Crossposted at Shadow Blog for America

Holy talking, points, Batman, do I ever hate that expression! Ask any real questions about racial disparity, most recently in one’s chances of getting out of the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast region alive, and you are accused of “playing the race card”. The phrase is supposed to function as a complete conversation ender. One is apparently supposed to stop dead in one’s tracks upon hearing those words, and not utter another word on the subject. “Oh, no! I’ve been accused of ‘playing the race card’. I’d better stop right now before Rush Limbaugh gets on the air and starts saying mean things about me!” Like “playing the blame game”. What is it with these people insisting on using such “playful” language to address something that is so deadly serious. At least the press is beginning to call talking points for what they are.

McClellan: We can engage in this blame-gaming going on and I think that’s what you’re getting —

Q: No, no. That’s a talking point, Scott. […]

Q: Is he confident…that he can secure the American people in the event of a major terrorist attack?

McClellan: We are securing the American people by staying on the offensive abroad and working to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Q: That’s a talking point. That’s a talking point.

Tell it, Q, whoever you are. And everyone else watching this should take note. You are not obligated to play by the rules of this Karl Rove-created game of pretend. Trying to dismiss calls for accountability, and the demand for an independent investigation of the Bush administration’s failure to protect Americans in the event of a catastrophe which, by Bush’s own admission, is bigger than 9/11, by using the words “blame game” is absolutely contemptible. It should be challenged, forcefully, whenever someone attempts it.

The same goes for people who accuse you of “playing the race card” when you make honest observations like Howard Dean did the other day at the National Baptist Convention. That expression is so maddening, I’ve been at a loss in figuring out how to respond to it. I asked Oscar, and he suggested:

Nonetheless, when someone pulls the race card card simply ask them if America is totally free of racism. Ask them if racism has to be overt, i.e. hurling the n-word at someone, in order for it to be racism. Ask them if a fundamental disconnect with people who are not like themselves can lead them to think of those others as something less than themselves. And then ask them if White Supremacy is limited to rednecks in sheets. If they answer any of those questions incorrectly then point them to the proper resources and tell them to go get a clue – in a kinder, gentler tone, of course. 🙂

I guess the tricky part is that, even people who don’t have an obvious political agenda, still have a real emotional and identity investment in thinking of America in a certain way. We’d like to think of the United States as the land of opportunity, where it doesn’t matter who your parents are–any kid can grow up to be president. It’s not too comfy to think that real racism and racial disparity still exist…especially if that involves recognizing it in yourself.

Most people in America know that racism is bad and that behaving in an overtly racist manner is frowned upon. So now we see more “symbolic racism”, which is not nearly as easy to call when you see it:

As a social phenomenon, racism is multifaceted and its manifestations are constantly changing. It can vary in its expression from institutionalized racism to symbolic racism. Historically, institutionalized racism was maintained by legal barriers that barred children of color from access to certain institutions. Now, society overall increasingly supports the principle of ethnic or racial equality, but often a set of moral abstractions and attitudinal predispositions are still maintained concerning how children of color ought to behave and what they deserve. Thus, symbolic racism persists–that is, the unspoken, covert, differential treatment of members of minority groups by members of the mainstream culture.16 Such symbolic racism is likely to take the form of providing fewer resources to institutions serving children of color and children of immigrants, and subjecting them to patronizing attitudes. These subtle manifestations of racism can permeate the daily interactions between these outsider children and those of the dominant culture.

The problem, of course, with “subtle manifestations”, is that they are not obvious to every observer. They can easily be attributed to other causes, and those with the discernment necessary to see that those causes are related to race, can be dismissed as paranoid, conspiracy theorists, “too sensitive”–take your pick.

The visual images in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have been hard to deny, though. They are anything but subtle…

So many photographs from the devastation of New Orleans show the same faces: Desperate. Grief-stricken. Black.

Those words come from an article in Atlanta Daily World, Black U.S. Lawmakers Angry About Federal Response To Hurricane. The same article addresses the more subtle way that race may affect reporting on the hurricane aftermath. Rep. Diane Watson and others address the significance of our choice of words:

Watson and others also took issue with the word “refugee” being used to describe hurricane victims.

“Refugee’ calls up to mind people that come from different lands and have to be taken care of. These are American citizens,” Watson said.

Added Rep. Elijah Cummings: “They are not refugees. I hate that word.”

Afri-Netizen expounds on the significance of using the word “refugee”…

It appears that only my more mature readers have understood that my beef with “refugee” is that it deflects from these largely poor and Black victims’ American-ness by focusing on their Otherness, a common device in a race-obsessed society where non-whites — and Blackfolk in particular — are demeaned and devalued not just physically, emotionally, culturally and economically — but linguistically.

C’mon, folks. Don’t lecture me about the Webster’s definition of the term refugee. Don’t insult the intelligence of millions us (of all backgrounds) who can read between the lines here and try to dismiss us as crackpot conspiracy-theorists or what-not simply because you’re uncomfortable when someone “injects” race into what you would like to think transcends race or is what I’ve heard alluded to (amidst unicorns and leprechauns) as “color-blindness”.

In other words, don’t relegate yourself to becoming a refugee from reality — a reality in which we acknowledge the racial megalomania that has deluged our country since its birth and the concomittant impact its had on what and how we think, say and do — consciously or not.

Words mean something. And they often mean much more than their precise dictionary definition. They “suggest” or “evoke” certain imagery and feelings. Like the way apologists for the Bush administration refer to “the blame game” and “playing the race card”–they are being intentionally dismissive when they use those words, and we can’t allow them to get away with it. We are not “playing”, but talking, asking questions, investigating, and (I hope) eventually taking action. And we’re quite serious about this.

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