Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Few of the Many Reasons that the "Race Card" Annoys

Alas, it now seems clear that Hating on Charles Bird is a failure, and most likely because I personally am insufficiently judgemental. Had I really hated CB, perhaps the site would have flourished. Alas.

In the interest of comity, might I suggest to Charles that the phrase "the race card" sounds a priori dismissive to people who have been worried about the subtle long-term effects of racism? It is a step up from the frankly offensive term "race-baiting," but it is hardly neutral. It's a short-cut phrase, indicating frustration at African-American complaints about racism, justified or not. It has often been used in a highly politicized context to downplay African-American complaints, and I know that Rush Limbaugh has used it to marginalize African-American activists at all levels.

I would suggest that the "race card" looks very different from the perspective of poor--or even middle-class--black people, who might take what you seem to see as racial pandering as the honest representation of their communities' views and interests? Can we white people feel so assured about the equal treatment in our country as to dismiss allegations of even subtle racial bias?

I'm not a black person, I've never lived as a black person, yet I've read the essays of those who have. Almost all of my black students seemed to feel a kind of self-justifying pressure that my white students didn't feel. Admittedly, my adult black students were more keenly aware of being black than my teen students were, but it would be hard to separate out generational differences from class, working-experience, the general school of hard knocks. And however embittered they may be, the students I encounter are those who have beat the odds and have made a bet on their futures: hardly representative, in important ways.

To get back to the idea of the "race card": in last week's New Yorker, there was a long article that among other things dealt with the black reation in New Orleans to Hurricane Betsey. There were rumors of the levees' having been deliberately blown, there were rumors that black people had been specifically targeted. These were, as they are today, urban legends that support uninformed people's worst fears. But why do these fears have such a foothold? Why do black people in the South believe that white Americans would prefer they disappear? Maybe because for decades, from the Jim Crow laws to the Tuskagee experiments, from segregized schools to police shooting, black people haven't really had much reason to be trusting.

I would argue that such terminology as "the race card" has tended to discredit black complaints, legitimate or otherwise.

Unwarranted attacks of racism should be examined--carefully, by those who have thought through the legacy of racialist thinking in the US. And those who would declare victory for multiculturalism without working through the ongoing problems should really quit their whining about France.


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