Why Don’t You Know How to Play Spades? An Important Question


Over the next couple of weeks, families all over the country will congregate to observe and celebrate whichever holiday those particular families observe and celebrate. Some of these families will be black—including mine—and in these particular holiday celebrations, there may be many unique things present, including (but not limited to) ...

  1. Dining room tables with 117 different types of swine present.
  2. Dining room tables where absolutely, positively no swine is present because, to quote Jules Winnfield, “Pigs are filthy animals.”
  3. Donny Hathaway.

Anyway, after the food has been eaten and the gifts have been exchanged, there’s a moderate to strong possibility that someone will decide that it is time to play spades. Which, for those uninitiated, is a surprisingly intricate and devious card game that also serves as a convenient delivery device for old grudges and new alliances.

To wit, if you see a cousin aggressively chide another cousin for talking across the board, know that the aggression has nothing to do with spades and everything to do with a Snickers ice cream bar the one cousin stole from the other cousin in 2005. She remembers how badly she was fiending for peanut butter ice cream, caramel and peanuts with chocolate packed inside a delicious ice cream bar that day and has never gotten over that senseless act of dessert terrorism.

There will also be, at this gathering of family and airing of grievances, one person who, to everyone’s “surprise,” doesn’t know how to play. And “surprise” is in quotation marks because this person reminds everyone every year that they’re the special snowflake black person who doesn’t know how to play spades despite the fact that they’ve witnessed it being played somewhere between 27 and 932,819 times. You know how (some) vegans and atheists and socialists attempt to insert their veganism, atheism or socialism in every conversation?

(Example: “That snow sure is coming down, isn’t?”

“Yeah ... and I’m sure you think it’s Jesus’ dandruff.”)

Well, grown-ass black people who grew up around spades-playing black people but refused to become a spades-playing black person can be the same way. You ask them about broccoli stalks and they reply, “But it just doesn’t look that fun, and no one ever taught me ... ”


Whenever they begin these preambles, I usually lose interest by the second sentence (which always, somehow, includes a reference to Daria). Today, however, I’m interested. For those of you who do not know how to play, what did this to you? Why are you like this?

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



I don’t appreciate being called out like this!

In my defense, I have tried to play or at least tried to learn.I get the “theory” of it. Being truly knowledgeable of the game is a fleeting dream.

I don’t play due to:

1. In my case, after being yelled at about “Why you threw out that other card when you had that?” where players seem to remember cards thrown out 5-7 books ago, I don’t get that. I am more of an “in the moment” person and I don’t know or remember what happened that many transactions ago. How can a person remember who played what card in each transaction for the whole game? If you can remember that shit you should be a stock market genius or something.

2. The look of disgust my partner gives because books weren’t made, and the dumb-ass laughs from the opposing players due to making more books than they stated. This game gets taken waaaaaay too seriously.

3. The fact that everyone always says “I am going to help you” to entice me to play. Then they end up yelling at me about something they think I should just know, conveniently forgetting they were supposed to be helping me learn to play.

4. The game becomes mental and cards are being thrown at a furious pace as if the 3 people around me are communicating telepathically and somehow there was no more room on that call to add me. Then when it comes to my turn, it’s a 2-minute gap while I figure out the right card to play. This is often met with looks of “Will you hurry up?” or the bored exhales. It ain’t nothing like people making you feel like shit for something you just can’t do well and they can.

5. It’s assumed all Black people know how to play Spades and the reactions as if I am an alien creature because I don’t know how to play. I don’t know how to play due to the reasons above, which makes it highly probable I never will learn how to play.