The Real Monopoly: America's Racial Wealth Divide

Fifty-plus years after the end of legal segregation, individual African Americans have achieved amazing successes – including Barack Obama’s election as president. However, the black community as a whole remains under great stress. African Americans are overrepresented in prisons, underrepresented in college, and make less money, on average, than white counterparts in similar positions. How did this happen? As Obama pointed out in his groundbreaking 2008 speech on race, African Americans have historically been shut out of a number of paths to wealth, including membership in labor unions, access to FHA mortgages, jobs in civil service, and education in well-equipped schools. Other communities of color have faced similar obstacles – leading to a racial wealth gap that has made white people, on average, wealthier than people of color.In this lesson, students will get a glimpse of the long-term economic effects of race-based policies that have limited the economic opportunities of African Americans, Native Americans, and other communities of color. 
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

  • understand basic economic concepts such as real property, wealth, and income by playing the game Monopoly.
  • engage in a “rigged” version of Monopoly – and write a reflection on the long-term effects of economic injustice.


Essential Questions
  • How have race-based policies created economic injustice for African Americans and other communities of color?
  • What are the long-term effects of economic injustice?


Enduring Understandings

  • Race-based policies have created economic injustice for African Americans. The black community has historically been shut out of a number of paths to wealth, including membership in labor unions, jobs in civil service, and education in well-equipped schools. Other communities of color have faced similar obstacles.
  • Economic injustice has long-term effects that limit the economic opportunities of African Americans and other communities of color, and has led to a gap in wealth that favors white communities over those of color.
  • At least one copy of the board game Monopoly (Note: Rather than spending money on board games, you may want to ask fellow teachers if they have copies of the game available to lend. Another option is to go directly to the Extension Activity)
  • One copy of the rules of Monopoly for each student
  • Supplemental rules for Monopoly (listed within the procedure)


assets [ as-ets ] (noun) something with economic value that a person owns

injustice [ in-juhs-tis ] (noun) unfair treatment of others that violates their rights

liabilities [ lahy-uh-bihl-ih-tees ] (noun) costs you have to pay, such as rent and tax

simulation [ sim-you-lay-shin ] (noun) a model, a way of showing how something works by imitating it

wealth gap [ welth gap ] (noun) the unequal distribution of assets within a society


Suggested Procedure

Before you begin, read aloud the supplemental rules:

Rules for Hats: You are allowed to play Monopoly by the regular rules.

Rules for Horses: You are allowed to play by the regular rules. However, at any point during the first five turns, the Hats can demand all your property and all but $200 of your cash. The Hat may make this demand once. After that, you may continue to play by the regular rules of Monopoly.

Rules for Cars: You start the game with $200. For the first five turns you are allowed to have no more than $200 at a time. Any additional money must be given to the Hats. You are not allowed to buy any property for the first five turns. In the sixth and seventh turn, you are allowed to buy property, but only on the properties between the "Go" square and the "Jail" square. After the seventh turn, you may play by the normal rules of Monopoly.

1. Tell your students they're about to do something fun – play the board game Monopoly. Many students will already be familiar with the game, while others may have only a passing knowledge, or may have never heard of it. Note that this board game was created in the early 20th century as a simple simulation of the business world. Stress that, like all games, Monopoly is just a model of what happens in the real world. It may not always be true to real life.

2. Say, “I’m going to explain Monopoly’s rules and some of the real-world economic principles that the game represents.” Present how the game works (“You move around the board using dice. Every time you land on a property you can buy it — if it is not yet owned by anyone else. Once you own a property, you can build on it”) and explain key terms: “Rent is what you pay when you use someone else's property. Income is money you are paid (such as the $200 you get for passing “Go” or the money you collect in rent). Liabilities are costs you have to pay – for example, rent and tax. Real property consists of land and buildings on that land. Wealth is a measure of your assets minus your liabilities.”

3. Divide your class into Monopoly “teams.” Create three teams for each Monopoly board in the classroom. Each team should select one person — ideally someone new to the game — as its “player.” The rest of the team will be “advisers” to the player. (It’s best if you have enough Monopoly sets to have only three or four students on each team.)

4. Have students begin a game, with each team's advisers looking on and suggesting strategies. Allow teams to play for at least six, but no more than10, turns. Then ask teammates to work together to compile an accounting report that includes: (a) Estimated income (per turn), (b) accumulated wealth (money on hand when the game stops) and (c) a listing of real property. Depending on your class schedule, you may need to set aside one full class period for the Monopoly game and the accounting of assets.

5. Begin the next class session by reminding students that Monopoly is just a model of the economic world, and that reality is always more complex. Tell students that they are going to break into the same groups they competed in during the previous session, for another, new game of Monopoly. This time, however, you will introduce new rules that reflect a more complex reality.

6. Each team should choose one of three tokens to represent it: the Top Hat, the Car, or the Shoe. Once all teams have chosen their tokens, pass out copies of these “supplemental rules” for Monopoly. After all groups have played ten turns of this game of Monopoly, ask each team to do an accounting of its wealth. Remind students again that the game is just a rough representation of reality. However, this new model is meant to reflect the reality behind the race-based gap in wealth in the United States.

Like the Shoes, Native Americans had their property confiscated by European colonizers. Like the Cars, most African Americans were not allowed to own property until after the Civil War – and even then, Jim Crow laws or biased business practices prevented them from buying property in many communities. Of course, the reality is much more complicated than the model. You should make clear to your students that a number of other race-based economic policies had been practiced in the U.S. were just as devastating but were not reflected in our rigged Monopoly game.

7. Give students, as a class, time to discuss how they felt playing the “rigged” game of monopoly. Ask: “Everyone was playing by the same set of rules in the last two turns of the game – did those turns seem fair? Why or why not?”

8. As homework, ask your students to write a short essay in response to the following proposition:“A good Monopoly player can be competitive even in a bad situation.” Encourage students to think about how their status in the game (Top Hat, Shoe or Car) affects their answer.


Extension Activity

As an extension activity, invite students to create their own game to reflect the economic realities of life in America today. Give your students the goal of creating a game that would explain the basics of economics to students in younger grades. For an example of how to proceed, take a look at this lesson plan from the Utah Education Network.

Do Something

Ask students to investigate inequities in their community and consider ways to address them. Suggest they start by discussing inequities they are already aware of, doing online research for news about inequities in their community, and/or talking to family members and other members of the community to ask what they feel are inequities. Find out if anyone in the community is already working to address these inequities and how they are doing so. If possible, invite that person to your class to talk about his or her efforts and suggest ways that students can participate. Have students decide on how they would like to participate, and get started.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS SL.1, W.1

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