Pulling the Race Card

“Pulling the race card” is a fascinating expression in American lexicon.  Typically, this phrase is used to allege that someone has deliberately and/or falsely accused another person (or a thing) of being a racist or something.  More to the point, this is a phrase uttered mostly by whites (and the appointed pets of whites) in order to blow off the problem at hand.

“Why does it always have to be about race with you?” ~ white people

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I remember specifically when a friend of mine (white, male) said this.  I pointed out that technically, a person ignorant to the science of a healthy mouth probably won’t see the cavities in your teeth, but an actual dentist who is trained in the science of, will see cavities and other ailments of the mouth that you won’t normally see.  I used this as a parallel to point out how psychology and sociology helps train a person to better observe social ills.  Interestingly, he didn’t really care for a logical explanation.  He didn’t care for getting assistance to find clarity on the subject.  What he wanted to do, is use a rhetorical device to not only pivot the hard conversation on racism away, he wanted to blame me for racism in a passive-aggressive manner, as if “only if I didn’t observe these things they will all go away.”  Needless to say, he’s no longer a friend of mine.  With friends like these, who needs enemies?

For some strange reason (read: white fragility), white people infinitely seek to duck and dodge any honest conversation on racism, especially when it’s an sociologically aware black person speaking.  The remarkable thing about this, is that this isn’t just a sub-cultural thing where white people from a specific part of the United States all do this on habit; white people from all over America do this.  You don’t have to talk about any particular person either; discuss any system or institution and you will provoke this white flight-or-fight response take place during the conversation.  Ever seen an old Jackie Chan flick where he jumps, skips and ducks everything?  That’s what white people do when they see the discussion of racism looming on the horizon.

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White people become Jackie Chan-level parkour experts when you begin speaking on racism.

Because of this, the concept of calling something the race card is merely a rhetorical device used in an effort to devalue and minimize the statement at hand.

“Here we go with the race card…”

The use of the phrase “race card” tells a lot about who is saying it.  For the most part, whoever uses this term is usually looking to silence black people.  It’s worth noting that the concept of a race card being used is never used when someone is diminishing the humanity of black people as a whole, whether in coded language or explicitly racist.  No one ever invokes this term when a white person is using white racial animus to procure votes, for example.

white folks dodge racism discussion
White people ducking the conversation.

No one ever called Donald Trump out, for example, for pulling the race card when he attacks black athletes, but never answers towards white coaches or even Eminem.  While it’s possible for this term to exist in a neutral sense, it most certainly does not.  This term exist for the sole purpose of silencing black people, policing black thought, and to protect white privilege and white comfort.  This is more about the white reluctance to acknowledge racism, which isn’t new at all.  Invoking this term functions to protect white people from white guilt so they can remain selectively sociopathic to black people.

An American History of Gaslighting

Speaking on white reluctance to acknowledge racism, I think it’s proper to point out that technically when a white person invokes this term, they are implying that you, the black person, is a liar.  White people are practically saying you are totally making shit up, with an inventive imagination, with reckless abandon.  Not caring to understand a black person’s perspective in American society isn’t a new thing.  In fact, white people created a multitude of false sciences on such.

Drapetomania is a term created by a white “doctor” named Samuel A. Cartwright.  Drapetomania is a term he invented to describe the reason why a black slave would run from slavery, as if, slavery was so great and it’s totally baffling to a white person as to why so many black slaves ran away, or fought back, or burned houses down.  Dr. Cartwright, then stated that the “medical remedy” to this was to “beat the devil out of” (read: whipping, torture) that black person, or cut off both big toes (to make it impossible to run).

The phrase “pulling the race card” has a lot to do with the term “drapetomania” conceptually.  Both terms are invented in a world devoid of black thought, black reason, black humanity.  Both terms were invented by white people speaking to only white people concerning the Afro-American experience.  Both terms were designed to silence black people.

