There’s abstract carpets below and mosaic chandeliers above. There are slot games lining the room, and a person hunched over with a bag of coins at every one of them. Some of the reels flash and buzz with luck, the others with loss. The roulette wheel is spinning to an anxious stop that never comes.
Sometimes, I like to think that everything is happening inside a casino. I sat at the table of Berkeley a while back. Three cards make up my hand of experience here.
The first card I was dealt was the one of my context. A childhood in India, of belonging and interdependence: the three of hearts. Some others at our table got a card higher in rank, having levels of white, male or monolingual privilege: the king of spades.
For my second card, the one of my reality at Berkeley, I wanted a high ace, of acceptance in American society. I’d heard all my life that it was the top card there was. I changed my entire strategy for it: counted cards and counted carbs.
I manipulated the gameplay however I could. Only when I held it alongside my first card did I realize that there was no natural logic between the two.
As players of color, the cards are stacked against us. We never got the luck of the draw, and so we learn not to even picture a hand of picture cards.
I was convinced I had pushed my luck with the ace. I began fixating on the easy two-pair I could have had with another three of hearts, of going to an Indian college. I couldn’t fathom a winning streak at Berkeley’s losing table for colored players.
It’s tough to imagine yourself as the winner winner, when you are, in fact, the chicken dinner.
But recently, that has changed. I have learned that the cards I am dealt are the ones I have to play with.
I may not be sure about who’s sliding them to me, if the dealer is fate or free will. If it’s the owner of the casino themselves or a rotation of trained black vests from the staff.
Regardless, these are the cards that came gliding across the green felt cloth.
So when the game paused, all the other players stood up for a bit, to stretch their legs away from our table. But I remained sitting in my red leather chair. I needed to make sense of what I had learnt about gambling so far.
I scribbled analyses of every card on a borrowed napkin, an opinion column, and as I did it, my poker face broke. I called my bluff, and everyone else’s as well. I laughed and cried. I danced and screamed. I grieved the kings, queens and jacks I thought I wanted. I typed and typed and typed.
When I evaluated my ace again, I viewed it in a different perspective. I could see it now as a low ace: a brown community of joy. It wasn’t regarded the same without the royalty surrounding it, but it was an ace just the same.
The combination of the three of hearts and the ace doesn’t feel like a raw deal anymore. It could be a pure sequence. I can remain optimistic with this.
The game will resume in the fall. Everybody is heading back towards the table for it. Then, the third cards will be dealt, of our futures at Berkeley.
I’ve laid all cards so far bare on the table for you. I’ve shown you mine so that you can show me yours. And we’re on the same page. Here, right now, in my last column, and on the poker table.
So as you make your way back, I hope you’ll take the seat next to me.
When our third cards are flipped and when our hands are dealt, let’s put our money where our mouths are. Our efforts in our words of resistance.
Let’s not play our cards too close to our chests in conformity. But instead, bet the farm, and our bottom dollar, on policy improvement.
Let’s call a spade a spade to confront the Caucasian players who overplayed their hands and underestimated us. Let’s up the ante and raise the stakes for cultural inclusion on our campus.
I know we’re both afraid that the security might be alerted. We’ll be the wild cards and they won’t be used to us hitting the jackpot. Don’t worry though. They might near in on us to intimidate us. But they can’t escort us out.
After all, there’s a lot riding on our outrageous gambles: every person playing at it and every game that will be played on it. So together, let’s play our cards right. And all bets will be off.
At graduation, when we cash in our chips, we would have stacked the deck in favor of Cal, in Color, higher than it was when we first sat down.
Let’s go big or — no that’s it. There’s no other choice. Let’s go big. Because this is home.