[ by Charles Cameron — a 75-year old poker club in DC, more ]
It seems I’m moving from collecting only sport and game metaphors for politics, via sport and game metaphors more generally to sport and game language and stories — whatever catches my fancy. The paragraphs from William Finnegan, Off Diamond Head which I quoted in Storm special, surf’s up would have fit here nicely, and were my first signal, or perhaps one of my first, that my search interests might be widening.
Lets start with A club of their own: The story of a secret poker society started by pioneering African Americans. It’s a great story of a poker club that’s been going 76 years now:
In 1942, a group of university professors, doctors, lawyers and other black professionals in Washington wanted to get together on weekends and play poker. But they had a problem. Not only did segregation in the District bar them from joining country clubs or other social organizations where men could gather, but the president of Howard University, where many of them taught, was a religious man who did not approve of card-playing.
So they started a monthly gathering in their homes and came up with a name to mask its true nature — the Brookland Literary and Hunting Club.
The founding members of the club included a College president and consultant on Brown v. Board of Education, and the first black chief judge of DC’s federal court, and one of the the oldest current members at 96 — none of the founders are still with us — was a Tuskegee Airman. Over the last seventy-five years, these men have seen, and shaped, history. Their club is named the Brookland Literary and Hunting Club as code rather than abstract camouflage — “literary” because they’ve always discussed the topics of the day, from WWII via the Civil Rights movement to the present, and “hunting” because players are always hunting for a good hand when playing cards..
There were two tables — the big table, where hundreds of dollars exchanged hands over five-card stud, and the little table, whose participants played for coins or dollar bills and peppered the games with wild cards. Men would start at the little table and sometimes move up to the big one. As they got older and went on fixed incomes, some would move back to the little table.
And the spirit of play:
We’ve had great games and there’s never anybody who ran out of money, because somebody says: ‘Here, take some more. Just take it. Give it to me when you can,’
And it looks as though I can’t evade the sports and social parallelism business either. How can I resist What Serena Williams’s defeat tells us about the criminal-justice system? And how better to get at its essential than via another of today’s WaPo pieces, Yes, get consent. But be human, too.?
After describing the two opinion camps around the kerfuffle between Serena Williams and chair umpire Carlos Ramos, the WaPo opinion writer Marc Howard, a professor of government and law at Georgetown, indicates the closeness of the parallel between tennis and social justice:
This disagreement is about more than tennis, or even sports. It connects with a much deeper American divide about policing and criminal justice, with strong undertones connecting to race and racism.
Just like the criminal-justice system, tennis and many other sports depend on the subjective discretion of neutral arbiters to apply a set of supposedly objective “rules.”
Ramos did indeed follow the code, and each of the three sanctions had some justification, thus satisfying the “rules” camp. But for two of the three violations (the racket smashing was unambiguous), he used his discretion to punish Williams for acts — coaching and heated exchanges with an umpire — that occur routinely in tennis but are seldom punished.
So one “deeper .. divide” is about “policing and criminal justice” — but another deep divide exists between “rules” and what I’ll call “fairness” camps, following this paragraph:
In all of these instances, one can always say, “Well, this person didn’t follow the rules,” and on an individual basis that may seem sufficient to justify the consequences. What gets lost, however, is that rules are rarely applied regularly, consistently or fairly..
You’ll have to read the whole article to get many of the details, but the analogy between a sport and the judicial and penal systems is clear.
How does this relate to the WaPo piece on consent in potential sexual aggression situations?
The question there is whether, in the pithy words of a feminist writer quoted by WaPo:
consent is just a hurdle you have to clear in order to Get The Sex
Consent is the rulebook, and the missing ingredient when consent is the only consideration, is the human context, in the words of the same writer, the need to see our sexual partners:
not simply as instrumental to our own pleasure but as co-equal collaborators, equally human and important, equally harmable, equally free and equally sovereign.
I’m not sure that even that doesn’t smack a bit of the “rules” camp, but it’s certainly a strong step beyond the bare=bones “consent” rule towards an understanding of human circumstances. But the parallelism between that and the Serena Williams piece wouldn’t have struck me so forcefully without this exchange:
“Yeah,” one, a junior, agreed. “The logic is sort of Cartesian.” (Oh, college!) “Do this, not that. Don’t break the rules ..
That really nails it — as Lao Tzu would say:
The rules can be codified in a rulebook aren’t the subtle rules of wisdom.
That’s my Tao Te Ching translation #207 I know, but I think it’s apt for this occasion.