“Trading Races” is quite possibly the blackest card game I’ve ever played. It’s a lot like spades, except instead of betting on points, you’re trying to outblack your opponent. The rules are simple. There are 52 cards in a deck, and each player gets 5 cards. The deck is made up of all kinds of heavy-hitter black figures like Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou, with some less “powerful” cards mixed in, like Justin Bieber and Rachel Dolezal.
If you can convince everyone that the person on your card is the blackest, you win the hand. Win enough hands, and you win the game. We wanted to know why someone would make a game like this, so we flew out to Chicago to meet up with Kenyatta Forbes, the creator of “Trading Races.”
Watch the segment below, and read on for some bonus conversation that didn’t make it into the piece.
Note: This segment originally aired on VICE News Tonight on June 19, 2017. The interview below has been edited for clarity and flow.
How did you decide who to put on the cards?
Forbes: That was actually the hardest part, because there’s so many people to choose from. I wanted the deck to be really diverse. It’s not 100 percent just black folks; there’s people like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Fallon.
You’ve got a solid amount of white folks in there.
Forbes: Yeah. It’s a good mix. My strategy initially was from looking at a standard deck of cards. You’ve got your clubs, your diamonds, and so on and so forth, and kind of thinking about the directions or the gameplay of spades. And you know you want to have your heavy hitters, which would be like a Malcolm X or a Nelson Mandela. And then you want to have like some throwaway cards, like a two of clubs or, you know, two of diamonds.
Who are the “throwaway cards” in the game?
Forbes: Well, for me, a Stacey Dash would be on the lower end. Vanilla Ice, somebody like that. So I wanted to have a really good range for folks to talk about. And since it’s just the luck of the draw in terms of who you get, that really forces that conversation to kind of happen.
What is it about blackness that makes it an interesting conversation for you?
Forbes: For me it’s partially my own personal experiences. When I was teaching in Chicago public schools, I had kids say, “Where are you from?” I’d tell them I’m from Chicago. And they’d be like, “No, you’re not; you talk white.” And these kids are like first grade, second grade. So there’s this construct already being built at a very young age for these children as to what the standard is for blackness. That’s why I think a conversation like this is necessary. You have shows like “Dear White People.” They’re really going after the stereotype of what the levels of blackness are, like “are you woke enough,” you know. And that’s a really interesting thing for me to kind of dive into.
The standard for winning the game is kind of ambiguous.
Forbes: Yeah. I’m not telling you what quantifies blackness because I really want people to have that conversation with themselves.
So the game is kinda hard to win.
Forbes: There is a winner. It’s the conversation I’m mostly interested in. Yeah, if you have the most books, you’ve “won” the game, quote unquote. But until there aren’t these constraints on what it is to be black, we’re – you and me – we’re not winning. Until society gets to a point where they’re not putting people in a box as to what it means to be black, then nobody will ever win.
Can white people play this game?
Forbes: Yes! It’s funny you ask that, because once we tested the game with the creators of “Cards Against Humanity.” There were 10 people in the room, and seven of them were white.
How’d that go?
Forbes: It was amazing. They were so into it, it would take them like 15, 20 minutes for one round because they were arguing so hard. So it was really interesting to see. I’ve played it with engineers and developers who are predominantly white, in a predominately white space, so I’ve seen all cultures, all races play this, with no issue.
Really? It’s not uncomfortable at all?
Forbes: It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. By design. I mean, a game like “Cards Against Humanity” is uncomfortable.
It’s a different kind of uncomfortable, though. “Cards Against Humanity” is like, butt jokes. This is another level.
Forbes: This is a whole other level. But I think there’s a lot of growth that happens in uncomfortable and awkward moments. I feel like everybody adds to this conversation, white people included. And everybody has a construct of what they think race is or what it isn’t. They have a construct about blackness. We all even have a construct, although it’s not really talked about, of what whiteness is.
I guess this makes sense because you were a teacher, but you’re pretty interested in the idea of this as an educational game.
Forbes: Yes, there is an educational aspect. For every deck that was purchased through the Kickstarter, one was also donated to a school. And so there’s also educational facilitation plans for educators at the high school and college level.
You’re going to have kids play this too?
Forbes: Yeah. I think it has the potential to really foster understanding of how racial constructs can be limiting. There’s also a facilitation plan that’s being written for HR departments, too, because this would be great for hiring managers to play, so they can understand their own biases and their understandings or constructs of what they think black is or isn’t.
You really want to give this to HR?
Forbes: There’s a conversation there. It functions very differently in those spaces.
You don’t think that conversation might go left? Like, way left?
Forbes: It could. I mean, sometimes when I play, I stop and think, “Damn, why do I think that?… That’s fucked up.” But I get to have that internal conversation about where I’m coming up with these things. I think we say things, we feel things, but we’re not really sure where they come from.
Last question: You’re calling this a “party game for black culture.” Are you planning on making games for other cultures? You’d have to work with people who are actually from that background, right?
Forbes: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ve been really blessed to have an amazing amount of diverse friends.
So there could be a game, say, for Latino culture, where you have to out-Latino everyone else?
Forbes: Yes. It’s a good assumption… [I can only tell you] there’s something coming down the pipeline.