Whenever someone accuses an African American of playing the “race card,” I cringe. Racism in America is not a card game. There is no such thing as “playing the race card” when it comes to making an accurate or rational evaluation of the socioeconomic and political plight of 45 million Black Americans. A routine disingenuous tactic of those who want to justify the systemic racial oppression of Black Americans and others is to accuse the articulate victims of racism of “playing the race card.”
If it were a card game, it still would be strange to get that kind of criticism from people who, as the late Johnnie Cochran would say, deal from the bottom of the deck.
Depicting racism as a card game is an attempt to keep us silent and not to disturb a false peace. During the horrible days of lynching, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) launched its national public anti-lynching campaign. In fact, the NAACP was formed in 1910 in large part to resist the wholesale lynching of Blacks.
At first, the White-owned media was very negative toward the NAACP’s public “agitation” that exposed the horrors of lynching. In a sense, the NAACP was accused of being counterproductive by “playing the race card.” To its credit, the NAACP persisted and was ultimately successful in combatting such gross and inhumane behavior.
Even though for some of the crowds of White Americans who would attend a Black lynching as a form of entertainment and pleasure – often immediately after attending church – it was no game or entertainment for Black America. Racism was then and continues today as a deadly reminder of the violent and ruthless consequences of centuries and decades of racial oppression. Yes, these are hard facts and a reality today for too many people who rather see less and hear less about racially motivated police brutality or other forms of racial hatred and violence.
The slogan “No Justice, No Peace” is more than a chant for Black Americans and others who yearn for freedom, justice and empowerment. Just as we did during the days of widespread lynchings, we will not be silent. We will not kowtow to those who would oppress us because of our race. We will not be idle spectators to the recent resurgence of racial hatred and vile violence toward our men, women and children. We have come too far against horrific odds to even consider going backwards.
We will not be distracted by false accusations of “playing the race card.”
There was even a book published in 2005 titled, “Playing the Race Card.” It was written by George J. Sefa Dei, Nisha Karumanchery-Link and Leeno Luke Karumanchery. They said, “Playing the Race Card reflects and engages the dynamic nature of racialized experience in Western contexts. So that the privileged and the oppressed alike may reflexively examine their own subject positions, this book identifies and addresses the need to develop a working model for anti-racism strategies.”
While I appreciated what some academic types are proposing concerning this issue, I know better from more than a half-century on the front line of the Black American struggle for freedom and justice. It is ahistorical to posit that people who are oppressed have to somehow wait for the so-called “privileged” people who economically and politically benefit from racial oppression to change their hearts and minds.
Racism is not a mind game or card game. It is real and it can be fatal. Racism is the real time power to systematically deny justice, fairness and opportunity to people based on their race or ethnicity. Racism is beyond racial prejudice and hatred. It is the power to forcefully enslave, negatively define and physically subjugate a person’s or a people’s life based on race.
We should never permit the trivialization or denial of our long struggle for freedom. Let’s stay focus on what we all need to do to advance the quality of life in our communities. The fact is change has happened and social change will continue to unfold, in particular, if we stay vigilant, active, aware and committed to end all forms of racism and racial injustice.
Those looking for a card game are at the wrong table.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.