Playing the “Race Card:” The New “Ni**er”

I knew that the night our legal system exonerated Darren Wilson of any wrongdoing in the killing of Mike Brown would be bad one.  Earlier in the day, wrote:

For the last 45 minutes, I have been bracing, preemptively licking wounds, buttressing my walls, detaching from emotions, and desensitizing myself. I have been fearful and angry and allowing myself to imagine everything and anything awful…all in the name of preparing for the announcement from the Grand Jury out of #Ferguson. In my gut, I sense the coming of a storm and a backlash and time of tumult that I’ve not seen the equal of in my lifetime. So for 45 minutes my thoughts have been jumping, twitching, rolling through the darkest corners of human potential and even when I tried to stop this, when I tried to tell myself this is not helpful, I could not find a place to ground my thoughts, my “self.”

I wasn’t wrong to prepare and the preparation did not help.  It felt ten times more awful than I expected it to, and though I tried…HARD…to stop myself from getting involved in any social media debates on the matter, I couldn’t help myself.  The part of me that hopes, the part of me that was raw, is simply too hard-wired to the belief that giving, teaching, listening, and allowing myself to be vulnerable, are valuable ends in and of themselves; that they will make a difference in the long run; and that it is my responsibility to do these things as long as I have the fortitude.

And so I engaged…

Of all the awful things that I read that night, I realize that it was the accusation of playing the infamous “RACE CARD” that injured me most.  The term race card has skyrocketed to the top of my list of “most insulting things that can be said,” so much so that I am personally calling it “the new ‘ni**er’.”

The accusation of “playing the race card” seems to come from an assumption that anyone who makes mention of felt, observed, and/or widely-documented racial dynamics are “making things about race” when I don’t have to in order to gain an advantage.

To this…I angry laugh…and perhaps even snort.

Perhaps I will follow up with second part to this blog post and make the case for why this is perhaps the most remarkable collective delusions we Americans commit to.  But for now, I am keeping this personal.  The people who threw this accusation in my face, who do not know me and had no desire to listen or dialogue.  They don’t and probably will never understand the profound irony of their put down.

The fact is, I have worked HARD.  I have worked CONSISTENTLY.  I have worked DOGGEDLY.  I have worked ALL OF MY LIFE to MAKE THINGS ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE BUT RACE.

If they only knew:

  • How as I child I rationalized bullying and exclusion by convincing myself other kids were just jealous.
  • How throughout my schooling, I listened to friends tell “black jokes” or instruct me not to “ni**er lip” (leaving the filter moist) their cigarettes when I took a drag, I made the excuse that they didn’t “mean anything by this” and the fact that they would even say these things near me meant “we were just that cool.”
  • ‘How when, less than an hour before a school dance a boy called to tell me his parents would not be picking up me–that he was not allowed to go with me because I was black, I told myself it was just loving parents who didn’t want their kid to experience any difficulty.
  • How when countless strangers, just minutes into a conversation say, “wow, you are articulate,” I convinced myself that this was because I was just that great at introductions.
  • How when people met all my friends out of high school they asked “so are you in college?” but always asked me “do you have kids?,” I told myself it is because was because I looked old for my age.
  • How, “REALLY?” is always the response to me telling people about my job or my education, I tell myself it’s because I look young for my age.
  • How after the first boy I slept with at VA Tech told me he “hated ni**ers”, but that I “wasn’t like the rest of them,” I told myself he just didn’t have the right words to express his feelings.
  • How two years into my job, when I still get waved down for “illegally” parking in the faculty parking lot, I tell myself that my coworkers just don’t know me yet and somehow repeated miss the decal hanging in the window of the car I park in that lot every single day.
  • How when I was/am followed and watched in stores, I told/tell myself that store owners were/are just being vigilant about loss prevention.
  • How the times I have been mistaken for a sex worker while waiting for people outside of bar, I told myself the men who approached me were just drunk.
  • How the times when total strangers asked me where they might find some weed, I told myself it was because I just “look cool.”
  • How I have worked to slot the realities that we are nation built by the institution of plantation slavery, that we are nation that fought a war for the right to keep slavery, that schools and other public places had to be forcibly desegregated in my parents’ lifetime, that I know people who saw MLK speak, that the KKK still boasts thousands of members, and that every indicator of “success” that we measure shows marked racial disparities, into some impossibly neat “past” that somehow has had no baring on the present.

If they knew that I have spent most of my lifetime engaged in the most ARDENT, SELF-DEPRECATING, EGO ANNIHILATING, REALITY DENYING ACTS OF SELF-DELUSION in an effort to render myself willfully ignorant, to NOT accept the totalizing reality that I live in a nation in which EVERYTHING is about race, would it make a difference?

Probably not… And now that I am tired of this absurd effort, not that I have come into self-respect, not that I have worked my ass off for everything I have an everything I know; now that I dare to “see” things for what they are, to name them, to know them, to assess them so I can devote my life to making them better. Now I AM THE ONE making things about race.

Now everything I am, everything I have experienced and accomplished, everything I work tirelessly for so that this country can be better for EVERYONE, is reduced, belittled, characterized as a cheep, opportunistic, fiction…

a “race card.”


Read Part 2 of Playing the “Race Card” – the New “Ni**er”