For the record, I firmly believe that anytime anyone uses the phrase “playing the race card” that person should be tased in the gonads. I say this because as soon as you compare the legacy of slavery with holding an ace in your hand, you have shown that you are a jackass bigot moron enemy of history. Saying it is the same as starting your sentence with: “I’m not a racist,” which is the bloody shirt that shows you are, actually, a racist. Further, it demonstrates that you are yourself “playing the race card.” It’s a phrase white people use to belittle the concerns of black Americans by reducing them to cynical ploys to gain the moral upper hand. The purpose is to deflect the criticism so white people don’t have to face the truth about race relations in America. So, they [whites] play the race card in order to cut the legs out from under those that still bear the burden of the legacies of slavery and segregation.
Not only does this poor defense add insult to injury, it also attacks our history for the worst possible reason. These white critics want to treat situations like the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. or the trial of O.J. Simpson as isolated incidents. They want to remove them from history and look only at that event — without the context of the Scottsboro boys or the Tuskegee experiment or Bloody Sunday. By isolating the incident, you can minimize it. It is no longer part of an enduring pattern of behavior in our country. Essentially, it lets white people today break the connection between them and the racism of their white ancestors. Whites often want to repudiate that connection because they don’t want to have to bear any responsibility for what happened. But, to do so is to make war with history — with our consciousness, with the truth. They want the history to go away. They want to treat it like a dry erase board that can be wiped clean, creating a level playing field with the simple swipe of a felt pad.
History doesn’t work that way though. You can’t undo consciousness, and actions cause reactions. They create effects. Chains of events set in motion cannot be stopped by wishful thinking — particularly to soothe the conscience of a group that does not want to face its culpability. That group doesn’t necessarily do this to avoid acknowledging the past wrong — that, most whites are willing to do. What they fear is giving up what they have to make any kind of restitution. Often, white Americans want to believe in equal opportunity but they do not want to embrace affirmative action if it means that white people are denied any opportunities. Thus, they don’t want to have to give up their advantage even though it was gained at the expense of minorities in this country. They don’t believe — or want to believe — that they have an advantage. They want to believe that they achieve their successes through hard work and skill. Only, they don’t have many of the same anchors weighing down their chances as minorities still do. Most whites support the achievements of minorities, but they don’t want to have to relinquish theirs for that to happen. The problem with that is that blacks (and others) had all chance for achievement snatched from them for centuries, and that allowed many whites to gain a success they would not have earned all things being equal. True equality means that white people will not have the same opportunities they have had in the past because these will be more limited by the larger pool of competition. Whites know this and they do not want to be those left behind. They don’t want to be in the same boat that blacks drifted in for so many years.
So, they take up their weapons and belittle the black perspective and deny the effects of the past. With phrases like “playing the race card” or “reverse racism” they pretend that they are the victims of an equal harm and that the legacy of slavery and racism — with its sense of shame, lack of opportunity, mistrust of government/authority, and fear for one’s safety — does not exist. It is as if it didn’t happen. It is a story from long ago that is now just words without reality. History is not like fiction, however. You cannot simply close the book and put the events away. We live today with the effects of those causes, which in turn shape our future as well.
To refuse to embrace the reality of the lingering affects of racism in America — or, to play the race card means declaring war on history. It is to abuse it for greedy and political purposes. There can be no smaller or more sinister reason to violate the truth of our past. And, again, for the record, if you’re at war with history, then you’re at war with me.