M. LeBlanc at Bitch. Ph.D. makes a point I’ve been trying to put words to for a while now, and failing…it concerns the gross feeling I get in my stomach when someone accuses someone else of "playing the [race / gender] card" — an accusation that was common before the US Presidential primaries, but is now absofreakinglutely everywhere.
So, what’s gross about it? Simply this:
"I’ve been astonished at the degree to which "playing the race/gender" card has flourished as a phrase and concept in the conversation about this primary race. I’ve heard it from so many bloggers, pundits, straight-up newscasters, and even some of my personal friends. I want to be as absolutely clear as I can: it’s a bogus concept, and using it makes you part of the problem.
Race and gender are not "cards" that you play, like laying out trump in bridge and winning the hand. Because when you have to bring up racism or sexism to explain what is happening around you, that means you’re already losing. "Playing the _______ card" has become a way to refer to conversations about racism/sexism while not-so-subtly implying that whoever is playing the card is whiny, not playing by the rules, petulant and, ultimately way off-base.
But I’ve never understood what’s so unfair about bringing up race and gender. It’s like those who decry it as card-playing are annoyed by the fact that we all won’t play by their rules of pretending that everything is equal now, since we can all vote and everyone will pay lip service to racism and sexism being Bad. But now that we’ve placated you by agreeing that they’re Bad, how dare you accuse anyone of being racist or sexist? Especially someone who is supposed to be your political ally/friend/co-worker/acquaintance?"
Yup…yup, that’s it exactly. It’s the implication that to point out racism or sexism is to "play dirty", to be somehow unfair.
Whence that perception? I think it comes from the frustrated feeling, held by millions of people guilty of (usually quiet, unintentional) racism or sexism, that once someone brings up the racist or sexist aspects of an argument there’s no winning, no arguing further; the discussion has been derailed and the person speaking has been irrevokably made to look bad.
And that’s not an entirely inaccurate perception of how it works, is it? I mean, it is true that if you catch someone being overtly racist or sexist, catch them and hold it up for everyone to see, then they’ve freaking lost big-time, haven’t they? The crowd scowls (as it should) and the fight is over by TKO.
But most of the time, when the "race card" or "gender card" analogy comes up, it’s not in relation to overt racism or sexism, but the other kind, the insidious kind that well-intentioned people everywhere are frequently guilty of simply because of how they’ve been taught and how the world around them works. It’s almost never a skinhead or a polygamist standing there bitching about the race/gender card; more often it’s a soccer mom, a pundit, a reporter, a guy in a suit. Why are they so worried?
I think I know why. I think they’re worried because they consider racism and sexism undiscussable. It’s not that they would lose an argument by default as soon as someone accused them of racism or sexism — usually there’s room to argue in those cases, and I’ve seen many that I don’t think actually are racist or sexist, at least not in intent. Even if the statement or whatever is racist or sexist, usually it’s nothing so bad that simply apologizing wouldn’t get rid of it anyway. But no, the problem is that as soon as the topic is turned to include the race or gender issues involved, these good ol’ fashioned "normals" will voluntarily shut down, giving up their argument in favor of saving themselves the embarrassment of talking about ways in which, I’m sure they realize on some level, they might be unintentionally racist or sexist.
So they fear the slapping of the "race card", and the "gender card", not because it’s actually an automatic win for the other guy in their case, but because it forces the conversation onto such an uncomfortable track that they’ll forfeit, and they know it. Racism and sexism have become such loaded words (as M. LeBlanc also points out) that they’re no longer welcome on the conversational table, like a Scrabble piece worth 1,000 points.
What would fix this?
Maybe — this is just an idea — maybe it could be fixed if we took some of the black-and-whiteness out of racism (no pun intended, seriously) and sexism; if we bled them of some of their poison, and forgave at least those of us who really don’t mean it, giving people room to understand, apologize and move on.
How to start? Maybe by admitting to it now and again. If more brave people, in more public conversations, began admitting to their occasionally racist or sexist tendencies, with language like, "But I tend to think less of women who don’t have kids…it’s something my mother taught me; wow, am I being sexist?" or "I blamed a neighbor kid for spray-painting my garage when it wasn’t him at all…he was black, and I totally didn’t realize at the time that I was being racist." Nobody (nobody reasonable, anyway) can look at those statements and deduce that the speaker is OMG! 100%! RACIST! SEXIST PIG! AUGH! –and it pries open some room, at least in that case, to actually have a bit of discussion about whether some of the little things we do are sexist or racist, without treating the words themselves like a banhammer.
I guess what I’m saying is that the next time someone plays the race/gender card, maybe someone else should have the courage to keep betting? The game doesn’t have to end there, and surely, after all this time, it’s not such a scary topic that it can’t ever be discussed openly.
Anyway, the racism and sexism that are still around in the developed world are the kind that will never go away until we can discuss them…so if you really don’t want to "be" racist or sexist, then get the courage to start thinking about the ways in which your actions could be informed by wrong ideas, and admitting to them.