The topic of race causes social consternation for many, and the phrase “the race card” may be the most sensitive hot button within that topic.
I’ve been reading articles, watching videos, and talking with people about the idea of the race card. What happens? Why is this topic so fraught with anxiety? And what can we do to create a healthier response? After all, dealing directly with such a topic is not what causes issues. Conversely, not talking about it continues the often-unspoken tensions.
Some observations from Black authors expressing their experiences and their hopes (some specific resources listed at the end):
- Some of us hate the phrase “the race card.” “I have a particular revulsion for this phrase,” columnist Charles Blow writes, “because of all that it implies: that people often invoke race as a cynical ploy to curry favor, or sympathy, and to cast aspersions on the character of others.”
- White people play the race card without calling it that – like when they claim we’re playing the race card!
- White supervisors play the race card as a means of deflecting legitimate complaints from Black employees.
- White employees also discount the capabilities of newly hired minority employees by assuming they got the job because of affirmative action, thus belittling their competence and qualifications.
- Yes, some doors have been opened. Yes, we had a Black President. And he was mercilessly mocked and undermined because of his race.
- When we call your attention to attitudes and incidents you’ve been conditioned to deny we take tremendous risks. We’ve seen and experienced the backlash, the vengeance that can occur when we finally speak up. This is not “playing” anything. It rarely goes well for us when we attempt to give feedback to white people about the racism we perceive.
- This is a courageous act. We often hold back, and you have no clue that we are doing so. We’ve left your companies and your clubs out of pent-up frustration with this treatment – and you remain unaware that this was our reason for leaving.
- We agree with you on one aspect of this: there are Black people who do “play” this card, slackers who try to manipulate and intimidate you to deflect attention from their own incompetence, their own failures. Author Richard Ford chastises the use of “strategic blackness, as distinguished from authentic blackness.”
- Even so, we need you to take us seriously when we do dare to object, when we do claim that racial dynamics are at play. We need you to check your fragile white ego, to stop your immediate urge to deny you’re a racist and hear us out! Then maybe, just maybe, we can salvage the situation and forge a healthier more genuine relationship.
- Genuine relationships are vital to us, so dare to broach the topic with us! Trust that we can perceive when your question is fueled by a genuine desire to learn, to engage honestly and openly.
Some observations from white authors:
- Whenever the claim arises that racial dynamics are present in a situation, we immediately tense. We’re so petrified of being considered a racist, so wary of doing or saying something wrong, that we often simply tend to clam up.
- Rather than learn how to improve on our communications with Black people, we hunker down when they claim racism, often with judgments about their super-sensitivity.
- We simply think of ourselves as normal. We’re perplexed and defensive when a person of color sees us as “acting white.”
- We’ve experienced Black employees claiming that race is at play when we know the real issue is their own incompetence, so we’re suspicious when we hear the charge that racism is involved.
- We’ve seen our companies bend over backwards to grant jobs to Black people, and that, to us, is the race card being played. Potential white employees lose out. So who’s being treated unfairly in that case?
- Why can’t Black people be more tactful and less accusatory when they bring up these charges?
- We have a moral objection to racism, so we certainly don’t intend to practice it. Any implication that we do is very emotionally upsetting. When we are questioned, we feel “victimized, slammed, blamed and attacked.” (author Robin DiAngelo)
- We are adept at using our emotional angst in order to deflect the conversation from what was said to how upset we feel.
- White people intentionally play the race card, particularly politicians who know precisely what buttons to push to stir voters who harbor any racial animus.
- A majority of white people (55%) believe that discrimination against them exists in America today, though “a much smaller percentage say that they have actually experienced it.” (Robert Wood Johnson survey)
To put this race card dynamic in a broader context, here are some prevalent tendencies in the societal soup in which we all swim, tendencies noted in a broad consensus of sociological/psychological studies:
- We (people of all races) are reluctant to accept responsibility for our own emotional stirrings
- We tend to blame others for any discomfort we experience
- We focus more on how others are behaving than we do on examining our own participation.
