The Melanated Classic Tarot

Deck Name:
The Melanated Classic Tarot
Creators: Oubria Tronshaw and Julia Goolsby
Published: Oubria Tronshaw, 2019

While the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot wasn’t my first tarot deck, I felt pressured to purchase a copy shortly after I began to read tarot because most of the resource material I used, made references to this deck. While I’ve adopted an RWS reading style I never connected with the images from the classic deck itself. My preference for tarot decks and tarot art developed into a modern style which maintained the symbology of the classic RWS. It wasn’t until last year I realized my modern tastes were rooted in my need to feel represented by the archetypes portrayed in the classic RWS tarot.

Until recently, it was difficult to find respectful and culturally appropriate images of BIPOC persons and subject matter in tarot. That is why The Melanated Classic Tarot, by Oubria Tronshaw and illustrated by Julia Goolsby, is such a meaningful addition to the world of tarot. Like so many other decks on the market, this deck is a RWS clone but with a plot twist. Every single person in this deck is brown, they are melanated, and they are a visual representation of marginalized individuals in this community, people like myself.

There are so many things to love about this deck but one of my favorites is the variation of skin shades. Often in illustrations when you see brown people, they are ALL the same color, or sometimes they’re grey, or under-saturated. I appreciate how Julia Goolsby made sure to depict nuances that other artists seem to be ignorant of. I also find the faces of each person to be drawn with care and attention. Despite the limited space the faces drawn by Julia, a graphic comic artist, manage to express powerful emotions. The color saturation of this deck is also another point of interest. The washed out, neutral, and muted color tones of Pixie’s era have been replaced with bright, saturated, and vibrant tones in the same color family as the original RWS.

There are small but significant details scattered throughout this deck which remind users that this deck has cultural significance and is more than the standard RWS clone. Details like the natural hair styles of every person which range from kinky coils, loose curls, and locks. There is detail in the dress and costuming like the Moorish clothing style and accessories of the King of Cups. There are also pieces of iconography which add dimension to the symbology of the RWS like the Emperor who has the silhouette of Africa on his left shoulder. Details like these are not overlooked by users like myself who have struggled to find inclusivity in the classic portrayal of the seventy-eight cards of the RWS tarot deck.

The deck alone is a great addition to my collection but the guidebook is also a gem. As they say, never judge a book by its cover. The guidebook appears like many other “little white books” with the main difference being that this is a “little black book” but don’t let your eyes deceive you. DO NOT throw out this “little black book” because it is packed with a unique opportunity to understand this and ANY other tarot deck. Oubria Tronshaw narrates the guidebook in conversational way that is relatable and relevant. Oubria offers innovative ways to connect the cards, their meanings, and correspondences in a way I’ve not seen in any other LWB and I would love to see a full book on tarot from Oubria.

There are a few printing issues with this deck which I hope will be addressed in subsequent printings of this deck. The cardstock is thin and the edition of the deck that I have has some uneven borders which I suspect is a printing error. Some of the images are a bit blown out and lose some detail. Finally, some of the text on the cards can be hard to read. I appreciate the hand drawn style of text which is a call back to Pamela Coleman Smith’s (Pixie), original artwork. Pixie’s color palette was soft and muted so the dark coloring of her text stood out against the background but because the Melanated Classic Tarot uses more saturated colors, a white or light-colored outline would be beneficial in creating some contrast to the background. I also wouldn’t mind seeing the card titles in a border running along the top and bottom of the card. Most of these issues are minor and I am willing to overlook them because of the importance of this deck.

Considering the fact that Pixie Smith was a bi-racial woman living in a time where representation was never considered for BIPOC I think she might be pleased with how her legacy is able to inspire a reimagining of her original artwork for people who long to see themselves represented in such a niche market. I think Oubria Tronshaw and Julia Goolsby have respectfully captured the spirit of Pixie’s original art while bringing it into the 21st century. If I had this deck when I was a teenager learning tarot, I wouldn’t have struggled as much with my identity in the tarot community. My teenaged tarot reader is thankful she can finally connect with the Melanated Classic Tarot.

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For more examples of Julia’s graphic artwork check out