I used to love playing the board game called Puerto Rico. It’s a well-designed strategy game in which each player builds a mini-civilization on their own island of Puerto Rico. Various crops can be raised (like corn, sugar, and coffee) and then shipped back to Europe or sold at the local trading post. Many buildings can be purchased and built, which enhance a player’s production, shipping, and trading. The gameplay mechanic is really fascinating, too: there are a certain number of “roles” that players can choose from each round, such as settler, trader, captain, or builder. When a player chooses a certain role on their turn, that player gets a specific bonus, and then all the players can take the actions of that role.
I love strategy games like Puerto Rico. The dynamics of the game, the strategy of how you will try to amass the most victory points, the choices that affect not only your board but the boards of other players – I find that kind of game really enjoyable.
But there’s a problem. I said at the outset that I used to love playing Puerto Rico. I don’t anymore.
Why? Well, I’ve left out one key part of the game. For any of your settlements or buildings to function, you need to staff them with people. Otherwise, they will sit empty and not do anything at all. In this game, the people are referred to as “colonists” and are represented by small, round, brown tokens.
Brown “colonists.” They literally arrive on a ship and are put to work on your island of Puerto Rico, working in fields or buildings as you direct them. You can shuffle them around, but they never leave your island.
There is another word for these brown colonists, a word that the game’s creators conveniently omit: slaves.
Because that’s the real history of Puerto Rico and so many other locations in the western hemisphere. Brown “colonists” were brought over on ships from Africa and were made to labor at their masters’ discretion. But they were not colonists at all. They were slaves.
You may have seen on the news recently that a new federal holiday has been approved by Congress. That holiday is called Juneteenth, and it celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth occurs on June 19 every year, because it was on June 19, 1865, that slaves were proclaimed free in Texas by the victorious Union Army.
To be honest, I had never heard of Juneteenth until about two or three years ago. I never knew about this important day in American history and this important celebration for African Americans – for all Americans. I grew up in Indiana, and Juneteenth simply was not part of the education I received, either in school or at church or in society. But I’m starting to learn, a little bit every year, just how significant Juneteenth is.
The point of all this is to say that I need to grow and change. I need to learn. I need to listen. I need to ask questions, seek answers, and knock on doors that I never even knew existed. I need to join in celebrating Juneteenth and to continue the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.
I probably will never play the board game Puerto Rico ever again. But I look forward to celebrating Juneteenth with every passing year. And I hope I keep learning to uncover the blind spots in my vision – or, rather, the planks in my own eye. (Matthew 7:1-12)