Minnesota teacher's game encourages talk about race
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. -- "You look like a chocolate bar!" The assessment came from a third-grade boy, as he encountered the first black person he had ever seen -- teacher Audrey Clausen. The boy then licked her hand, to see whether she tasted like...
COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. - “You look like a chocolate bar!”
The assessment came from a third-grade boy, as he encountered the first black person he had ever seen - teacher Audrey Clausen.
The boy then licked her hand, to see whether she tasted like chocolate. He scowled. She asked him what she tasted like.
“Lotion!” he said, disgusted.
That was just one time Clausen had to deal with her race, working in a mostly white school in Cottage Grove. But after spending years patiently explaining herself, she developed a faster way to teach about racial matters.
She created a game called SCORE - Start a Conversation on Race Equality. The purpose of the game is to gently encourage conversation about a subject that is too difficult for many people to raise.
“It’s a game, but it is also a tool to have conversations on various issues without hurting feelings,” said Clausen, now a special education teacher at Park High School in Cottage Grove.
The game is sympathetic to white people who make remarks that are attacked as racist.
“There are racist people, and there are others who just use the wrong words,” said Clausen. “It is not really their fault - it’s the way they were taught. We have to un-teach them.”
She believes - and the game confirms - that people are sometimes hypersensitive about comments judged to be racist. “Everyone makes mistakes. Other people need to forgive them,” Clausen said.
Why isn’t race discussed more openly? Because, she said, white people often feel as if an innocent comment will result in being labeled a racist.
“White people are afraid they might be reprimanded,” Clausen said. Anyone who feels attacked won’t listen - and that empathy for white people is at the core of her game.
The SCORE board has a spiral in which players advance their game pieces. With each turn, players turn up one of the 240 cards and answer the question on the back.
The opponent responds, agreeing or disagreeing with the answer. At the end of the turn, the player advances the piece on the board, according to the number on the back of the card.
When playing SCORE, the emphasis is on the C - Conversation.
One card has a classic white person’s question: Why is it wrong for white people to use the N-word, but OK for black people to use it?
“That card gives you the option of talking about the N-word,” Clausen said. “It would be awkward to bring that up out of nowhere.”
Other questions, paraphrased below, are just as provocative:
* If we were all the same race, would we get along better? Why?
* Should labels for race - African-American, Asian-American, etc. - be eliminated?
* Do others say, “You look angry” when you are not? Does it bother you?
* Would racial profiling be warranted if there were a graffiti epidemic perpetrated by a certain race?
* Define racial profiling. Has it ever affected you?
* Do you feel obligated to be friends with people of different races?
The game has been used in schools and churches in Cottage Grove. Among the game’s fans is Todd Hochman, assistant principal at Park.
“We don’t give students much opportunity to have these kinds of discussions,” Hochman said. “The advantage of this game is the opportunity it creates.”
With a little help from her game, Clausen is fundamentally optimistic about race relations in America.
“Look at me. I came from the ghetto on the south side of Chicago,” she said. “I am living every moment of life appreciating the people around me.”
Racism, she said, is a problem of the past that lingers today.
“The problem is that some people are stuck in the past,” Clausen said. “Right now we have the opportunity for all races to advance.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.