"So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He's risky. That's essentially the argument they're making."
"Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
Ah, that all-powerful Race Card. I don’t know about you, but I knew it was coming. It was bound to. Barack Obama’s being the Democratic presidential nominee flies in the face of 400 years of this continent’s history, 90% of which was dominated by slavery and Jim Crow. His very presence brings that history the fore, which is very uncomfortable for many. Most prefer not to think about it. Many point to the past 40 years and think that equality has been achieved. But, despite the great gains made by black people in this country, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Instead of acknowledging this, many like to paper over this ugly sore with laudatory proclamations of what a great, multicultural society we have today. Yet, despite these claims, Obama has been suffering a whispering campaign about how he’s a closet Muslim terrorist, his wife a black radical, etc. But it is not the whisperers who are accused of using race as a weapon, but Barack Obama. And all because of that pesky, little Race Card, which, apparently, we blacks have constantly used to get where we are. While I’m still waiting for my Card and still can’t quite figure out what one looks like or how to best use it, the latest claims by the McCain campaign has made me wonder where the Race Card came from. This is what I found:
According to the
Slower than the Mayflower, it took some 30 years before the term became popularized here in the
After the trial was over, Simpson defense attorney Robert Shapiro evidently decided that his client wasn’t innocent after all, and started hitting the talk show circuit to spread his newfound belief. There, Shapiro claimed that Johnny Cochrane, Simpson’s black defense attorney, had “played the race card, and dealt it from the bottom of the deck.”
Bringing us to the present, I find it interesting that the McCain camp would hearken back to the OJ trial to find techniques to criticize Obama. But what is more interesting is how the Race Card got flipped. While the idea of using racial division to one’s own political advantage hasn’t changed, it has gone from a term of white, racial bigotry to white, racial victimization.
Of course, this was the ‘90s, which saw the rise of Rush Limbaugh and the Angry, Oppressed White Male. With all the civil rights legislation, racism was over for women and minorities, and now the pendulum had swung the other way with affirmative action, racial quotas, and reverse discrimination. Everything was backwards (is that what reverse discrimination means?).
This Race Card had become so powerful that the racial tables had turned. Good, God-fearing, hardworking white Americans had become so paralyzed with guilt that minorities and liberal Feminazis had taken over the world. A good, white man couldn’t find a job. The 1990 Jesse Helms “white hands” ad during a Congressional campaign against black challenger Harvey Gantt sums up the sentiment perfectly: “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?”
I gotta tell ya, as a black man, I feel utterly cheated by this whole Race Card phenomenon. While I don’t feel particularly oppressed at the moment, I haven’t received my Race Card in the mail yet, so I’m not reaping the privileges either. I guess being a minority helped me get into college – though I fit well within my alma mater’s academic parameters. But I definitely know it didn’t help me get that dream job at Goldman Sachs: “Well, Mr. Campbell, you have absolutely no qualifications to be a financial analyst. However, we have to hire one more minority today. So, I guess you’re it!”
But I’m not alone in this. So are most African-Americans. There seems to be an entire socio-scientific industry built on chronicling the disparities between blacks and whites. (So much so that when Freakanomics reported that test score differences are more class-based than race-based—in other words, middle- and upper-class blacks score the same as their white counterparts and poor whites score just as badly as blacks—it was wholeheartedly ignored.) Blacks come out on the short end when it comes to infant mortality, life expectancy, HIV infection rates, diabetes, and a whole slew of physical ailments. While black and white drug use is the same, the chances for first-time black offenders of being incarcerated are 48 times greater than whites.
Folks with “white-sounding” names are 50% more likely to be called back for job interviews than those with “black-sounding” ones. (William Robert Campbell at your service!). And, my favorite, in 2003 the American Journal of Sociology found that white men with criminal records are slightly more likely to get a call back for an interview than are black men with a totally clean record.
Where are these people’s Race Cards? As I said, I’m still waiting for mine. I got big plans. As soon as I get it, I’m going to go buy that $1.4 million house in my old Cleveland Park neighborhood with no money down and 2% interest (I’m willing to work for what’s mine). Then, I’m going to
I’m guessing that’s not how the Race Card works. I couldn’t tell you. Nobody I know has ever gotten one. It’s a mystery to us. We’re starting to think it doesn’t exist—almost as though it’s a … a myth.
If the Race Card is indeed a myth (and I have my doubts), it would just be one in a long line of racial myths that have graced our shores since the Middle Passages. There was the “happy darky” who absolutely loved being a slave—just a-pickin’ and a-grinnin’ in the cotton field. The negro didn’t want freedom and was too child-like and feeble-minded to endure the rigors of slavery. Phrenology scientifically proved that the negro skull was too small to contain real intellect. The Bible definitively stated that black enslavement was the result of the curse on the sons of Ham. White people were just following the Word.
What these and so many other myths did was help excuse, defend, and justify white privilege. It had been proven unequivocally that blacks were inherently inferior. Whites were not oppressing them. They were doing blacks a favor. After all, it was the “White Man’s Burden” to colonize the world, subjugate its darker peoples, and extract its natural resources because, without them, the colored masses would be living in a world of darkness absent God’s Light.
