When we are thinking about moving toward a more equitable society, we should consider ease access to leveling up. You can read more about the idea here. I was talking to my friend Alan yesterday about a bunch of things that we both agreed with, but hadn’t talked much about ever. We talked about the idea that leveling up in career or even starting your life as a young black person, is a different challenge than we experienced. It reminded me of a video game my son Dex and I played a couple of days ago. This kid loves video games and he and I play them together every once in awhile. Minecraft is one of his favorites, so when we a new Minecraft game came out for XBox, I figured we would get it for him.
As I am sitting up in our attic, where the XBox is, he is setting up the game. He picks out a character for me to use and we start playing whatever level he was on in the. I didn’t realize this but Minecraft Dungeons is one of those games where you walk around finding stuff and killing bad guys (that’s different than regular Minecraft). The more you do of those two things, the higher level your character is. The higher level your character is, the easier the game is for you. We played the level and I kept thinking something was wrong with me. I mean I know I probably suck at that game, but it isn’t like it is overly complicated. For some reason, it would take me forever to kill a bad guy. If you die, which happened to me a lot, the other character has to come revive you. I think I spent more time waiting to be revived by Dex than actually killing bad guys or whatever we were supposed to be doing.15 minutes in, I wanted to quit the game because it was too hard.
Eventually I figured out that my character was like a level 5 and his was a level 30. His sword did way more damage every time he used it and his armor was much better than mine. I think he died once the whole time we played. After I died for the 15th time, I asked him if we could play an easier level since my guy wasn’t very good. He’s 7 so he didn’t care and we started playing somewhere easier. As soon as we did that, it was fun again. I stopped immediately dying and my character kept finding new weapons and armor and slowing started to level up.
In some ways families level up through the generations. It was a lot easier for me to go to college or to know I should do well in high school. Trust me, not every 17 year old understands the weight of the decisions they are making when in high school. Most of the ones I have worked with think school is a hurdle to jump over and they have arrived as individuals once they are done with their 13 years of public educations. They see teachers as adversaries instead of the people assigned to help them grow into adulthood. School is hard and the prospects of going on to more school is a lot like how I would feel if you forced me to play Minecraft Dungeons with a level 5 character. I could figure it out, but it would suck way more than if my person was a level 30.
So what does this have to do with racial reconciliation? Part of reconciliation is first understanding that being at different levels is fine, but we should work to close those gaps. If I move up to level 7 while Dex moves up to level 40 the disparity between us widens. Instead of letting that happen, Dex participated in playing the game with me at the level I was at. He helped me get comfortable with using the different moves and I practiced using different button combinations to make various things happen in the game. Because of him sharing his experience, we both had more fun. We moved in the direction of equality because he helped me navigate within a system I was unfamiliar with.
Literally tomorrow I could decide I wanted a different career and then devise and execute a plan to move forward. Many of you out there could do the same thing. We are like level 30 players in the system we play in. Many of my poor, black neighbors are more like level 5. There hasn’t been enough generational leveling up to make the game easy for them. White privilege and racial inequity is super complex and difficult to quantify. Thinking about it like this makes it a little easier for me to understand. The median white person starts out at a level that is higher than the median black. That’s why a poor white neighborhood looks so much nicer than mine. The starting level for each group is different. A huge part of racial reconciliation is going to be moving in the direction of leveling out the starting positions for both groups. We need more of us level 30 players to walk along side the level 5’s and help them level up.