- These tendencies can be observed in a spectrum of flash points, e.g.: LGBTQ rights, immigration policies, reproductive rights, and wealth distribution.
People often ask me, “So what can we do about racial issues?” That last list represents a lifetime to-do list. The challenge is to improve our own emotional maturity, to check our defensive impulses, to listen without reactivity, to hear beyond the words. In regard to racism, anything less is playing the race card!
Just do that. That’s all.
“The Race Card: The scariest card in the deck” by Ruth C. White, PhD. (Black author) Psychology Today 11/20/2012.
“Stop Playing the ‘Race Card’ Card” by Charles M. Blow (Black author). NY Times Opinion 3/19/15.
The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse by Richard Thompson Ford (Black author).
The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality by Tali Mendelberg (white author).
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (white author).
“Majority of White Americans Say They Believe Whites Face Discrimination” NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 10/24/17.
19 thoughts on “The Race Card: Black Wariness Meets White Fragility”
Discussing racial issues, concerns, etc., especially across diverse groups is very difficult AND very essential to improving personal and systemic relationships. I must learn how better to participate and facilitate these conversations.
Why don’t you begin by simply changing the narrative. Stop with the old, worn-out, tired “very difficult” rhetoric, and just focus on the “essential…” part — period. That’s a beginning for how to “better participate [in] and facilitate these conversations.”
Why don’t you start by changing the old, tired, worn-out narrative about “discussion [being] very difficult,” and just focus on the “very essential…” part. That would be a beginning to “better participating [in] and facilitating these conversations.”
Frank, It’s interesting that none of your readers have asked “what is REAL?”
The Rochester City School District’s Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team was established by former Superintendent Barbara Deane-Williams in September 2017.
The purpose of REAL is to engage parents, grandparents, educators and other community members in an ongoing, collaborative process of helping to develop/implement, monitor and evaluate a comprehensive Racial Equity Action Plan for the Rochester City School District.
Most current participants began engaging in the ongoing, developmental process around October 2017, or shortly thereafter. The team, which is composed of three Subcommittees (Human Resource, Relationship Building, and Professional Learning) has met — usually, at least twice monthly — (one general meeting and one subcommittee meeting) every month since October 2017.
Each of the respective Subcommittees have developed specific goals, and have outlined strategies and tactics for achieving respective goals, as well as implementation; monitoring & evaluation responsibilities, and timelines. As part of the evaluation process, if necessary, “corrective action” will be recommended relative to strategic adjustments concerning achievement of goals.
The REAL team process has remained open to anyone wishing to participate. Currently there are about twenty-six (26) RCSD parents, grandparents, employees, and other community members, most of whom have participated consistently since October 2017 or shortly thereafter.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION:
The Rochester Board of Education institutionalized REAL during its January 24, 2019 Business Meeting, when the majority voted to support a Resolution (No. 2018-19: 631) introduced by Commissioner Judith Davis to: “establish the Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team as a permanent body to work with the Superintendent to assist in the development, implementation and monitoring of the District’s Racial Equity Action Plan and to advise the Superintendent on racial equity issues within the school system. The REAL team shall also assist the Superintendent in racial equity strategic planning, annually evaluating the impact of current racial equity initiatives on student achievement and making commitments to address newly identified race-based inequities in order to ensure that racially equitable educational opportunities are being provided to all of the students who attend our schools.”
