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The politics of playing cards

Thanks to my relentless ego-surfing, um, I mean my participating in the ongoing conversation that is the Web, I came across a rough draft of a course paper by Devin Dadigan about the racism and sexism implicit in playing cards, — which, apparently are ordered the way they have been since the 14th century. Kings beat queens, and, the black queen is an especially disastrous card in several games.

At first I thought Devin’s hypothesis about race was problematic, because I thought clubs are sometimes taken as the highest suit, even though Devin says that black cards represent labor and slaves. (That link seems incontestable in America where “spade” has been a demeaning — and occasionally hip — term for African-Americans.) Wikipedia, however, says that when suits are ranked, clubs sometimes come first because the ranking is done alphabetically. Ah, the hidden power of alphabetization! Why, it even cures racism!

Fascinating fact: According to the paper, the ascent of the ace as the highest card “was hastened in the late 18th century by the French Revolution, where games began being played ‘ace high’ as a symbol of lower classes rising in power above the royalty.”

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