The term ‘playing the race card’ is often used to minimise the experience and consequences of racism, I have always thought. Like most terms that have entered into use and stayed for a period of time, it has taken on a range of meanings determined by the context in which it is used and the perspective of the speaker. In a recent twitter exchange, I was told that it meant ‘acting like Enoch Powell’.
The Guardian carried a report recently of an Irish mayor who, having been duly elected, stated that he would no longer represent a group of his constituents if they had black skin and were of a specific cultural group. He said that such people were too aggressive and were too inclined to play the race card as a way of getting him to act on their behalf. He had had enough and would, to follow his reasoning, henceforth only champion the legitimate causes of white voters.
Not surprisingly, he was accused of racism. No surprise either that it was promptly denied. Bear in mind that even Nick Griffin denies that he is racist, so such a reaction is not at all unusual. It is a rare person who accepts without rebuttal, the charge of racism.
A quick search of Google shows how frequently the term is used. During the trial of OJ Simpson, the defence was accused of ‘playing the race card’ by introducing evidence relating to the alleged racism of the police officer in charge of the murder investigation.
The Daily Mail carried a headline five days ago accusing Labour Lords of playing the race card to deflect their wrong-doing in relation to claims of excessive parliamentary expenses.
Tiger Woods was reported to have refused to play the card against his former caddie who had called him a ‘black arsehole’. His reluctance to deploy his stellar weapon even when he appeared to have a cast iron case (the caddie did not deny the accusation, just the usual charge of racism that followed) was a source of confusion to some.
Generally, it would seem that playing the race card is something done when you can’t get what you want in any other way. It gives you wriggle room. Scrutiny is deflected away from you to another person who is inadvertently labelled as racist. It is, therefore, not a nice thing to do. Although not using the card (when you could) might invite questions about your racial authenticity. In other words, maybe you’re just not black enough. (See Tiger Woods.)
If you are black, the only sure-fire way of avoiding the inevitable slur that comes with using the card, is to avoid using it altogether. Never invoke race or colour in relation to any disadvantage that may have befallen you in life. This brings with it the bonus of living in a perfect world way race is never, ever a factor. Who knows, you might make lots of friends that way.
If you aren’t black and you wish to highlight someone else’s use of the card, go right ahead. You won’t suffer any obvious disadvantage and you may help to neutralise any genuine racism that is being complained of. Win win.