Adopted January 24, 2019
Resolution No. 2018-19: 631
Equity and Educational Excellence policy – 0201
By Member of the Board
Whereas, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states and Local Educational Agencies (i.e., school districts and charter schools) to take a variety of actions to ensure that all children, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, disability status, primary language, or ZIP code, receive the education that they need to be prepared for success in postsecondary education, careers, and citizenship; and
Whereas, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) submitted its ESSA plan to the United States Department of Education (USDE) and on January 17, 2018, the USDE approved the State’s plan; and
Whereas, under ESSA and NYSED’S ESSA Plan, school districts must identify and take various actions to address inequities; and
Whereas, the Board adopted Policy 0201, Equity and Educational Excellence, on January 25, 2018 (Resolution No. 2017-18: 555); and
Whereas, the Board of Education of the City School District directed the Superintendent to develop and implement a system-wide equity plan that will result in measurable academic improvements for all RCSD students; and
Whereas, the Superintendent, informed by the NYC Leadership Academy (NYCLA)Racial Equity Logic Model, responded by establishing and convening the first meeting of the Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team in September 2017 to:
· identify opportunities for partnerships with organizations in Rochester to co-sponsor
· review existing policies, programs and professional learning to ensure an understanding and use of racial equity analysis tools;
· review equity policies, goals, strategies and measures to help inform and eliminate racial predictability and disproportionality in student achievement (e.g.,disproportionate over-application of discipline to students of color, over-representationin special education, and under-representation in advanced learning programs);
· actively work to ensure that Human Resource policies, goals and strategies promote a
workforce that reflects the diversity of our student body;
· promote leadership opportunities for students to develop agency (the capacity and
propensity to take purposeful initiative); and
Whereas, the REAL team has begun the development of a district-wide Racial Equity Action Plan to initially address the under-representation of race and class-conscious teachers of color in the District, the over-application of discipline to students of color; and the underdevelopment of District personnel in professional learning focused on anti-racist education; therefore be it
Resolved, that in support of the goals of the Board’s Equity and Educational Excellence Policy 0201, the Board establishes the Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) team as a permanent body to work with the Superintendent to assist in the development, implementation and monitoring of the District’s Racial Equity Action Plan and to advise the Superintendent on racial equity issues within the school system. The REAL team shall also assist the Superintendent in racial equity strategic planning, annually evaluating the impact of current racial equity initiatives on student achievement and making commitments to address newly identified race-based inequities in order to ensure that racially equitable educational opportunities are being provided to all of the students who attend our schools.
The REAL team shall include the Superintendent and his/her designees as well as invited representatives from the following stakeholder groups: unions, parents, students, faith community leaders, education activists, and other community groups or individuals on the basis of interest, experience and expertise in racial equity and educational excellence.
I’ve explained it briefly in the past when I’ve included REAL meetings in “Action” steps, but this is certainly a fuller explanation, thanks.
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Thank you Frank for keeping us on task
And thank you Bob.
Frank … it continues to amaze me that if we were really honest about our Euro roots as whites that the thoughts in your blog (and your previous one as well) would be much less of an issue … e,g. see the link in today’s on-line version of TIME … https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/technology/the-first-europeans-weren-t-who-you-might-think/ar-AAE4u1r?li=BBnb7Kz&ocid=NL_ENUS_D1_20190709_7_3.
Bottomline: we are all part of the same human RACE!
Keep up your great work … Bill
Thanks, Bill. My own DNA analysis proves that!!
It’s important NOT to engage in racial reductionism, e.g., while it’s certainly true that “we are all part of the same human RACE” — it’s also true that we live in a world in which white supremacy dominates the globe (scially, economically, politically, and culturally). That’s the REAL bottom line — period.
The [ultimate] challenge is [NOT] to improve our own emotional maturity, to check our defensive impulses, to listen without reactivity, to hear beyond the words,” but instead, it is to put all of the silly nonsense and excuses aside, and actually DO SOMETHING to change the policies, practices, procedures, rules, regulations, and laws that prop up, reinforce and maintain the Tripartite Beast and Illness. All the rest is nothing but supre-hyper, super-liberal rhetoric and noise — period.
Yes, thanks, as you’ve often said, and I agree. And that kind of action won’t happen until the mindset changes.
Well, the so-called “mindset” will NOT change until and unless white folks decide to get educated. So come to class.
I’ll miss tonight’s REAL meeting. Please let me know when your course is scheduled next, and I’ll include it with encouragement.
Thanks you once again, Frank, for bringing up this issue in such a comprehensive way. Maybe it’s also worth considering this common metaphor governing relationships: a card game. Really? So it’s all about “advantage” no matter how or what we play?
Maybe, George, except in this case the stakes are incredibly high and the odds are stacked.
Frank’s consistently thoughtful Blog is good, but it in NO WAY deals with “this issue in a comprehensive way.”