Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Ace of Spades was an amazing book that gives a very in-depth look at racism, classism, and sexual discrimination from a global perspective. The author is not from the U.S., and although I pictured the setting as taking place in the U.S., it just goes to show that these types of discrimination, including racism, are not just limited to our country.
The story follows two protagonists, a black male, and a black female, and each chapter is written from one of their perspectives. Ace of Spades is not some sort of social justice warrior gibberish — it’s a wonderfully-written story that actually inspires the want for social justice in a world where the playing field is uneven from the jump-off.
Right off the bat, this book tells you that it is like Gossip Girl meets Get Out, and I couldn’t describe it more perfectly than that. It has all the right aspects from both of those things, combined into a single masterpiece.
This post is less of a book review and more of a perspective on how I myself have seen and interacted with these issues over the course of my lifetime.
Having been raised in The South, I have had an up close and personal perspective of racism throughout my life. I have found myself in situations where the racism was blatantly obvious, and I failed to take a stand and provide a voice for those without one. I have conflicting memories, which I more than likely tried to suppress, of either one or two instances — the memories are conflicting because they seem to have taken place on the same night, but involve two separate specific individuals in two separate specific vehicles. In each scenario, the person I was with would drive us into the ghetto and stop their truck or SUV in the middle of the street and yell, “NIGGERS!” out of the driver side window at the top of their lungs and then peel off. I would immediately duck down into the passenger seat because I didn’t want to 1) be seen or 2) be shot, both of which I considered to be equally possible outcomes of the situation, and I guess I was just so shocked and taken aback by what was happening that I didn’t tell them to take me back to my truck at the bowling alley where we had come from. Maybe I did, but I will always feel like I could have done more and that I was complicit in a blatant act of racism.
There was a guy that I considered to by my best friend at one point, who I looked up to because he was 3 grades ahead of me and sort of showed me the ropes in high school. We were both country, but he was way more “redneck” than me. Down South, the confederate flag was always a way of life. It was considered to be “heritage, not hate,” but over the years, I came to realize that in many situations, it was actually considered to be a symbol of hate, even from those who were using it. It would take many more years for me to come to grips with letting go of my positive emotionally attachment to that flag and start associating it with negativity, but I digress. This friend I am discussing ended up shaving his head completely, which was not surprising in and of itself, because he was balding at an early age, but there ended up being further implications. He told us that he had joined the Klan and that his family was in it. He spoke of his uniform and going to his first meeting. It first started as rumors, but the more he told me, the more I realized he was being serious. I started to distance myself from him after that. Being the kind of person I am, I can certainly understand the allure of secret societies — but groups that are based on hatred of others is never something that I will endorse or associate myself with, and I honestly to this day struggle to understand how these groups can exist in the first place. This may sound like I’m going off on a tangent, but I’m trying not to provide spoilers, so if you read Ace of Spades, you will see how this theme ties into the story.
I have been blessed by the fact that some of my best friends over the years — one of whom I consider to be closer than a brother — are black, and two of the strongest, most respectful men in my life, both of whom I consider to be the best mentors I have ever had, are both black. These men stood out in stark contrast to the negative light cast on their community as a whole by pointless stigmas that I was previously surrounded with under the guise of “Southern Tradition.” It is for this reason, that I will never hesitate to speak out for the Black Community or defend my brothers and sisters of color, even though I, myself, am about as white as you can get. Black Lives Matter, and if you have a problem with that, then not only do you have a problem with me, but you have a larger problem that you need help addressing on a much deeper level.
Many times, the struggles of racism get confused with the struggles of classism. This is because there is a disproportionate number of minorities who belong to the lower class in our society. People don’t seem to realize that you can be born in the hood and still experience “white privilege.” This is simply because of the fact that just because you may grow up surrounded by the same conditions as people of color, you will never experience discrimination for being black, which is something that is hard for people to understand because they can’t seem to make the distinction between racism and classism. It only gets more difficult when one falls into both categories and has to take the brunt of both types of discrimination.
I will be quite honest — I have never really been completely exposed to classism, I guess because I went to public school, and all of the people I surrounded myself with were from varying degrees of social classes. I will say that I have been exposed to the lowest of the low class in the area where I grew up, and while I was very close friends with some of them, I could not related to their circumstances. But I got a really close-up view. I remember one night in particular that I spent in a cinder block house with hundreds of roaches crawling all over everything, including the dirty clothes of small children. The house belonged to a guy who was later at my wedding a few years later, because I considered him to be such a close friend. I remember the laid-back conversations between him and another guy we were hanging out with. The guy was talking about his plans for the next day, and all I could think about was this crippling sense of depression, given their circumstances and how impossible it must feel to get out of being in that type of situation. But it is possible. That guy happened to be a very decent songwriter and musician and went on to be the frontman for a pretty popular band. I guess if you are in that type of situation, you have to dream big and work hard to achieve your goals and never lose sight of them. I may never know what happened to most of the others in that house that night, but all I can do is hope for the best.
It is also quite possible that my own class clouded my view of the situation, and to them it wasn’t as dire as it seemed to me at the time. Maybe I was just in a state of shock after being taken so far out of my element. That being said, I didn’t judge them for anything, and I just hung out like I was one of them, even though simply looking down at the grey New Balance shoes I was wearing made me feel a twinge of guilt at the time. I wanted to fit in more so that I could feel like an equal to them, but I still couldn’t deny the fact that we lived in very different worlds.
This one is even more difficult to talk about from someone raised in The South. There were almost zero openly-gay people at my school, so it was not something that I found myself around on a regular basis. That being said, slurs were thrown around so often that it was just normal, which looking back, would have probably made it seem impossible for someone to actually come out in high school.
There are friends that I had in high school that I heard came out after high school, and I totally support them for it. My wife and I have had close acquaintances that were gay, but living down here, it’s just not something you are exposed to on a regular basis. If you are a gay person in The South, you’ve kind of got the deck stacked against you from all sides. With the majority of Southerners being fundamental Christians, to them, God never said you would go to hell for being black. The same cannot be said for being homosexual — to them, at least. They like to pick and choose which scriptures they believe and follow, especially when it comes to the book of Leviticus, so no matter which way you look at the situation, you are going to have a hard time.
It is a sad state of affairs, because there is someone very close to me who I suspect could possibly be gay, but knowing their parents, I’m thinking they may never come out of the closet. Being gay in The South can ruin multiple lives, because often people try to deny it to others and even themselves by settling into creating a “normal” family, and in the end, they can’t stick it out because they are denying who they really are. I saw this happen from a friend of friend and also saw it happen second-hand directly to someone I’m very close with. Our country, as well as the rest of the world, still has major strides to make in this area. I mean, it should be a basic human right between adults to love who they want to love. It’s not for us to judge, and why anyone would make a big deal about people’s personal bedroom lives is just beyond me. There’s a lot weirder shit that can happen between heterosexual couples that people could worry a lot more about than what gender someone is attracted to.
The two main characters in Ace of Spades both struggle with all three of the issues outlined above. You can obviously see how it can make life three times as difficult when being faced down with all of these stigmas. Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé started writing this book when she was a freshman in college and released it when she was a senior. I think she is an incredible author, and we definitely need to see more books from black authors with black protagonists, as well as LGBTQ+ representation in more YA novels. I would absolutely put her in the same category as Jason Reynolds, who has written many amazing books which showcase the perspectives and struggles of the Black Community. Ace of Spades was an exciting read, and a perfect stand-alone, which I would recommend to anyone. I give it 5 stars.