Poisoning the Well Fallacy

At its core, it has to be known that the term “pulling the race card” is a classic poisoning the well fallacy.  The poisoning the well fallacy is a error in logic where someone attempts to sully the logic of a person provided that they come from the pre-attacked standpoint.  If an ad hominem fallacy functions as direct gun fire, poisoning the well functions as a landmine; step there, and get blown up.  Invoking the term “race card” against black people speaking on racism, is in effect a smear tactic.  Its purpose is the discredit the person before they speak further.

As a black abolitionist, it’s one’s civic duty to continue to press the conversation and not get sidetracked by nonsensical claims.  One should not allow a sideways bigot, alt-right, white supremacist, or Americanized Nazi sympathizer to derail a topic that they deem difficult due to their whiteness to protect.

When a white person, or pet-to-white-supremacy person accuses me of “pulling the race card”, I always retort as such:

“If you want to talk about race cards, you gotta talk about who built the deck.”

Interestingly, when someone mentions race card, that same person who invokes never want to talk about who built the deck, who printed the cards, who dealt the cards, and who is really cheating in this card game they speak of.  You can use this retort, by the way.  Just remember where you got it from.

Photography Credit: La Né Leal

Written by Johnny Silvercloud

The Soul Brother #1 of a Kind. Consequentialist street photographer abolitionist writer/speaker who stands for any oppressed peoples. I do it because every man and woman deserves freedom of thought -- especially black folks.

19 comments

  1. Your very strong analysis is weakened by overgeneralizing, as if all white people are all the same and respond to the issue of racism monolithically. As a woman, I know some men who “get” sexism, though most do not (as is currently being amply demonstrated). As a lesbian, I know a fair number of straight people who “get” homophobia, though some do not. The best way to truly understand a perspective is no doubt to live it; otherwise, it’s hard to fully appreciate. But there are people in every privileged group who make every effort to understand what they can from the outside, and to act with conscience and conviction to end various forms of oppression.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This was amazing. I’m new to blogging and still trying to figure it out, but your post is exactly what I wish to become, read, and educate myself on. Amazing work. Amazing writing. Amazing everything.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey there Misguided Lemons,

      I checked out your blog and you are a decent writer. On my assessment, your content is radically different than mine (your blog is a traditional blog similar to a journal, while AfroSapiophile is a anti-racism/anti-sexism awareness hub) but at the same time it isn’t fair to place that as an absolute judgement being that yours is very new.

      From there, I like to extend to you an invite to contribute here if you like, if your topic is compatible from the aim of this site. If you want to hit the heavy topics without affecting the chill-vibe of your blog, I believe that’s a great option for you. In addition, you will have your blog link and data as the contributor, which will expose you and your blog to more readers, well, the folk you read AfroSapiophile but doesn’t know you yet.

      Just a few thoughts.

      Thank you for your support, and I wish you success with your blog and all!.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. You are right. We need to talk about racism and we need to move past it.

    The problem isn’t that people don’t want to talk about racism. The problem is that people are afraid of being punished for it. In an honest discussion there can’t be judgement. Human’s are not designed to be like this. There can be no changing of the mind if no one is willing to discuss it.

    I lost a friend once because I was discussing the fact that Alabama’s education system is one of the worst in the country and that needs to change. The friend from Alabama took it as I was attacking his mother and father. Calling them dumb and uneducated. When really I was trying to have a discussion on the Alabama education system with someone who actually experienced it. Is this as big of a deal as racism? No, but it wasn’t even nearly as complicated and it became a problem between friends.

    The issue is hard to discuss. Even if the solution seems simple. Don’t say and don’t be a racist. Never found it to be that difficult.

    I don’t consider myself racist or unsympathetic to others on any platform, but even now I’m second guessing everything that I am saying. Purely because I don’t want to come off as a racist, unsympathetic, or even uneducated about the topic. That is a problem. Would have been easier to hit the like button and not say anything at all.

