Why We Shouldn’t Dismiss Every Claim Of Racism We Hear
“Race card!” is a reflexive response to any accusation of racism. This is largely because some people aren’t shy about calling things racist for political gain. Joe Biden, for example, told a rally four years ago that the Mitt Romney wanted to put blacks back in chains. When people demagogue race like this, it gives cover for actual racism. Accusations of racism — particularly against political figures, and particularly made by political opponents — are instinctively rejected by those ideologically similar to the target of the accusations.
The Right and the Left also each have their echo chamber of sympathetic media. Every bad thing reported about someone on your side is either not true, or not put into the right context. Every bad thing reported about someone on the other side is, if anything, understated. Particularly radioactive accusations like racism only increase the strength of the response on both sides.
So what happens when an actual racist shows up? On your side? Would you recognize it? At first, it would sure feel like the same old race card was being played. “Oh come on, enforcing our existing immigration laws is not racist. You can disagree with it, but don’t play the race card.”
But then the statements get a little more pointed. Mexican immigrants get talked about as rapists. People around the public figure start saying more overt things, and not just about Mexicans. The public figure himself tweets out fake crime statistics about African Americans from a white supremacist account.
Honest mistakes. Guilt by association. Quit playing the race card.
Next he gets endorsements from a famous white supremacist who used to be a grand wizard in the KKK. On live TV, he declines to repudiate it. But that was a faulty ear piece. Come off it with this race card stuff.
Some more white supremacists appear on his Twitter feed. Another honest mistake. A few things are reported about his company discriminating against blacks? That’s just an accusation and it was decades ago. An awkward outreach to Latinos with a taco bowl picture? Calm down, you have no sense of humor. Oh, and he’s saying a judge who was born in Indiana shouldn’t hear his fraud case because of his Latin American heritage. Conflict of interest. Why is it a conflict of interest? Shut up, you’re playing the race card.
Here’s the thing about racism that white people like me don’t always get. Sure, you could say racism is wrong in the same way that 2 + 2 = 5 is wrong. You could say it’s morally wrong. These are general, abstract statements. Let’s get real. Having a public figure normalize racism encourages it in others.Racist people are emboldened to be more open about it. When people act racist, other people are harmed. Kids are watching this unfold, too, and taking note. Racism is not abstract for people who are affected by it.
So yeah, you can act all huffy and offended at people “playing the race card.” Goodness knows that it is possible to play the race card in the way that you mean. But just for a second, look behind you and assess the man that you’re defending. Does he deserve your defense? Who is being hurt? Are you okay with that? Look in the mirror and decide.
This piece originally appeared in The Buckley Club and is republished here with permission.