When I was in Mexico, I was forced to take a long walk in heavy humidity in order to have lunch with a group of humans I didn’t know. Not exactly my idea of a good time. On the way back, we stopped at a hotel gift shop. It was air conditioned. (Fun fact: I know only three phrases in Chinese and one of them is for “air conditioning.”) But to my delight, I found a pack of playing cards. This being Mexico, it was not a new pack of cards. And it wasn’t from Mexico. It was the Play Your Cards Right! deck created for aboriginal sex workers in Australia.
According to the package, “This project was developed by South Western Sydney, Western Sydney and Wentworth Area Health Services, Daruk Aboriginal Medical Service and Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and funded by NSW Health Department.” The link above states that they were developed by “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths aged 16-25 years.” The face cards feature nice images of the “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” And most cards have helpful advice like, “Injecting methadone wrecks your veins.” Some might mock this. I think it is a wonderful tool to help improve public health.
Why Aboriginal Sex Workers?
At first I wondered why it was focused on Aboriginal sex workers. Then it hit me: because they are poor. That’s not to say that there aren’t other reasons for it. But most people end up in the sex trade because they don’t have better options. And it makes me despair for humanity. Those peoples who were invaded centuries ago still suffer from those acts of war. Socially, we might have grown so that we see that such plundering was wrong. But we refuse to do anything that would set things right. Our focus on property and the myth of meritocracy make us think that it would somehow be wrong to make restitution for our bloody history.
But the world is the way it is. And good people do what they can. I think these playing cards are fantastic. People use playing cards. And so information can be transmitted in a very friendly, unthreatening way. It’s certainly the case that drug addicts and sex workers often depend upon folk wisdom from other drug addicts and sex workers. And often it isn’t the best information. So I think this is just great.
The cards were originally released in 2005. But as recently as last year, Illawarra Interagency reported, “The popular resource Play Your Cards Right! has had another print run and HARP have plenty to give away.” So people want the cards. I haven’t found any studies or anything about how successful they have been at educating Aboriginal sex workers. But it seems like a good (And cheap!) project.
In 2003, a similar set of cards were put out that focused on drug users. You can see an image of them at My Playing Card Collection. The owner of that site, Virginia Russell, says, “They look to me as though they are an adaption of an originally African design. The face cards don’t look Aboriginal at all.” I trust her. For one thing: I looked at them. For another: she knows a lot about playing cards! It’s nice that Play Your Cards Right! was produced by the Aboriginal community itself.