With the nation’s press running daily stories of increased violence in the United Kingdom in the wake of the LEAVE Brexit vote, Lee Davy explains why in his time of need he looks to poker for hope.
“Bunch of English C*nts!”
It’s 1992, and the Swedish star Tomas Brolin has just scored a screamer in the 82nd minute. England is heading home early from the European Championships, two years after we should have won the World Cup, and that was my friend Paul sharing his love for the English.
Paul is Welsh; a Valley Boy. Born and raised in a community of just over 3,000 people. He was sitting on my parent’s couch, in my parent’s home, next to my very English parents.
“I beg your pardon?” asked my Mum.
“Oh, sorry Pat…you lot are alright.”
“Why are we ‘alright’?” Asked my Mum.
I moved to the Welsh Valleys when I was 10-years old. I ran my tear ducts dry knowing I would never see my friends again. I knew very little about Wales and the people who lived there. On my first day, I learned they knew a lot about me – they hated the English.
I was born half Chinese. I never met my Dad. He buggered off before I was born. I hated him for making me different. At the age of 10, racism was a word used to describe the hate that the round eyes directed at me for having slanty eyes and yellow skin. I only knew one black kid at that time. We called him Sambo. I remember my parents telling me to stop because it was racist.
“Hey Sambo, do you like being called Sambo? Cos my Mum thinks it’s racist.”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
And so everyone kept calling him it, but not in front of my parents. I bet it did bother him; he just didn’t want to rock the boat.
For me, race was about colour. The premise that white people from Wales could hate white people from England was absurd. But it kept happening. The kids would call me an English C*nt. Now and then they would vary their insults and call me a Chinese C*nt, and I didn’t know what to do.
So I asked my Dad.
“Smack ’em in the face”
I am playing football in the yard. I am running towards a kid who always calls me names, and right on cue he calls me Charlie Chan. I stop; stare at him, and say:
“Fuck off Webby.”
He had webbed feet.
It wasn’t the coolest line I have ever delivered.
He punched me, I punched him back and ended up winning the fight.
And that’s how I learned to deal with a racial attack – I would use violence to stop bigotry.
The incident with Paul and my parents always bothered me. I tried talking to my friends about it, but they always brushed it off as a harmless joke. There was no empathy. And I wanted to know what fuelled the hate?
As it turned out, the answer was pretty simple.
Paul hated the English because his Dad hated the English. Paul’s Dad hated the English because Paul’s Grandfather hated the English. They spoke about wars that occurred millennia ago and about the arrogance of the English. I later learned it was because of the exposure English sporting sides received in the national press. I tried to explain that an English newspaper would feature the English team in the same way the Welsh paper would feature the Welsh team – they didn’t want to know.
In short, they didn’t have a clue why they hated the English, but they did. It was societal conditioning. Paul and my friends were following protocol, and all of this happened when we were kids. Our values and beliefs on race handed to us by our parents, and we never questioned them.
Over time things died down. I think it was a combination of respect earned through all the fighting, and the ignoramuses getting fed up of my forehead smashing into their noses. As my friends grew up, they changed. More English people moved into the valley; we had one black family, one Chinese family, and a few people of Indian descent. But the older people, they didn’t change.
I remember sly little comments in the pub. The desire to purge Wales of everyone who was not Welsh. The opportunity to get their country back. My parents had also begun to get involved in this nonsense. I would sit on the couch listening to them complaining about immigrants taking over our jobs, and sending benefit money back to their families in Eastern European countries.
I married a Valley Girl, and she gave birth to a young Valley Boy, and then 15-years later I got divorced. I quit my job and this led me to the poker industry and for the first time in 35-years I left that little valley of 3,000 people. I was scared. I thought everyone was going to shoot me, stab me, or blow me up.
The poker industry introduced me to a wide range of cultures, nationalities, and colours. There were some dicks, but I never met a racist dick. I never heard racism at a poker table. I never heard it discussed negatively outside of the poker table.