In a way, the white man was the victim in all this. Sure, he was getting rich off the whole venture, but these people didn’t understand the stress and strain of this civilizing enterprise. In fact, those coolies and niggers were downright ungrateful. Slave revolts, malingering, colonial uprisings, independence movements … when would it all cease? And even when
Look, I understand, nobody wants to admit that they somehow live a privileged existence. I, as an American, don’t like to think that the cheap shirt I just bought cost so little because some kid in
The abovementioned statistics, and so many more, fly in the face of that belief. And it’s hard to reconcile the two. Most refuse to even acknowledge them. And, inevitably, some become hostile to those stats and start getting angry at the people who produce them. They’re struggling, paying bills, and people are out there complaining about “white privilege” and “racism”. Are those people accusing me of being racist?
Well, I’m not racist? They’re racist! They’re the ones playing the Race Card. Not me. Hence, the effectiveness of the Race Card. It charges that those complainers are not just grandstanding whiners, but it also claims that they are using race as a weapon to further their own ends. They want more money for welfare (mistakenly believed to be mostly for African-Americans), they want more affirmative action, more racial quotas, they want to take away more jobs and more college slots from hard-working, deserving white people. It preys on white insecurity and blames the victim for their own victimization as well as conveniently turning whites into victims themselves (look at the White Hands ad—the white worker and employer were powerless in the face of racial quotas).
By charging the racial disparity commentator of racism, Race Card victims are attempting to silence her/him. It denies white privilege and seeks to shore up its defenses with that silence. We can easily dismiss those stats as racist as well and never be forced to address the inequalities in this supposed
That’s why I find it curious that John McCain has taken this tack the past week. When he accuses Obama of using the Race Card “from the bottom of the deck,” what is he really up to?
Race is not exactly new to American politics. The idea of white victimization ain’t all that novel, either. In more recent times, we’ve had Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” Bush, Sr.’s Willie Horton, Reagan’s Welfare Queen. McCain himself has fallen victim when W. surrogates claimed that his adopted Bangladeshi daughter was actually his black love child back in 2000. Some claim it lost him
So, no, race and American politics have often been bedfellows. And, with Barack Obama’s historical candidacy, it can’t be avoided—no matter how hard we try. After all, nobody’s looking at him, saying, “Hey, who’s that half-white guy?” Because of that, there are going to be people who vote for Obama because he’s black, and there’ll be folks who will vote against him for the same reason. People are inspired by racial pride, and operatives are out there preying on racial and religious fear.
McCain knows this stuff is going on. He can probably guess that these attacks are not just coming from wack jobs and Fox News (redundant?)—that some of these people are probably attached to, associated with, maybe even funded by Republican sympathizers or backers. McCain himself has denounced some of these attacks.
Before you get all pissed, I am not accusing McCain of being a racist himself. Hell, I don’t know the man. I can’t look into his heart. Joe Lieberman claims that McCain “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” While I refuse to call him a racist, his record doesn’t exactly jibe with Joe.
McCain has come clean about originally voting against the MLK holiday. What he forgets to mention is that he supported
And can we forget: "I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live." But hey, he was a prisoner of war, captured and tortured by the people he made a living bombing. He later reversed his support of Mecham’s decision. He’s apologized for the MLK vote, protested the South Carolina Confederate flag, called the Religious Right “agents of intolerance,” and he’s got that black love child. So, no, I wouldn’t accuse McCain of being racist. I think his record, like most of ours, is just a bit ambivalent when it comes to race.
What I will accuse McCain of is what he’s saying about Obama, and that is that Obama is using the Race Card. By employing the Race Card accusation against Obama, he hopes to silence the man’s complaints or, if Obama does actually complain about the whispering campaign against him, to paint those grievances with a “racist” brush. “Oh, there you go again, injecting race into the campaign.” But race has been a part of this campaign since
Meanwhile, McCain himself hopes to look as though he’s above the Race Issue (though his statements and voting record could suggest otherwise). And he can look like the victim in all this, suffering the slings and arrows of Obama’s racist attacks. In fact, this past weekend pundits reported that the McCain camp fears that anything they say will be misconstrued as racist by Obama supporters.
And downright disingenuous. When you claim that Obama’s inexperienced or is an empty suit, when you claim that his policies won’t work, nobody finds you to be racist at all. When you say he’d rather lose a war in order to win an election or that he wouldn’t visit wounded troops in Germany because there’d have been no cameras there (even though he’d visited wounded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that same week), we don’t find those at all racist—distasteful, but not racist.
But, in all honesty, what people find offensive or not isn’t really the point, is it? The McCain campaign is attempting to put out that they are the victims of racism and will continue to be as long as this campaign continues (meanwhile, providing cover fire for the Fox News pundits, Rush Limbaugh, and random bloggers—nothing they say will be accused of being racist now either). And, if Obama was being taken to task for the comments of Jeremiah Wright, why isn’t McCain suffering the same fate for all these comments being said about his opponent? I’m assuming that that will never happen. McCain is never going to have to give a contrite speech about race before the nation. No, in the race debate, McCain is going to be seen as the victim of racialized tactics. See, that’s the beauty of the Race Card—it turns victimizer into victim and vice versa. And it has been a very effective tool in getting people elected. Just ask Jesse Helms, who was behind in the polls until the White Hands ad. Or Bush, Sr. The Willie Horton ad did wonders for his campaign. Ask McCain himself. His “black love child” cost him