Paul R. Lehman, Playing the race card is not a winner

January 24, 2011 at 1:33 am | Posted in American Racism, Media and Race, Race in America | Leave a comment
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A phrase that is frequently heard but never quite fully understood is “playing the race card.”The phrase calls attention to the socially created phenomena known as race. In America, society acts like only two significant so-races exist; they are the black race and the white race. This race game has been played in America since America’s beginning. The phrase was created by the majority society (European Americans) and is used in a number of ways, but usually with reference to African Americans. The figurative language of the phrase reflects the actions relative to a card game or an argument where a trump card or point is used to control or get an advantage in the action. The reference to race indicates a reference to the historical significance to America’s race experience and initiates an emotional response in a positive or negative way.

The race card can be used by any Politian regardless of party or gender. For example, if a political candidate makes the claim that his opponent is using the race card, the expectations of the candidate are either to gain support from people who believe his claim and support his assumption. One the other hand, the candidate knows that some people will see the claim as part of a strategy to discredit his opponent’s argument. The risk in using the race card is that it can work both ways—for or against the user.

Many national figures have found ways to invoke the race card without making a direct reference to it. They have developed code words that serve the same purpose. For example, if a speaker wants to gain the support of people who are biased against African Americans, he can use words like affirmative action and civil rights as being negative social elements, and he knows that those who support those beliefs will line-up behind him. On the other hand, a speaker who wants to appeal to liberal minded people can use other coded words to the opposite effect, words like birthers, conservatives, and right wingers. So, regardless of the position desired by the speaker, words and phrases are available to affect the race card.

Generally speaking, when a claim of using the race card is made, it is usually made by someone in reference to African Americans and certainly not by African Americans because that would defeat the purpose. For example, many Americans, not African Americans, say that Barack Obama was elected President because he is an African America. That statement would be an instance of using the race card. The argument is not a valid one, however, because if his ethnicity was the only criterion used to elect him, why was not Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes, and Shirley Chisholm elected president? So, the claim falls flat because it has no rational basis for support. However, in making the claim, many biased people will readily agree with the claim that, indeed, Obama was elected because of his ethnicity. The agreement comes because of the bias created by pitting one ethnic group against another.

Another example of using the race card occurred more frequently in the late ‘60’s and continues today to some extent. With the passage of the ’64 Civil Rights Act, employers were asked not to discriminate on the bases of color, gender, religion, and race (ethnicity). Also, some stipulations regarding diversity of workforce were required of employers depending on the number of employees they had. In refusing to consider some applicants for employment, some company representatives use the race card by saying that the applicant’s chances for employment was not possible because of Affirmative Action, or because of a Government quota. The so-called Government quota required the company to hire a certain percentage of ethnic minorities, so that left them out of consideration.

Regardless of who uses the race card or when it is used, the primary issue involves whether African Americans are being discriminated against or being made to be the victim of an unjust and unfair society. What is generally missing from the use of the race card is the history that created the value for the phrase. Too many Americans have forgotten and too many never learned the fact that ethnic bias, especially against African Americans, was a way of life for a few hundred years. Society would not have corrected the discrepancy on its own. After all, the women did not get the vote until 1920. So, government had to make the corrections. If looked at from another perspective, one might say that the majority ethnic group in America (primarily males) enjoyed liberties and privileges for three hundred years, not shared or enjoyed by other ethnic American citizens.

So, when the term “playing the race card” is used, one must take the time to see who is using it and for what purpose. The chances are that someone is trying to protect some special privilege or interest and wanting to keep it from being shared with others. In essence, the phrase is a “divide and conquer” tactic or strategy that is used to either gain an advantage in an argument or discrediting one’s opposition. The phrase should not be used at all, but if it is used, it should be changed to “playing the ethnic card,” since race is no longer an accurate term. The fact that the term race is used at all is an indication that the user still sees the different American ethnic groups as separate races. Instead of someone trying to identify the playing of the race card, he should realize that playing the race at all is a foolish game that no one wins.


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