The Race Card
Originally written July 29, 2017
This morning, I had an epiphany. It came on the heels of several discussions with white men about various topics, all of which involved politics. In one case I brought it up. In two cases, they brought it up. In the latter instances, it was with the certainty that they were only bringing it up because they expected me to. It was pre-emptive strike on their part, an “offense is the best defense” maneuver designed to take away what they clearly saw as my trump card before I had a chance to play it myself. But of course, we call it The Race Card.
So back to my epiphany. What I realized when reflecting on all of these conversations as the harsh light of a new day dawned in the east, is simply this: there is no such thing as The Race Card. It does not exist. It has never existed. I don’t mean as a concrete object such as those vile depictions in the photo above. I mean that it does not even exist as a concept. It is a made-up scenario created by white men designed to socially penalize anyone who dares to introduce the relevance of race into a conversation, because they are so uncomfortable with the idea of even discussing the issue of race. Their discomfort stems from the sure knowledge that any discussion of race inevitably leads to a discussion of their place in the racial hierarchy and and acknowledgment of their privilege. And the last thing that these white men want to is to acknowledge their privilege. Their worldview depends heavily upon presenting themselves as people who are losing privileges, not as people who have always had more than anyone else around them. In other words, it prevents them from playing the victim. No one else is allowed to be a victim. Certainly not a victim of their own making.
These white men have made up their minds that the world is colorblind. That no matter what problem or systemic societal ill happens to be the topic of conversation, race could not possibly have anything to do with it because they do not see or acknowledge race. They treat everyone the same regardless of race, and so does everyone else on the planet. Therefore, anyone who speaks up and points out that this is not actually the case, and that race may in fact be involved in this issue, has just played The Race Card. Which means that they are playing a game, and are not to be taken seriously. In short, they can be safely ignored. Furthermore, simply by bringing up the reality of race and its impact on either history or present circumstances, they are actually hurling accusations of racism. Not only that, but they are presenting themselves and everyone in that racial group as a victim, and avoiding the merits of the argument with a needless distraction.
And of course, they’re a terrible person. The kind of person you can’t argue with, because they’re “just going to bring race into it.” The kind of person you can’t run against politically because they’re just going to use their Race Card as a crutch. It’s a convenient excuse for not engaging in a debate you no longer feel confident you can win. It’s a marvelous excuse for losing a political race while still winning the race race. And of course, it’s a highly effective method of stripping someone of their power. If a person’s success can be attributed to this one card, and if their accomplishments can be reduced to their ability to play a game better than others due to an accident of birth, that means there’s nothing special about this person. They have no inherent qualities or virtues or abilities that led to their success. No, they only got it because of their race, which came with their Race Card. Accepted everywhere, void where prohibited by common decency.
Equally pernicious is this assumption that anyone with the power to play their Race Card is just itching to do so, and will do so at some point during any discussion of a sensitive topic. Anticipation of this allows the anticipator to tune out from the very beginning. Why listen to anything this person has to say when you know (or are convinced you know) that this person isn’t serious, and is eventually going to call you a racist? Nothing they say before or after that is valid, so you might as well invalidate all of their opinions before they express a single one. They are invalid just for showing up. They might as well have stayed home. You can buy anything with a Race Card, but only once, because after that the establishment will be closed to you, and most are never open to begin with.
Since there is no way to stop people from leveling the accusation of this imaginary concept at anyone who points out the obvious impact that race has on society, or who happens to be a member of a minority race, I propose instead that we introduce a new concept. We can call it The White Privilege Card.
Clearly it’s not an original concept, since someone already made Google-able images of it. But a simple Google search certainly doesn’t get the overwhelming plethora of hits that a search for The Race Card does, and none of those hits feature memes of current or former presidents. So it’s clearly time we brought this new card into greater circulation. The next time someone tells you that you played The Race Card by pointing out that the prison system is primarily made up of people of color and that therefore any major changes to it (such as coercing inmates to sterilize themselves) will inordinately impact people of color, you can remind them that they have a card too, and that they used it to go grocery shopping that day. Remind them that on the way to the store, the police didn’t pull them over, that no one at the store followed them around to see if they were stealing something, and that the money they used to pay for the food came from a job they got because of their shiny White Privilege Card. Of course, doing this won’t have any real impact on either improving your argument or forcing the other party to actually listen to it, but it might make you feel better. If there’s virtue in shared misery, then there must be virtue in sharing the accusations of superiority, too.
One of my three conversations involving politics (and race) ended very well. It ended with the white man I was talking to basically telling me, “Look, we come from very different backgrounds. We grew up in very different environments. I know that you as an African-American have had very different experiences in life than I have, and that you’re going to see things differently. I may not always understand that, but I’m always willing to listen.” How can you not love that? It’s so simple. It’s so easy for anyone to do, yet so rarely done. Just put the imaginary fucking cards away. Stop the accusations. Stop playing games. Listen.