The Whole Deck

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  • Well guys, the issue of race is always with us, it’s as American as apple pie… especially during campaign season.
         
    Case in point, you may recall that MSNBC’s Chris Matthews accused Mitt Romney of “playing the race card,” after Romney quipped "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate" when Romney campaigned at the hospital where he was born.
         
    Political pundit, Toure, also recently talked about how republicans and Romney were using issues like welfare to code their language in a way that says, “Don’t vote for the black guy.”
         
    Toure went on to point out that republicans have a history of using these kinds of tactics to appeal to conservative white voters, highlighting Ronald Reagan’s focus on “welfare queens” and George Bush’s infamous “Willie Horton” ads.
         
    Well, both Matthews and Toure, I believe, are justified in pointing out this racial coding. But, that said, I am also troubled by something Matthews and Toure suggested in their commentaries on race.
         
    They both used the term, “playing the race card” when referring to what they believe are examples of racism or overt appeals to race and this is misleading because it suggests that issues of race only pop up like a card when someone refers to them directly or indirectly.
         
    Let me explain. Race is with us always. It is a foundational and deeply embedded social construct as old as America itself. it’s always been used as a tool for grouping and differentiating people.
           
    Take the seemingly innocent example of a man walking down the street. The dynamics change depending on what color that man is and what neighborhood that man happens to be in.

    If he’s a brother walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, then the dynamics are different for him than a white man, given that the brother could be harassed or profiled or it could just mean someone acts extra nice to him to try and make him feel welcome.
         
    Whether these events will actually happen is not the point they show how race informs and shapes group dynamics whether we are consciously thinking and talking about it or not.
         
    Another example is how many of us, black and white, commonly avoid “bad areas” or stay out of the ‘bad side of town’ since we are conditioned to view these neighborhoods as full of lawlessness, people of color and high crime, whether actual or perceived.
         
    All this to say that the issue of race cannot be reduced to a simple card to be played at a given moment. Race is not a card; it is built into the whole deck, a deck that has, historically, been stacked against us.
         
    I’ll leave you with this thought from former president Lyndon Johnson:
         
    “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men's skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”
         

     

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