The first time I really ever heard the phrase, play the game, was when I was in grad school. I was at a PWI and, as my mother would put it, “the only fly in the buttermilk”, in my department. I was an HBCU graduate, so becoming a minority was not something I adapted to easily. Honestly, I don’t think I ever adapted. I struggled to the point of becoming withdrawn. I lost self-confidence. My light dimmed. I would leave school, go lock myself in my apartment, and cry. My loved ones and advisors were all a phone call away. Whenever I called someone crying, I was either told to pray or play the game. I remember cringing every time I heard the latter. I knew where my help and source of strength was coming from, but I couldn’t understand why it was necessary that I play games in order to survive.
So, there I was.
Being coached on how to play the “white man’s game”. Mentors and friends were like, “You’re crying and you need to survive. All you have to do is make it three years. Play their game.” I was even watching my new black mentors and other minorities on campus in the throes of said “game”.
This particular game concept was basic:
abide by the rules and conventions that white people created and watch those rules work on your behalf. Ideally, you end up reaping benefits or even coming out on top in some cases. But it’ll cost you…
to me, the concept was antiquated and counterproductive. It enabled all of the systemic crap I was deeply opposed to. It was faking it ’til I made it. It was the reason I decided I would just stop talking altogether and give my white colleagues the ball. It was the reason I felt like I was losing. Dying. The game, for me, was light-dimming. I kept saying I don’t need to be playing the game. I need to change the game.
And that was my rebirth.
When I was really over it, and I mean really done to the point of discarding my playbooks… it was like a renaissance. I committed to being my total self. I committed to keeping it real in my business and personal relationships.
I don’t know about you, but for me, playing the game is a thing of the past. Changing the game is the new law.
Give me the ball.
Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, meta-artist, and social entrepreneur who feels most accountable to southern, black citizen-artists, elders, children, and families. Her work is at the intersection of arts, culture, innovation, and community.