Xavier Alumnus Combats Representation Inequality Through Playing Cards

Oct 1, 2021

It’s easy to overlook what we consider ‘normal’.

Normal denotes something that is widely regarded as the standard. Something shared among all people. Something common to society.

Last year, Xavier alumnus Max Westerman (Finance ’16) decided to challenge normal in an attempt to address an issue of representation inequality. Westerman had been playing with a standard deck of playing cards during the COVID-19 pandemic and noted how the face cards – the King, Queen and Jack – have been always been depicted as Caucasian.

“If I’m noticing this lack of inclusiveness (as a white male),” he said. “Then there must be others noticing this ten-fold.”

Having identified an issue, Westerman took action. A wealth management advisor living in Florida, Westerman said he began to conceptualize how to build a more inclusive deck of playing cards on nights after coming home from work. He hired a graphic designer to bring his idea to life. A patent and the formation of a company – Evernia Playing Cards – soon followed.

Westerman’s Evernia Playing Cards are unique in that each of the four suits contain face cards with diverse skin tones. In the diamond suit, for example, the King is depicted with brown skin, the Queen has fair peach skin and the Jack’s skin tone is tan. Different skin tones are used for the different suits and face cards in the deck. Westerman said the tones do not necessarily relate to specific racial or ethnic groups. Rather, he said he hopes individuals are able to see themselves represented in the cards.

“It was not my intention to put labels on people or colors,” Westerman said. “People see themselves differently. It’s up to (the player) to determine how they identify with the cards.”

Evernia Playing Cards are also balanced for gender. Kings and Queens retain their masculine and feminine portrayals, but Jacks are split with one half depicted as male and the other depicted as female. One joker in the deck is male and the other is female. 

The origins of playing cards are murky. Most online sources cite their existence dating back to the 13th century with wide spread adoption coming with the advent of the printing press in the mid 1440s. Historians have noted face cards from early playing cards drew reference to historical figures such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and King David among others.

Westerman said he believes it is time to bring a more modern approach to playing cards which have found their way into the homes of many people.

“The standard deck of playing cards hasn’t been changed in hundreds of years,” he added.

Xavier alumnus Terrence Ferguson, (Marketing and Human Resources ’17), performed community service with Westerman at Xavier and is familiar with Evernia Playing Cards. Ferguson’s mother is Filipino and his father is African-American. When Ferguson heard about Evernia Playing Cards, he said he felt the concept was long overdue.

“When we look at our hobbies, there’s still this homogenized perspective about something as simple as playing cards,” Ferguson said. “You see increased representation in the media and it’s important to see it infiltrated into an American hobby.”

Westerman said he hopes that Evernia Playing Cards catch on and find their place into casinos and everyday homes. Westerman donates a percentage of the proceeds from each deck to organizations that promote equality including the Trevor Project, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Equality Now.

“The reception has been great,” Westerman said. “People who have played with Evernia Playing Cards say they can’t go back to using regular cards because they believe in the inclusive aspect of the cards.”

And maybe with that, Evernia Playing Cards will become the new normal.

Support Evernia Playing Cards

Chike Erokwu
Content Producer
Xavier University Office of Marketing and Communications

You might also like: