Monday, March 10, 2014

Confession: I Do Not Play Spades


To Whom It May Concern:

It is Monday, March 10, 2014. We have an African-American president, Lupita won an Oscar last week, and Scandal is one of the highest-rated shows on television. And with these things in mind, I feel it is safe to make a confession.

I am a black person who does not play Spades.

You can't see me, but I'm in there.

Please note I didn’t say I cannot play or do not know how to play, only that I do not play.
To answer your first few questions:

Yes, I grew up in the hood.

Yes, my parents, siblings, and most of my friends are black.

And I did in fact attend an HBCU.

But I have only played Spades once in my life, and that quite by accident.

My late best friend Ebony and I were at her grandmother’s house where her older brother and two cousins were getting ready to play. Her cousins asked if I wanted to play, suggesting one of them could sit out so Ebony and I could partner. I declined with thanks, adding “I've never played Spades before.”

The stunned looks and immediate silence taught me never to utter those words again.

Ebony promptly refused to be my partner—“She won't know what she’s doing!” was her logical objection—but Randall made her sit out while he played with me, slowing down a few hands so I could catch on. To my surprise and delight, Randall and I won quite handily, her cousins suspected we’d fleeced them, and I was pretty darn proud of myself.

But that was about 25 years ago, and I haven’t played since.

Why not?

Because as Awesomely Luvvie once put it, “Spades is not agame. Spades is LIFE” for black folks.

And I value my life.


See, I like my card games peaceful and lighthearted with an undercurrent of excitement. I could play Solitaire until Christ returns, but if others must be involved, give me Egyptian Ratslap, I Declare War, or a good ol’ fashioned round of Uno. We can laugh and joke and even talk crap, but it’s all in good fun.



That’s not how black folks play Spades.

Black folks playing Spades involves so much carnage, chaos, and crap-talking I feel like I’m ringside at WrestleMania III watching Hulk Hogan body slam Andre the Giant. Food gets spilled, voices get raised, and if things go truly awry, friendships may end all because of underbidding, cutting your partner, or the cardinal sin of reneging.

(See? I still remember the rules. Doesn’t that count for something?)

My not playing Spades is not my fault. My parents didn’t play, and my friends never suggested it. At most family gatherings, we were too busy laughing to break out the deck of 52, and if we did, we played Pitty-Pat, Crazy Eights, or 500. I’d never heard of Spades until that day at Ebony’s grandmother’s house and never saw it again until college. And the corresponding commotion in the Lounge made me say to myself, "Yeah, I'm good. Where are my SET cards?"

It is my hope that my “Is She Black Enough?” card will remain safe from revocation because of my years at Howard University, my 10+ years of wearing natural hair, and my fluency in Ebonics. I realize the love of country music and abhorrence of cornbread does little to help my case, but if I need be, please be reminded of my tendency to run late and that I have at least one obscure relative named Melvin.

And, well, my skin is also cocoa brown.

In light of these facts, please allow my present scarcity with Spades to be eternally excused and expunged from my record. And as a sign of good faith, I shall now hightail it to my dusty desktop and take some refresher lessons with an old CD-ROM we currently use as a coaster.

Thank you.

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