Deal me in

Diverse city
By SHAY STEWART-BOULEY  |  July 25, 2007

Let's talk about cards. Poker? Blackjack? Solitaire? Go Fish? Nah, let's talk about a different game. In fact, let's just talk about one card in particular.

The "race card."

A few weeks ago, someone accused me of playing the race card, and it's been on my mind ever since. Since starting off my adult life nearly 20 years ago as an Angry Black Woman who was quick to make judgments against the Man (aka, whites), I've mellowed a lot on race issues. I don't believe that whites are the sole source of problems in this country, and I recognize that socio-economic issues often play as much a role as race does in unfair treatment.

However, people, particularly whites, who accuse someone of playing the race card, often aren't qualified to make that judgment. I know that many people think racism is a thing of the past just because police aren't turning fire hoses on civil-rights protestors and folks hardly ever lynch anyone any more.

But I am black. I've been black my entire life. I've seen how whites are treated compared to blacks. Until you've been routinely followed around stores by security guards for having the audacity to shop, you cannot tell me I'm being sensitive. You don't know how fundamentally racism can impact life until you've gone on interviews to see apartments that (once the landlord sees my skin color) have suddenly, magically, been rented out. Or sending out resumes with your full name (Say, Tamekwa Jones, which sounds like a black name to most people) and getting no responses; then sending out resumes with your nickname (Tami Jones, which is more "white" sounding) and getting plenty.

If I find people with equal or less experience/education getting substantially more pay than I am in the same workplace, and they are all white, that suggests to me that race is at play. When I do a major group project with grad-school classmates and then just weeks later those fellow students don't recognize me in a store, that makes me think they tune out people who are black. Or how about my thirtysomething black friend who was asked by a teen she barely knew whether she likes the music of Biggie Smalls or Tupac Shakur better, as if all black people listen only to rap. And when was the last time you were approached by some white person who greets you with "yo-yo-yo" instead of "hello?"

It's interesting that when a white person is driving an expensive car, people see "success" yet if a black person is in the same kind of car, it's "suspect." And why are the prisons so disproportionately composed of non-whites? Because the police and courts tend to target non-whites more and give them harsher penalties. Someone like Donald Trump is assertive and puts himself first and is seen as a successful achiever, yet if I stand up for myself, I'm an aggressive mouthy black bitch who's pulling out the race card.

So, be careful before you accuse a black person, or someone of any minority group, for that matter, of playing the race card. The sad truth is that you might really be practicing racism without noticing. And maybe the reason you are having such a strong urge to shout "race card" is because deep down, you know it really is about race. We have too little self-awareness in this country on important social matters, including racial ones. Let's start examining ourselves now so that we can strive for something better, as individuals and a nation.

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