Black people and UNO are a match made in heaven, Volume 1,754,995

OPINION: The colorful card game always manages to work its way into conversations about the Black community, and I love it. How Black people play UNO should set the standard.

Black people UNO,
UNO card game packaging are seen in a store in Poland on April 19, 2022. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I don’t know when UNO became the unofficial, but official card game of African America (maybe it always has been), but I know way more people who play UNO than spades; so perhaps we should start there. Last year, I wrote an article questioning why UNO won’t just change its rules to reflect the way the vast majority of people – I assume regardless of race, creed or reading-level – play. This was in response to some wayward soul at UNO tweeting out their rule (lol) that suggests that you can’t stack Draw-2 cards and/or Draw-4 cards on top of one another resulting in a person being required to draw a not insignificant amount of cards if the right circumstances work against them. 

No shade to UNO, but UNO HQ be trippin.’ 

Which brings me to the point of even bringing this (back) up. A few weeks back, I had the fine fortune of being asked to speak at Howard University on a panel about racial inequities in journalism at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications. I don’t quite remember how (or why) it came up, but I brought up the fact that Black people aren’t a monolith and asked the audience, which was mostly Howard University students, how many played spades. As is usually the case, the audience was split, roughly half-and-half. To me that’s a sign of a breakdown in the educational system; I actually think that a course on spades should be part of the freshman year required curriculum at all historically Black colleges and universities, but nobody asked me. So… 

Anyway, while I made the point that this split of the audience was expected, a gentleman stood up and pointed at me and said loudly, “HOW DO YOU PLAY UNO, THOUGH?” Real talk, it was the point that stood out; young homie really pointed at me like he was a potential whistleblower about to call my bluff on this authentic Blackness I trumpeted because of spades. But he didn’t know that I’m a boss. I looked him dead in his eyes and said the only right answer to that question because I know how Black people play UNO: “Bro, I stack my Draw-2s and Draw-4s. And for proof, ask my brother-in-law who is in the back of the room (he’s a Howard University student) because he’s seen me stick my own son with having to draw 24 cards once.” 

The amount of amens and affirmative head nods I got was right on the money. That WAS the right answer because as far as I know, that’s how Black people play UNO. In fact, I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to do that until one day I actually read the rules in an attempt to prove to somebody else that stacking cards was in the official rules. Silly of me (and Deniece Williams); I was totally wrong, and that’s when I learned that Black rules – or the rules I’ve played with my whole life – aren’t how the game was constructed. 

I laughed at the fact that my answer assuaged any concern the student had about my Black bonafides and also the fact that an answer about UNO could be used to make such an assessment. Especially because I think, like PE, the answer to that question either gets you a pass or a fail, though I have no idea what that failure would actually mean. But I know I’m also in no harm of ever losing that bet. I’ve only ever played UNO one way. 

So what’s the point of this essay? I’m glad you asked. The point is this: Black people and UNO are clearly a match made in heaven. Yes, UNO is an international game. And yes people of all races and whatever possible groupings play this game. Yet, I’m almost sure nobody plays it like we – the Black people – do. And I’m reminded of this fact on a pretty frequent basis. While lots of us don’t play spades and because of all of the hype have no desire to learn, UNO is one that seems pretty universal to us all. A student at a Black institution charged me up, and I got the answer right. It doesn’t get much Blacker than that. 

Until next time. 


Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.