It was a real eye-opener. I felt, human. I never wanted to punch people. I never wanted to fight. It always felt wrong. I only wanted to please my Dad and stop the sticks and stones. All of that hate I was subjected to when I was younger, and the way I was taught to react to it, helped create a man who grew to be selfish, aggressive, and competitive. And yet, as years eroded, it never felt right. I always felt different, but because I didn’t understand it I shut down. I resigned. I decided that denial was an easier way of dealing with the world.
And then came poker.
There were cheats, there were scumbags, there were some downright thugs. But at the heart of the community was a radiance of love, selflessness, and cooperation. The poker community can’t function any other way. It would fall apart.
I remember hearing about Raising for Effective Giving (REG). As a former alcoholic, I always wanted to give my money to charities connected to alcoholism. After learning about REG, at the same time continuing my journey into this new loving, selfless, and cooperative state, I learned the importance of widening my scope of love to encompass the whole of humanity.
I told my Mum about REG. She didn’t understand why I would give money to people in Africa when we had ‘so many problems in our country.’
It was about this time that discussions of Brexit started to arise. At first, I didn’t pay much attention because I never read the papers or watch TV. I knew my parents were angry that immigrants were earning benefits in the UK and sending money back to their families abroad. I didn’t know why it bothered them? My Dad had a job. My Mum didn’t want one. Both were doing fine. They had a home. As far as I could see the ‘immigration problem’ didn’t affect the 3,000 people who lived in the valley.
It bothered me, though. My son is part Polish. His great grandfather was able to come to the UK during World War II. I would have never fallen in love with his mother, and had my son, had our borders been closed.
And my wife is a Korean-American. It’s complicated when you fall in love with someone who lives in a different country. Let’s not make it even more complicated. If my parents don’t want Eastern Europeans in the country then, does that mean they want my wife also to leave?
I ask them these questions from time to time, and they sound like my old friend Paul.
“Oh, sorry Lee…Liza’s alright, you are married.”
My daughter will be born in September, and this worries me. She will be a beautiful combination of English, Chinese, American, and Korean. That means she will be different, growing up in a world that doesn’t seem to like ‘different’.
There was a time when we considered moving to Spain, raising her underneath the sun, the chance to learn a new language and become immersed in a new culture. I could do that then; I’m not sure if the rules allow us to do it when we Brexit?
So where do we live?
The recent decision to leave the European Union (EU) has created an uprising in violent racist incidents in the UK. Is it going to be like school all over again?
Am I going to be called Charlie Chan?
Is someone going to tell my wife to ‘fuck off back to her country?’
Is someone going to pick on my little girl?
Or do we live in America?
The land where Donald Trump could become President?
When I lived in that little valley, there was one place I always felt safe, and that was my local poker game. It was like the United Nations with Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English, Spanish, and Iran all taking seats in the game. I used to question my friend from Iran about terrorism and his countries archaic rules surrounding homosexuality. I asked respectfully, eager to learn more, and I found out what I knew all along, and that’s everyone is different, and has different views.
My friend from Iran had no love for terrorism or the hate that his country shows towards homosexuals. He thought it was a load of old nonsense. And yet I was raised in an environment tarring everyone with the same brush. Blacks are violent, Pakistanis own all the corner shops, the Poles steal our benefit money, and the Chinese have small dicks.
If I was going to find a haven for my daughter; somewhere she could be raised in the midst of a celebration of her difference, it would be the poker community. It’s like a country of its own. Fuck it, let’s make Daniel Negreanu President.
The poker industry is the perfect class and race leveller. Yes, we have problems with gender inequality, but I think we are slowly working together to try and improve that.
Poker is much more than a game. It is an ecosystem. It’s an opportunity to explore cultures, religions, and philosophies that enrich our lives. I feel so much wiser having learned so much more from people I would never have met had I stayed in that small valley, getting old, with my resignation buried so deep I could hardly remember it.
Yes, I’m bothered by the violence currently surfacing in the UK. And then I think back to my mate Paul and the answer he gave my parents when they asked him why he hated the English?
And then I realise that it’s not their fault.
They were created this way by a system that doesn’t work.
It’s not the people we need to change.
It’s the system.
And we could do a whole lot worse than analysing how the poker community works because we seem to get along quite fine, thank you.