Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can We Please Retire The Race Card?

Hold on to your butts, y'all, I'm getting serious for a minute.

Today, the GOP accused Jimmy Carter of playing the race card by suggesting that Rep. Joe Wilson’s now-infamous outburst during the President’s speech to Congress last week might not have happened to a white commander-in-chief. Last year John McCain complained that Obama himself played the race card during the campaign by actually acknowledging—gasp!—that he is black. And Republicans aren’t the only ones who favor this particular card, which lives at the bottom of a controversial but beloved deck stuffed with all of the demons American like to pretend are long-dead: Hillary Clinton supporters also cried race card when, during the Democratic primaries, Obama attacked a remark that Clinton made about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Can I make a plea? Can we stop talking about race in America like it’s a fucking parlor game?

In every instance that someone plays the “race card,” what they are doing is merely bringing up the subject of race, which, as we all know, is something as un-American as mincemeat pie. We tout the progress made over the last four decades towards becoming a more equal nation and silence anyone who dares suggest that racism still exists as a major thread in American culture. We’re in denial. And because we as a people are incapable of starting a real dialogue about race, we sling mud whenever anyone brings it up. What, after all, is the race card accusation but a silencing mud pie to the face?

Remember Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” sound bite that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich immediately decried as racist? They were upset, I think, that the racial and social politics of the United States dictate that minorities get to be proud of their heritage, and women of their gender, while the white man must wallow in wealthy, privileged anonymity, unable to shout from the rooftops how happy he is to be Caucasian. Such is the cross that a member of the world’s most powerful majority must bear.

Here is a shocking fact. Seriously, prepare yourselves. Barack Obama is black. He’s just as white as he is black, if we’re being technical, but his skin is dark, which is all a person needs in this country to feel the effects of racial prejudice. To deny his race is to take away the enormous historical significance of his presidential victory. And a lot of people aren’t denying it at all. In fact, Obama has his own team of wingnuts who are trying desperately to prove that he is not eligible for the presidency due to his ethnic background. They argue that he is African-born, that his Hawaiian birth certificate is a fake, and that someone—surely a Democrat—wisely planted a birth announcement in the Honolulu Advertiser in 1961 just in case the infant Barack ever needed a cover story. (Good thinking!)

I'm not saying that because Obama is black we should judge him on a whole 'nother scale than we did our 43 previous white presidents, or assume that anything that happens to him happens because he is black. But the fact that he is black informs his identity. He can't help it, and neither can the rest of us. The facts that millions of other people in this country are black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or female, or diabled inform and shape their identities, too. Being plain ol' white even shapes identities! So does being thin, or pretty, or tall. Any physical attribute can give you a leg up or knock you a step down in America. That's what makes this country so fucking superficial great.

I’m getting off topic here, and I know that I'm preaching to the converted (any racists that are reading this blog, feel free to stop), and I don’t have the body of knowledge necessary to write a real opinion piece on race in America, but I do know that we need to stop accusing people of “playing the race card.” It seems to me to just be code for “Sit down, shut up, and pretend everything is fine.” And I think, as a country, we’ve spent far too long doing that.

PS: Rush Limbaugh, I have never hated anyone more than I hate you. That is all.



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