    Amazing article and really moved me to think. Thank you

    Like

  4. No, the term exists because anytime something doesn’t go their way, “it’s because their black”… No it isn’t… “I didn’t get that job because I’m black” — no, you didn’t get that job because someone else was more qualified… “I got arrested because I’m black”– no, you got arrested because you broke the law… “I don’t make that much money because I’m black” — work harder and earn that raise. I can’t deny that racism doesn’t exist, but the fact is that there is this misguided perception that everything bad that ever happened/happens to you is because you’re black. As far as your quote: “Don’t talk about ‘Race Cards’ unless you want to talk about who built the deck” — Yes, a very long time ago white people did build that deck; however, the vast majority of white Americans ARE NOT racist. If you were actually playing a game today, there would be no more cards to play. We all have equal opportunity (other than when I didn’t receive any college scholarships after graduated high school with a 3.8 GPA, hundreds of hours in volunteering, involvement in multiple extracurricular activities, grew up with a single parent that made less than $12,000/year to provide for me and my sister, etc. because my skin ISN’T black or brown, but that doesn’t matter because I’m white lol 😉 ). Just stop blaming everything on the color of your skin. Maybe every “race” issue you’ve ever had wasn’t about race at all until you made it about race. I judge people on their character, not their color. Anytime I have ever been involved in a race issue (mind you, I could probably count those issues on one hand), the problem was not EVER about race until they made it out to be. Just some food for thought. I’d love to hear more on what you think — after all, that’s how conflicts are resolved, through conversation and willingness to understand each other’s view. I hope you have a great day 🙂

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    1. I’m glad that you are good enough to see people for who they are and not what they look like. That’s a beautiful thing and, even though you may not realize this, extremely rare.

      Race is always an issue and regardless of what we want to believe, it is the driving force of this country and all parts of it.

      When you see someone, the first thing you notice is their race. And because of history and the current racism issues, you will begin to act and think in a manner based on that person’s race.

      Maybe, since race doesn’t matter to you, you’re overly nice. Or for others, they act rudely. Or maybe you take it too far and begin using slang more than normal.

      In either case, there is a psychological change that occurs when race is determined.

      That right there is the reason that race will always be an issue. And no, we don’t blame all of our negative things in life on skin color.

      Why do you see it that way? Because you never have to deal with personal race issues. If you went to a predominately black neighborhood, I guarantee you would immediately feel out of place. If a percentage of those residents treated you poorly daily, you wouldn’t go back.

      Why? Because too many of them didn’t like the way you looked. Soon it would become a “they” thing. “They” didn’t treat you right. “They” were racist. And in conversation, you’d find yourself saying “That neighborhood was racist”.

      What I’m trying to tell you is this… Racism isn’t something we made up to try to get ahead. It’s real and it’s debilitating. And while it is not every single white person, it is enough to affect my life. It is enough for me to witness and experience everyday. It is enough for me to want to fight back.

      You keep being neutral. It’s good. Just understand that there is a fight to be heard and be equal. And not from the white perspective, because you wouldn’t know when we’ve reached that point, but from the black perspective.

      Like

    2. I believe the author of the post was simply saying that for various reasons whites are not willing to have a real discussion about racism with blacks. And your colorblind reply to his post serves only to prove his point. To say that “we all have equal opportunity” does not seem like a person who understands that racism truly exists.
      According to you, blacks should just shut up, obey the law, work harder and stop looking for racism in a country that established the very system of governance that helped to produce it.
      Like it or not, blacks and whites live in two historically different Americas, my friend. One founded on the hypocrisy of white, slave-owning, founding fathers who alleged freedom and democracy but legally withheld those very ideals from enslaved blacks because their forced, unpaid labor generated vasts amounts of wealth.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Correct. Also, I’m interesting in seeing what you develop out of your blog. Good luck with it. If you want to volunteer articles here as well, you are welcome to do so as well.

