A few years ago, my family took a trip to Atlanta to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from college. We all stayed with my older sister and, of course, various members of the family came through over the weekend.
On one of the nights, as the brown liquor was flowing, the decks of cards showed up and a Spades game was on the horizon. As I was looking for a partner amongst my family, I looked at my mother and asked, for me, what was a baffling question: “Ma, do you know how to play Spades?” She said, “Of course.”
At that moment, I realized that I literally had no idea where or how I learned how to play Spades, but it certainly didn’t come from my family. In fact, right now as I type this, I actually don’t even know if my father knows how to play. I know my oldest sister plays but I have no idea if my other sisters can play.
Now, if I had to wager a guess—aside from clearly being genetically predisposed to Spades greatness—I think my Spades journey began during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. I spent an inordinate amount of time that summer hanging out in a neighborhood called Madison Crest with a bunch of folks, and I vividly remember a ton of card games being played to pass time on the hoods of cars.
It was there that I vividly remember learning how to play “Tonk.” I don’t remember Spades being on the menu, but maybe it was, and because it’s harder to bet on Spades, or take folks’ money, Tonk stands out more because I made money. But whenever that education happened, by the time I got to college (or even the pre-freshman summer program) I was a spades maven. That summer before the freshman year of college was an education and clinic in the Ways of the Spades, and I graduated with the highest of honors having participated in a damn near 24-hour Spades marathon, gotten into altercations and leveled up my trash talk game to legendary.
Thing is, I can’t actually verify that is where I learned. And as it turns out, a lot of folks have no idea where or how they learned to play; most folks have some sort of good guess and a timeframe, but most of that is speculation, which is interesting. You see, when us Spades players meet Black non-Spades players we’re always aghast, especially if they went to historically Black colleges or universities. We don’t understand how it’s possible that they managed to be around that much-concentrated Blackness and miss out on the how-to of Spades considering how many games had to be around them at all times. How in the hell didn’t they learn?
But you also find out that, apparently, none of us Spades players want to teach the non-players how to play. I’ve had some version of that convo with many a person. Just yesterday, a friend of mine from Hampton University told me that she didn’t learn because she grew up around white people, but also, while at Hampton, folks took Spades too seriously to want to teach her. Also, the cutthroat with which many of us treat the game has had the effect of turning many folks off from the game. As it turns out, nobody actually wants to be slapped with a Big Joker for the sake of demonstrating superiority. Who knew? If nobody wants to teach anybody, but nobody remembers being taught, who in the hell left the gate open?
I bring this up as a plea to all of my Spades players out there. I don’t remember learning how to play but surely somebody taught me at some point and whoever that saintly soul saw fit to make sure that I was fully ensconced in Black cultural traditions, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I’m better for it. And if we make others feel as if they can’t ask us or that we won’t help them be their fullest, bestest Black card game-playing selves, then Black excellence can never be fully realized. I want that for them, I want that for us. Somebody taught us, so let’s help them. No longer should we shame our fellow person for being inept in their birthright.
Reach out to a non-Spades player and let’s lift every voice and sing. Let us all reach back and teach a friend who defiantly claims to not care but really wants to learn if not for being shamed for so long. Teach them how to spin a card. Teach them how to stick a card to your forehead to shame an opponent. Teach them how to properly count books and most importantly, how not to be a reneger. Help your friends feel seen. I see you. I love you. Tupac cares, even if nobody else cares.
I’m going to do my part.
But also, I’m only teaching Joker-Joker-Deuce-Deuce.