you accept people regardless of their belief systems or how they treat you, you experience a sense of relief. You no longer carry the burden of proof. You know the truth and that’s what sets you free.
8. Know people at a deeper level. At first, I thought that I should keep this for my section on the “oppressor”, but I saw that this also applies to the “oppressed”. When you know somebody beyond the “professional” interaction, you understand his biases, prejudices or whatever it is better. You can explain some of the behavior. Sometimes it is not personal. It is not directed at you. In addition, when you know a person deep enough, you do not judge him by what is showing on the surface. You have inside information; more information with which to make your decision.
9. Learn new things, skills, etc about the other group. In Chess, it does not matter whether the piece is Black or White, it moves the same way. All Bishops move diagonally, all Knights move the L way. So when you are playing Chess as Black, you do the same things that White does: opening for your pieces, castling to protect your King, etc. These improve your chances of enjoying the game and hopefully winning. In life, because of social status and other issues, people do not have experiences of the other side. By learning knew skills, cultures, languages, etc, you increase your chances of understanding what the other side is doing. You become more competent dealing with the other side. You minimize misconceptions and prejudices born of ignorance.
10. Know and live your rights. There is nothing worse than being entitled to fair treatment and not getting it. I cannot imagine a Chess player with the Black pieces letting white make 2 consecutive moves before he makes his move(s)! If Chess players cannot let it happen, why should you? Knowing your rights does not only mean that you know what you should/can get, but you also know what you should not expect to get.
I am sure there is a lot of literature out there dealing with issues of race and racism. I guess a bonus point is: KNOW AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT RACE ISSUES. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Armed with knowledge and social intelligence, you should be able to navigate the race waters successfully.

WHAT CAN AN OPPRESSOR DO TO IMPROVE THEIR OWN LIFE?
Why do people oppress other people? This is the question that the oppressor needs to answer on his own. He knows best why he thinks he is superior, why people who are different from him are inferior, why he has to act like the game is won before any pieces have been moved. Once this question is answered, he will have to look at it and see if it is something that he needs to continue doing for the rest of his life, or he can effect changes that will benefit people different from him that he comes in contact with.
A few suggestions:
1. Give people a chance to prove themselves. Sometimes that is all it takes for you to change your mind. If you win against Black all the time, all it takes is several games where the guy playing Black is very good and you see it over the board, that being Black is not a handicap, like you once believed.
2. Forget the colors of the pieces; just play your best move! In Chess, that is what you do. You know you are White. You think about if for a while, probably before the game starts, but once the game is going, you “forget” about the colors of the pieces. You forget that you made the “first move” because you are White. Similarly, when you forget about the skin color, and you let the people be themselves you achieve several things. First, you let the people be themselves, and usually, people do their best when they are not stressed out about having to do this extra work just because they are different. They just do the job, whether it is programming, designing, preparing for a case, presenting a case, sweeping, or learning new things. Second, the people feel accepted for who they are. I cannot explain how powerful this is. It is powerful in love, in religion, and I believe it is powerful in other areas, including work.
3. Know people at a deeper level. Once you know a person deeply, you never treat them the same. It is the reason why most people treat their family members differently from non-family member, for better or for worse. This is just because you know your family well. Hopefully, you know and remember good things! It is the same for people of a different color. If you know that they had a troubled background or they grew up poor, or they didn’t go to school til they will 10 years old, or that they have a family member who is not doing well, or … you change the way you look at them. This is called a paradigm shift. You no longer label them slow, angry, unteachable, or ‘Black’ – whatever that means to you. Their actions make sense. Instead of treating the symptom, if any, you treat the source. You see how you can help so that both of you benefit in the end.
4. Accept that you cannot change the world. You cannot expect too much when it comes to social issues as they are very complicated. All you can do is your best, one person at a time, one situation at a time. Sometimes it will not work out, but you cannot take it personally. After you have done your best, there is nothing more to do. You play your best move or game all over again. After all, Life is a game of Chess.
5. Know your rights and duties. Similar to the “oppressed”, this will help you know if you are doing the bare minimum or you are being taken advantage of. Hopefully, you will exceed the expectations, while making sure that people are not taking advantage of you by playing the race trump card.

BONUS POINT: Again, knowledge is power. Knowledge plus social intelligence should help you navigate the race waters successfully.

THE POWER OF PRAYER
When I played Chess, there were times when my knowledge and skill could not get me into or out of certain positions. Guess what I did? I PRAYED! I have always had so much faith in God. Similarly, here, I would suggest that before you make a move on all that is written here and elsewhere, you pray about it, and as you make your moves, you pray about it, and whether you are successful in effecting positive changes in the racial dynamics, you pray again. I believe that we are all created in the image of God. As such our treatment of each other should reflect the Creator’s Character. Need I say more?

Any comments, experiences, ideas and suggestions regarding race issues will be greatly appreciated.

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