        Like

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m always amazed to hear people claim that we are somehow in a post-racial society, even as folks march with torches — but racism is so much more subtle than that. It’s pretty insidious. As a middle-aged white (and considerably privileged) woman, I’ve been participating in my school district’s SEED program for the last five years (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity). It’s a program designed to have us look at our own biases as well as the systemic and industrial systems that “built the deck.” It’s not easy work, but I think it’s one of the most important things I can do as a mother and a middle-school teacher, because it continually challenges me — and then I grow. Your blog post named, for me, the thing that frustrates me when I hear people scream about “pulling the race card.” Yes, it’s a way to silence — and also a way to invalidate. And I love your response. Thanks for the permission to use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I started using this site mainly to blog about and organize my thoughts dealing with mental health. But after reading your post, that is so well-written, I might add, I believe I’ll start broadening what I blog about on here. I’m an intersectional feminist, and I’m trying each day to better myself and be a better ally to PoC. And after reading this, it gave me much more to think about and honestly reference back to! I’ve never thought much about the phrase “pulling the race card” other than it immediately making me annoyed and defensive towards the racist who’s saying it. There’s not much of a point to this comment other than to say, thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I just went through this the other day with someone I work with. You are right on every aspect. White people need to know that they can never understand us and never will they will never walk in our shoes and know what it feels like but on their defense they play the victim and say we’re racist great read.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Ever since I’ve come to understand my own privilege I have been trying hard to be a good ally, and what I got from this post will certainly help me in explaining privilege to my friends and family.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. In reply to those who said “I’m a sympathizer, but…”

    I’ve been raised by parents who have placed in me a beautifully strong sense of black power. I remember when my father used to tell me to be careful of white friends and white people in power. This never seemed wrong to me even as I grew older because we lived in a heavily racist region.

    It may have been a generalization, as I had several white friends, but when someone notices far too often that they are being treated differently because of their race by many different people on numerous occasions, you expect them to feel comfortable around white people?

    If you stick your hand in a dark hole and was bitten by something even only 40% of the time, you would tell yourself that that hole was dangerous, and you’d avoid it.

    That’s the case here. Some of us have been raised to be wary around white people. That’s not to say that all whites are against us. No, we have made great strides since the 1700s, yet the struggle still exists.

    One of you said “the vast majority” of whites are not racist. You believe that you are sympathetic. Great, ask yourself this: How and when would you be able to discern if someone was racist?

    Have you ever experienced being watched closely in a store? Or how about being completely ignored in the check out line?

    You ever have a Cop pull you over, ask for your information that is in the glove box, and as you reach, been shot?

    My dear, you haven’t experienced racism. To you, of course the vast majority of the population isn’t racist. You’ve never been treated wrongly by whites. You could meet a white supremacists and unless they told you specifically, you would never know.

    The take away here is this… Not one single person has met or come into contact with enough of the population to express an idea about them as a whole.

    You can only speak about what you have experienced. So many want to believe that life is so great and better than ever before, but for us, we’re still struggling.

    It seems to me that Johnny has been through hell and back. He’s dealt with being told to stop pretending race is an issue, which is what the race card quote is essentially about.

    Racism is real and ever present. I experience it daily. I know when something doesn’t turn out right when it’s because of my character, but when it is about the color of my skin… …. That is discernable.

    Don’t call yourself a “sympathizer”. If your friend lost their child, don’t claim to sympathize with them. You have no idea what they’ve gone through or what they felt, even if they tried to describe it to you, you won’t know until you experience it.

    Just let people know that you have some understanding of the plight they endure.

    And remember “Anything before the word ‘but’ is bullshit”.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I very much enjoyed reading this post and I’m so glad it came up on my reader. I’ve been reluctant to talk about race issues on my blog — mostly because there is so much strong content already out there in the blogosphere. But I think it’s time.

    Liked by 1 person

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