David T. Chang said he was watching a rapper show off his "ghetto-fabulous" mansion on the show "MTV Cribs" when an idea struck him: "Why don't I make a board game that a guy like this would want to put it on his coffee table?"
The result was Ghettopoly, a biting parody of ghetto culture that mimics Monopoly. It prominently features a black man holding a bottle of malt liquor in one hand and a gun in the other, and has "playa" pieces that include a pimp, a prostitute, a rock of crack cocaine and an Uzi.
When Ghettopoly hit the market about a month ago, sales were brisk, Chang said in an interview last week. But few black people seemed to want anything to do with it. Friday, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume wrote Chang, of Saint Marys, Pa., to denounce the game as "reprehensible," and the organization's branches in Seattle and Philadelphia recently condemned and picketed stores of the Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters chain for selling it. Urban Outfitters recently stopped selling the game.
But even as the protests against Ghettopoly mounted, some African Americans said the demonstrators were overlooking something: The game, they said, exists because of negative images spread by certain African American rap artists, abetted by white record labels and white-owned television outlets such as MTV.
"When you put the culture out there, you have to understand that people will take that culture in a direction that is unique to themselves," said Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and author of a book on civil rights and hip-hop.
Hit songs such as "P.I.M.P.," by 50 Cent; "Big Pimpin'," by Jay-Z; and "Country Grammar," by Nelly -- which blithely rhymes about driving past a rival's hangout armed with a "street-sweeper . . . cocked, ready to let it go" -- glorify gunplay and the mistreatment of women as hallmarks of ghetto life.
Yet this year, Nelly was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for outstanding male artist; he did not win. Last year, hard-core rapper Ja Rule won an Image Award for outstanding hip-hop/rap artist.
Boyd, who is black and finds Ghettopoly offensive, said the NAACP and others who dislike the game are applying a double standard. "If a black person created this game, some people would probably still be offended, but you have to wonder if there would be so much protest," he said.
"It's interesting to me that some years ago, people were asking for inclusiveness," he said. "Now that that's happening, people are saying they want these images to be other than what they are. But you have to accept that certain people will have other interpretations."
Mark Anthony Neal, an associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin, had another view. He said rappers are only partially responsible for negative images of black culture. The true culprits, he said, are record labels that exploit those images to sell records.
But that has nothing to do with Chang's game. Neal said the facial features of some African American characters in the game are exaggerated, as with some of the worst depictions of black people dating to the beginnings of the 20th century.
"When you think about the game of Monopoly, which is about making so much money and buying up property, it's ironic to see that the image of the ghetto has been bought and sold to the highest bidder," said Neal, author of "Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic."
"The artists really don't have the power to control what the record labels want," Neal said. "MTV, however, has the power to tell the labels what they won't accept. But there's only a certain type of video MTV wants from black artists."
Chang, a 28-year-old entrepreneur, said he watched rap videos like many teenagers. He said he thought his understanding of hip-hop wordplay would make his game acceptable, though the Taiwanese immigrant has not set foot in a ghetto since arriving in the United States with his parents at age 8.
Ghettopoly is an equal-opportunity stereotyper, Chang said. In addition to mocking African American characters, it skewers Latinos with Hernando's Chop Shop, Jews with Weinstein's Gold and Platinum jewelry store, and Asians with Ling Ling's Massage Parlour. Women are portrayed as gold diggers and prostitutes.
"Ghettopoly is controversial because it's both fun and real life," Chang said in a promotional statement for the game. The game sold well before Urban Outfitters pulled it from its shelves, sales associates at five stores across the country said.
Chang stopped answering his home and cell phones when they rang nonstop with people calling to complain. His e-mail in-box was filled with hundreds of angry messages.
"These people are calling me every name in the book," Chang said.
Yet that's the least of his worries. Hasbro Inc., the company that created Monopoly, has threatened to sue Chang for copyright infringement, and Mfume said the NAACP will use all its resources, including its legal branch, to put a stop the game, which Chang continues to sell on his Web site.
Mfume said Ghettopoly's images "represent the worst stereotypes that anyone can conjure up." The Organization of Chinese Americans, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), the National Coalition for Civil Rights Under the Law and other groups have also condemned Chang.
Chang's Web site promises the release of four other games: Redneckopoly, Hoodopoly, Thugopoly and Hiphopoly. Now, he said, those releases could be in doubt.
"I'm not a racist person," Chang said. "That's not my intention. My intention was to show America that stereotypes are ridiculous. I never knew it would be like this.
"It does take a toll on you, reading mail after mail," Chang said. "What have I learned from this? I don't have time to think. I've been so busy."
Then he paused and said: "For every bad mail I get, I get 10 orders for the game at the same time."