Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Black Chess," Misconceptions and Sterotypes

While visiting family in northern California this week I noticed this article in their local Sunday paper (by Avis Thomas-Lester, originally published in the Washington Post) about the Washington, D.C.-area chess scene. Mostly, the players described are like chess players everywhere in the world--they love chess, and are in some sense addicted to it.

This part was rather jarring, though:

"Black chess is not like European chess, where everybody sits there all quiet and doesn't say anything," said player Nathan Saunders, 42, general vice president of the Washington Teachers Union.

"Black folks talk trash. You gotta have that sass to go along with the game. As a matter of fact, a lot of guys will ask each other as they sit down, 'Are we going to play European chess or chess from the 'hood?'"

"Black chess?" Sounds to me like speed chess, cafe chess and park chess all over the world. When we occasionally have a night off from serious chess at the Reno Chess Club there's plenty of this kind of banter, though perhaps not as sharp-witted. These guys have apparently had a lot of practice! There's a long tradition of "the dozens" in the black community, whether during games of chance and skill, or just sitting around drinking beer.

Notably, all the black guys I've ever played in tournaments were just as silent as the other people of all races, creeds, colors and sexes. What Mr. Saunders is talking about is tournament chess versus casual or speed chess, not "European" versus "'hood."

If the article causes more people to come out and enjoy chess in any form, it's a good thing. I just hope the member of the general public not familiar with the chess scene doesn't think there's a special "black chess."

By the way, here's a link to the website mentioned in the article, The Chess Drum. There's lots of interesting and original material there.

1 comment:

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, good post. It appears that Mr. Saunders is badly misinformed about chess and its many variations. He appears somewhat prejudiced himself.

I think nearly all chess talk trash in casual games.

I once told a King's Defense Player that I thought it amazing he could play such a defense against me since I 'pasted' him in this defense many times previously!

At some point in the middle game, I said his mother showed better instincts for the game!

Some moves later, I told him that I thought his Queen poorly dressed and looked like a man!

I lost on time at the end, probably from talking too much trash.

Bottom line Mr. Saunders is this: When we Anglo-Saxons are not playing serious chess in tournaments, we talk just as much trash as anyone from the hood!