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Playing Spades

It's more than just a game

by Attica Scott

"Weak as its scientific foundation may be, race is an essential part of who we are (and of how we see others) that is no more easily shed than unpleasant memories. Few of us would choose to be rendered raceless—to be suddenly without a tribe."
—Ellis Cose, 1997

I play a game of cards called spades once a month with three sister-friends of mine. Spades is one of those card games that I used to watch my grandmother and great aunts and uncles and cousins and family friends play well into the wee hours of the night.

Spades was always an exciting affair. Everyone was loud and laughing and slamming cards on the table. They were also talking trash and sharing news.

Well, my card playing mirrored the kind of person that I am in life—I don't play games very well. So, I wasn't part of the card table back in the day. And although the rules were simple, you were always supposed to play to win.

Later in life I was reintroduced to spades while a student at Knoxville College. Now, the students who played spades in the lobby of the dorms took the game to another level. The rules would change based upon who was at the table. Sound familiar?

Again, I wasn't interested in playing this game. Partly because I knew that I didn't have the skills, partly because my old soul didn't have time for the games.

Then I met my ideal partner. Someone who enjoyed the game, but only for the fun, and wanted a partner who just played to play—not necessarily to win. We made a great team and had loads of fun. He is now my partner for life—my husband, my friend.

Now, I play spades with three sister-friends. My partner in this game complements my laid back, just-playing-to-play style with her no nonsense, we-came-to-win style.

Recently, we had a chance to play the game with a different group of people. See, the four of us who get together once a month are all African-American females. And while we don't agree on everything, we do have a great time playing and discussing any and everything—from religion to politics to education and economics.

Well, the folks that my partner and I had a chance to whoop up on in a game of spades where white men and women. This was indeed a cultural experience. See, we were at a team training session in another state with people from about five or six other states. We had three nights together with no scheduled activities in the evenings.

We all could have decided to retreat to our rooms or to only do something with people we knew. For the first night, that's about what happened.

Three of the women of color wanted to play spades, but not three-hand spades. We wanted some team playing going on. As it would happen, there was a white woman who wanted us to teach her how to play. Yes, another player! It was on. We had a great time playing until close to midnight.

The next night, after a day of intense training, we had a line of folks wanting to play spades. Throughout the night, in between the shouts of, "you got set," and "we've got a one-way ticket to Boston," I heard a lot of, "I really hadn't thought about that before," and "that goes on in your community, too," or "well, how do you handle something like that?"

By the third and final night we had two spades tables set up and a waiting line of just about everybody at the team training.

The next day as we were wrapping up the last day of training, I thought about how I would evaluate the experience of the past four days. It struck me that the real team building had occurred sitting around those tables playing cards. And while this experience isn't best for every situation, it did teach me that when people are willing to place their cards on the table and to listen without prejudice, there is much that can be accomplished.

January 14, 2002 * Vol. 12, No. 7
© 2002 Metro Pulse