Could anybody tell me what is the Race Card?

February 11th, 2013 by | Tags: ,

Lena Dunham’s Girls debuted last year. I hadn’t heard much about it, but a friend talked me into watching it, and it was pretty definitively Not For Me. But because I’m an idiot, I’ve kinda/sorta kept up with following the reaction and controversy about the series — how it’s super white, how the writers like to say stupid things in public, and so on. Looky-loo stuff, really. “Why do these people hate/love/defend/attack this stuff so much?”

Of course, that began backfiring almost immediately, because all things do. I don’t think I’ve read a single pro or con piece on the show that was worth the time, though a few of the more measured reactions — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece definitely included — were interesting, from the outside looking in. I’m curious about what works about Girls, what doesn’t, and why much more than I am than checking it out firsthand.

The latest one I’ve read was a piece by Rob Hart called “Call It What It Is: The Hatred Directed At Lena Dunham Is Petty, Childish Bullshit,” which I checked out after it drifted across my Twitter. It’s one of those defenses that depends and/or suggests that everyone is either a moron or jealous — in other words, not a good defense so much as a “You are all dumb and mama said knock you strawmen out.”

But this defense, when dismissing any and all negativity also tripped one of my pet peeves once I got to here:

As soon as the race card got played, there was no way for Dunham to win. When Donald Glover showed up as a black Republican, instead of being an interesting role for a funny and talented person, adding a black person in a featured guest spot was deemed RACISM (according to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at least).

There’s a lot I don’t like about this bit. Abdul-Jabbar said “But this really seemed like an effort was made to add some color — and it came across as forced,” which is pretty objectively not what Hart says he said. But the bit that made me roll my eyes, that made me second-guess this habit of driving slowly past other people’s problems and gawking, was the first eight words: “AS SOON AS THE RACE CARD GOT PLAYED.”

If you believe in the race card, you’ve got some scumbaggy views on race and culture. End of story.

It’s cool to defend Dunham or whatever, I agree that a lot of the rhetoric about her and her show has been pretty stupid and thinly veiled horribleness, but I feel like you shouldn’t act like a moron and pretend like the race card is a thing that actually exists while defending some dumb TV show.

The race card isn’t real. Let’s say that for the purposes of this argument the race card is a real thing that can be played by colored people. It isn’t, I repeat, but let’s say that in this hypothetical world full of unicorns and dragons and magic, it is real. The race card wouldn’t be the big joker or the small joker. It wouldn’t be the Ace of Spades or a Royal Flush (assuming you had several… never mind), either. It wouldn’t even be Draw Four. It would be that extra card that comes in card decks that explains the rules to a card game. You know the card that we all ignore? It’s that one. But the only thing written on it is “YOU CAN’T WIN.”

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12 comments to “Could anybody tell me what is the Race Card?”

  1. Smarten up Brothers, It’s the Black Trump. :smugbert:


  2. the worst part is you’re right :negativeman:

  3. “The Race Card”, like “Political Correctness”, is a “get out of moral self-examination free” card so smug assholes can dismiss other peoples’ concerns as just empty posturing and an appeal to a moral high horse.

    I had some unused commas from that sentence so you can use them how you see fit. ,,,,,,

  4. Re: “If you believe in the race card, you’ve got some scumbaggy views on race and culture. End of story.”

    “The race card” IS real, despite inflammatory remarks to the contrary. The apparent fact that it was inaccurately applied, in his case, is a separate matter.

    Your description of or reaction to the label seems very reminiscent of the understandable, near-universal reaction to those referring to “legitimate rape.” “Legitimate rape” was yet another misapplication, but of such proportions as to transcend insensitivity and cast doubt on every accusation of rape from the beginning of time.

    You’re not just pointing out a misapplication of an existing label, “the race card”. You’re saying that label has no place. Further, you insult all who disagree with you in a way which I think undermines your position, ignores distinctions, and does no justice to your eloquence and intelligence.

    There are a number of people who, for good or bad reasons, say that race is an issue when it clearly is not. When that happens, in my opinion, this is playing the race card. Others may say that the label applies to every time that race is brought up but I disagree with those people.

    I also disagree with others who allow no distinctions between those who cry “legitimate rape” and someone who challenges a specific rape accusation. That lack of distinction is the problem I see with your article.

    Kinda like the guy who allowed no distinction between Kareem’s nuanced “forced” and the blunt “racist.”

  5. @West: The race card, as currently used in American society, is a fake idea people use to ungraciously bow out of a situation. The very phrase “playing the race card” suggests that race is something that you don’t do in polite, civilized discussions, and that bringing it out is untoward. It also implies (though this is much more explicit than a mere implication) that once you bring in race, all semblance of rational dialogue is officially out of the window, so the argument is tainted. The other thing about the race card is that it implies black or other non-white people have some type of trump card that they can pull out when the going gets tough, which is pretty much emphatically non-true.

    Is there a situation where you can bring up race where it doesn’t belong? Sure. Is it an instant win like the pundits who decry it claim? Never. Is it a terrible way to refer to the act of injecting race, deserved or otherwise, into a conversation? Yeah. Is how this guy uses the race card the same scumbaggy aggrieved white person nonsense that’s representative how it’s used in the overwhelming majority of discourse in America? Absolutely.

    The difference between my look at this guy’s usage of race card and his look at Kareem’s usage of forced is that I didn’t make anything up about what someone else said.

  6. Thanks for your response.

    I think his response was… Correction: COULD have been a reaction to his interpretation of “forced,” which I could legitimately understand, while completely disagreeing with it.

    Similarly, I think your response was or could have been a reaction to your interpretation of “playing the race card,” which I could legitimately understand, while mostly disagreeing with it.

    Not trying to have the last word. I just wanted to share that specific perspective. Thanks for allowing me to do so.

    And thanks for continuing to give me something to think about.

  7. @West: It’s all good, man. You got me to further crystalize my thoughts on race cards so I could express them better, which is always good.

    I think part of the trouble is that HuffPo gave Abdul-Jabbar a really sensational headline for a piece that boiled down to “I like what it’s trying to do, but it ain’t there yet”, too.

  8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a deep dude who has complex, interesting thoughts about race. Sadly, he does not translate well to our modern media culture. The HuffPo piece itself is typically thoughtful, but the headline is repellant and misleading.

    On the term “The Race Card”, it makes some sense to use in the context it was originally coined. Johnnie Cochran did use the race of OJ Simpson to create sympathy in a mostly black jury. It had been played white lawyers on behalf of white defendants to white juries in cases like the murder of Emmett Till for years. For some reason, no one ever uses it in that context.

    Removing the term from the narrow context of making common cause between a jury and a defendant inevitably leads to the speaker sounding like an a$$hole.

  9. The race card is when people use their race to get an unfair advantage in social situations.


  10. Why aren’t more white people taken to task for playing the race card card. Whenever race comes up, white people can just reach into their deck and play the race card card.

  11. The “race card” is an ill-defined construct and suffers from individual interpretations. As there’s no way for there to be a central clearinghouse forcing a specific definition for the term, a person’s usage will inevitably be reinterpreted by someone as the worst-possible version. In other words, no matter how well thought our your personal definition is, if you use it, you’re screwed.

    And now, here’s Tracy Jordan playing the Race Card

  12. Once someone starts using the term “race card,” more often than not they’re not interested in having a genuine conversation about the issue at hand.