Thursday, November 24, 2011

Playing the Race Card Card

20061129_3282 by graphia
20061129_3282, a photo by graphia on Flickr.
Let's role play a scenario that I see, on average, at least twice a week on the webz.

Jan (Person of color): Did you hear/see that? I find that comment directed at my race to be incredibly insensitive and hurtful.
Jim (Person not of color): Stop being so sensitive. Must you throw out the race card?

It's a weird counter-argument. But it's also horribly inhumane. Without a trace of irony - and most likely without noticing it - by trying to prove how Jim isn't really racist, he actually demonstrates just how racist his frame of reference is.

Let's break it down, shall we?

Jan is hurt by remarks that she is quite aware are directed at her race/family/ethnicity/culture/identity group.
Jan lets others know, that may not know, how hurt she is by the offending statement.
Jim is offended (OFFENDED!) that Jan is offended by such a statement.
Jim does not understand why Jan should be upset as he does not share her cultural or historical background.
Rather than taking Jan seriously as a real, adult human being with actual feelings and emotions and intelligence, he continues to downgrade not just Jan's feelings as being less than legitimate (which leads Jan to feel like less of a person, at least in Jim's eyes), but also Jan's history, culture, family, and humanity.
Jan is not a legitimate person in the eyes of this white person.
Jan is led to believe - and with good reason - that Jim does not trust her accounts of her own experience and reaction simply because Jan is a different race or ethnicity.

This, in effect, is what racism is, what white supremacy is. It is also a sign of sexism. In this regard, Jan is doubly cursed.

A similar scenario can also be played out according to class or sexual identity, for instance). But it's been ridiculous efforts like Rush Limbaugh's "uppity" comments - directed at the First Couple and only at them - and the refusal of specific white Christians to acknowledge that that phrase is used disparagingly toward Black people who are perceived to rise above their station. In fact, judging by the responses I've seen from several paleo-conservative white male Christians, they don't give a rip about the hurt that that phrase causes African Americans.

Add to that, Thanksgiving is once again upon us and we still, in 2011 AD, mock and ridicule the very tribes and nations that were in the Americas first. Those very people that we systematically wiped out through assimilation and murder. And - adding insult to those injuries - we continue to mockingly dress our sports mascots as racist caricatures of "savage" Indian chiefs. A continuation of a history of profiting from the humiliation and exploitation of those we've been oppressing.

Braves mascot with dignitaries

When the First Nation tribes and people inform the alumni and students, universities, and professional sports teams that the mascots and mock-ceremonial actions are offensive to the very people that are being caricatured, the white men invariably answer, "No, they aren't. You aren't really offended."

Excuse me. But I have to ask my fellow white males, "WHAT THE FRAPPIN' HELL ARE YOU THINKING?"

Who do we think we are to tell others what they should be offended by when we're offending them, both historically - and because we choose to ignore their histories - currently? Especially after hundreds of years of oppression, genocide, slavery, removal, segregation, and utter marginalization. And now we White people want to act like everything's cool between us and the people we've marginalized and profited from - when it's obvious that we are only continuing the same acts of aggression?

Yeah, we're sick like that...


  1. I always learn something when I read your blog. I had no idea that the word "uppity" carried such emotional baggage. Striking that word from the dictionary in my head right now. Thank you for that.

    As to the other points, I can only shake my head and wonder if we're ever going to evolve past this and start living from our hearts with each other.

  2. I appreciate that about you Tana. We need more listeners.

  3. As a person who has been referred to as "uppity" among other things I appreciate this post and agree.

  4. I can so relate to what you wrote, Jason. I just left a church where I experienced the ignorance of those either not knowledgeable about history or seeing it as irrelevant to today. What made the experience painful was my lack of expressing my feelings. At one point, it was so painful, I felt like I had betrayed my race by even being in a predominantly white church. I hadn't but that's what I felt as I experienced different things that were hurtful that I didn't speak up about. From that experience, I have learned to be true to myself and no longer will I be quiet.

    Part of that quietness comes from my upbringing in which my mother is not one to speak up and would rather keep the peace. However, I found out the hard way that keeping the peace seldom does just that. My mother, who is 80, is from a different generation and while that advice may have worked at a certain time and place, it has not helped me and I've learned to find my own voice.

  5. Actually, as I was ready to publish this post, a couple of my white fb friends were giving me grief because I said that not everybody has happy thoughts concerning Thanksgiving (ie, First Nations).


  6. The thing i have been pondering...what would make White people feel similar feelings, and create empathy?

    What brought this on was thinking about the Muppets Swedish chef (and an NPR segment on the purported inspiration for the Chef). ANd i thought -- if the Swedish Chef were NOT making fun of Europeans, wouldn't there be outrage. But even the "inspiration" basically said he liked the character and seemed more like a good joke (based on when the real guy was on live TV, and was so nervous he seemed like the Chef).

    So what i'm tyring to say -- whites, given the same kind of mockery would jusy laugh it off. So they may honestly wonder why someone of a different race in a similar situation wouldn't do the same (i.e. blow it off). What could produce the same emotional sting?

  7. JP, The closest thing I can think of - because of the imbalance of power - would be the irony of whites being called racist. That always hurts. Even the faintest hint that one could be racist puts up the shields. Ergo, the Race Card defense. I honestly think that there needs to be a good amount of empathy and relationship-building, as well as an understanding of racial history in the states, particularly, to make any real jumps in racial separation and inequity these days. We haven't really grown in forty years as a nation.

    If you have the stomach for it, comedian Louise C.K. has a hilarious and dead-on take on how there is no equivalence to the 'n' word for whites. I'm sure it's on YouTube.


Be kind. Rewind.