What is the race card?
Or is that obvious?
Okay, I don’t guess there is much mystery as to the meaning of the phrase ‘race card’. It’s consistently employed as an accusation that someone has used the prospect of racism cynically to their own advantage. Maybe they have accused someone of discrimination who didn’t deserve it, or maybe they are just complaining about some general sense of inequity when (so the thinking goes) they ought to stop playing the victim and do what it takes to succeed in life. Either way, to say that someone has played the ‘race card’ means that they’ve raised the prospective of racial disparity on spurious grounds. It’s as if someone has raised the issue simply because they can.
…a bit like playing a card simply because it’s in your hand.
Okay, so I can certainly think of some times when I believe people have raised the accusation of racial injustice without just cause. I can think of instances in which people I’ve known in real life (or famous people I’ve known about from various media) seem to field the accusation without substantial cause. Of course, it is entirely possible that I may have missed a few things. Being a white guy, raised in lily-white neighborhoods, I lack the immediate personal experience to see a lot of this without reflection (or a patient person willing to explain it to me). Still I can’t help thinking, at least some of the accusations of racism leveled at various parties are indeed unwarranted, More than that, I suspect at least some of them have been made in bad faith, not merely as an error, but a lie.
I reckon this phrase ‘race card’ is as good a way to call attention to that sort of problem as any, at least any that willy fit into a 140 character tweet, (or at least 140 character mind).
But if there is a race card, so to speak, then there is also a race card
Hell, the race card card works as easily as the race card. The mere existence of a body of concerns about race is enough to empower the race card. Recourse to the accusation of racism is enough to give that card all sorts of power. It’s enough to help shameless people exploit the topic. The race card card is no less convenient or easy to use. So long as people have concerns about the credibility of other people’s concerns about racism, cynical abuse of those meta-concerns will always carry a degree of weight And of course the existence of a short-hand phrase to communicate the message makes it all that much easier.
Indeed, a quick trip around the net reveals a number of people who believe (or at least maintain) that the subject of racism can be reduced entirely to cynical use of the race card. The mere mention of the word ‘race card’ seems, to some anyway, sufficient to answer a history of slavery, Indian removal, Chinese exclusion, manifest destiny, segregation, and countless comparable institutions and practices. Whether we are to believe, these things were never really about racism to begin with, or that all this history has been neatly contained somewhere in the past varies from source to source, but the theme is ubiquitous. Countless cultural conservatives would love us to believe that the subject of racism is (now at any rate) simply a liberal contrivance.
If I can agree that people sometimes use the prospect of racial discrimination to gain unwarranted advantages, then I must also insist that people sometimes use the prospect of such a ploy to dismiss legitimate concerns about racial disparities out of hand. You can use the race card to make people think you have been treated unfairly on account of your race, even if you haven’t. But you can also use the prospect of a ‘race card’ to to dismiss perfectly serious concerns about real social inequities. Both ploys seem to work. They seem to work best for different audiences, to be sure, but under the right circumstances, each can be a very effective means of getting undue leverage over others.
So, what sort of card game is this anyway? It ain’t poker! Honestly, I don’t think it’s any game you would play with a conventional deck of cards. I can’t help thinking this is a collectable card game of sorts. I can just imagine the race card saying something like: “+1 versus liberal sympathies. Triggers outrage checks versus conservatives.” As to the race card card, it probably just says it will counter the race card, “but only when used in combination with white privilege.”
The white privilege card doesn’t say anything.
It doesn’t have to.
It goes without saying that similar cards and counter cards exist for gender, religion, sexual preference, and …well, for gender again, and again. Similar cards should probably exist for class and geographical region, but we rarely see them. The ‘Class warfare’ card is a definite exception. It’s perfectly suited to eliminate any defense against assaults by the upper classes. Just put the class warfare card on the table, and you can screw the middle and working classes without any scrutiny, or even to torment the unemployed with a free conscience.
I don’t reckon there is much hope of getting rid of spurious political card games. None of these gambits are going away any time soon. In any event, people talk about the ‘race card’ a lot. By ‘people’ I of course mean ‘social conservatives’. People don’t talk much about the race card card.
I think they should.