Aug 11, 2005

Examining Human Bingo

I just noticed that I'll be playing Human Bingo during my program orientation for law school. Are you familiar with the game? Basically, you're given a grid with 25 or so factoids, such as "Came from a family of larger than 10" or "Plays a Musical Instrument", and you have to walk around the room asking your peers if they fit into the categories. Usually, you can't use a person for more than one thing.

The concept is simple, using a game structure to get folks to network, reach out beyond their comfort zone, ask some non-generic questions, and hopefully, get to know one another better. I enjoy games, but I started to think about this.

My program will be majority white female, I'm guessing. And there are inevitably questions on the bingo sheet, especially in non-profit or progressive spaces, that include things like "Speaks another language" or "first person in my family to go to law school."

Instead of following my instinct to try to "win" (partially because there's a capitalist, oppressive quality to games that portend that there are "winners" and there are "losers" in something like this), I want to challenge some of the patterns that usually come out of these exercises.

For example, how likely is it that I'll be asked if: a) I speak another language (I do), or b) I was born in another country (I wasn't), or c) I am a vegetarian (I am)? It's not the questions so much as the underlying assumptions that folks use to guide who they ask in a situation where they are just trying to "win." I played the game in a very progressive training space as an ice-breaker, and it was obvious, even in a crowd of people of color. I was asked about being born in another country, and even got a surprised look when I said "no."

I don't want to just assume things about people, and feel like this game can easily devolve into that kind of exercise. That may be an interesting thing to explore if there's a debrief afterwards, but this is an icebreaker. And I hate being in "liberal" spaces and feeling like a fringe spiky thing left in the corner because people either think that they've figured out my deal, or they don't know or care to deal with me.

So I'll flip it. I'll ask the white folk if they speak a second language and say "really?" with incredulity if they say no. I'll ask the most trimmed and prepped out if they are the first in their family to go to college, let alone grad school. I'll focus on the Asian folks if there's a question about drug use or overeating. I'll ask the African Americans if they were born abroad. I'll ask the Latino/a students if they are from the Northeast, or if they ski. And I'll count how many times I'm asked if English was my first language.


Chai said...

interesting points. I never thought about human bingo in that way. i'm glad you "spoke" up about it in this space because it will make me think about ice-breakers and inherent discrimination that underlines many games.

and please do update us on how many times you were asked if you speak a different language. and if there was a debrief.

Rage said...

Thanks. Yeah - I forgot to post up what happened, but I was right about the program diversity, and though folks were pretty reasonable in their assumptions, I was still asked about whether I was born in another country about 3 times. With only 11 people playing, pretty poor showing for my classmates.

Staying true to my bravado in the post, I asked one of the women if she spoke another language, and I guess this was the wrong crowd (Peace Corps, Americorps, International work) because she said yes in the blink of an eye.

Oh well. No debrief, but it was good for me - supported some of my concerns, but also reminded me that I have to focus on my own biases and "short-cuts" to critical analysis in social/casual settings (without becoming a fascist about terminology, perspective, and the like. After all, we're all still trying to find our way).

Rage said...

Interestingly, I was asked if I was the first in the family to go to law school as many times as the nativity question. I actually liked being asked that question, as I could show what a proud brother I really am. :)