The existence of racism and its societal and socioeconomic impacts are oblivious to many Americans. Despite the multitude of racial injustices toward minorities that have recently plagued national headlines, there are still many who are blind to the reality of racism. Because of this ignorance, some find the topic either trivial or exasperating. These people typically suggest that the acknowledgment of racial injustices is “playing [or pulling] the race card.” Playing the race card is a saying used to describe race-based opportunism. It is a means to overuse and abuse racial injustice for the purposes of acquiring preferential treatment, or to have an outcome in the complainant’s favor.
The accuser is alleging that the “player” has “deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.” Quite frankly, there are several issues with such a claim aside from the fact that the assertion is disrespectful in itself.
Racial injustice is not a “game,” racial disparity is not a “card,” and the oppressed are not willing “players.” Accusing someone of playing the race card completely marginalizes their experience.
Racism consists of numerous elements to maintain the positions and powers of the dominant society. Part of that power is permeated in white skin privilege. The benefit is not something that white people do, create, or enjoy purposely. Unlike the more overt individual and institutional manifestations of racism, white skin privilege is a transparent preference for whiteness that saturates our society. It serves as “several functions,” including providing white people with “perks”‘ that are not earnable and those that people of color cannot enjoy. Also, white skin privilege immunes those from certain challenges that minorities are subjected to and shapes the world in which we live—the way that we navigate and interact with one another.
Having such an advantage not only blinds those to systematic racism, but prevents them from understanding or empathizing with the oppressed. Furthermore, it is easier to ignore, overlook, deny, or marginalize racial inequality than to project the voices of the oppressed through acknowledgement. Thus when racism is exploited, the race card is being played, racism is being discounted and will “hopefully” just go away.
In layman terms, the expression says that “because it doesn’t happen to me, it doesn’t exist.” It is an insidious racial microaggression that aims to subvert claims of racism and its impact. The phrase prevents the accuser from not only being able to recognize their tone and insensitivity to the subject, but also to challenge their own bigotry and bias.
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