cards on the table

I am so tried of hearing the phrase “playing the race card.” First of all, exactly what game (not to mention teams, rules, and trophies) are we talking about? As far as I can tell, the “race card” is generally treated like an underhanded and potentially unethical strategy (not simply an acknowledgement of identity politics) that someone who is “raced” (Obama) can turn to in a pinch — but not what someone who is white, which apparently translates to “non-raced” (McCain), can ever be accused of.

The problem with that, of course, is that it perpetuates the invisibility of whiteness, the privelege and power that come not just with being “dominant” or in the “majority” but with the refusal to acknowledge the artifical nature of this position. Because if white people are not raced (what does that make them?), then race is not really their concern — it can remain always the concern of the other, a special interest issue rather than a complex web of historical, social, and cultural constructions that impacts all of us.

This simplisitic version of reality is what Steven Colbert satirizes with his insistence that he is “color blind” — as if white men/white media can “solve” the racial tensions in the U.S. and beyond by simply refusing to see them. Willful blindness at the expense of critical consciousness is the name of that game.

And this is exactly what McCain’s team is banking on — that American audiences are too blind to see the white power he exploits and exemplifies. Now, I’m not calling McCain a white supremacist. But I am pointing out that his own race card has already been and will continue to be played — by cynical, opportunistic campaign managers, racist voters, fearful Christians, and everyday, well-meaning citizens who unconsciously support what they are familiar with… and/or who rely (blindly) on counterproductive binaries perpetuated by the bear-baiting circus we call “the news.”


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1 thought on “cards on the table

  1. I’m reading Krista Ratcliffe’s _Rhetorical Listening_ today, where she explains one problem of the invisibility of whitenesss: “[W]hiteness is a trope that functions in the U.S. as a racial category often signifying biological differences among people. The problem with this racial category is that it is a myth, a social construct predicated on bad science. As biologists now tell us (and as cultural critics have been telling us for centuries), race is a false category: Its presumed biological grounds simply do not exist. Thus, the U.S. is left with a racial term such as whiteness that is scientifically invalid yet culturally powerful in that it informs everyone’s daily life” (37).

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