Thursday, March 29, 2012

Holding the Cards

As I watched the outrage over the Trayvon Martin case begin to spread across the internet, my initial reaction was something like pride. I was seeing people get behind a cause who usually stay quiet about such issues. Granted, it was nothing like the outpouring of reposts I saw from the Kony 2012 video...but that's another topic. It was good to feel united in something, because who could POSSIBLY deny that this crime was race related? White and Black alike had to see this for what it was. Even as I allowed that sense of pride take over, I feared it wouldn’t last. Within days, some of the outrage had turned to boredom, which turned into ignorance. Something like…

“Ok okay, I get it, hoodies and Skittles. I let you guys have your moment for a couple of days, now can we please stop hearing about this kid?”
(I’m paraphrasing).

I understand…I’m guilty of it myself. Specific topics on Facebook have a certain shelf life, and if they go over their time limit, it becomes easy to joke about it. Examples:

“Gee, is it hot outside? I couldn’t tell.”


“GAH, anyone watching Walking Dead tonight? YEAH, they’re still on the farm, we know!”

So, all that said, I knew the solidarity wouldn’t last and that some of my white friends would start to squirm uncomfortably after a few days of being in the hot seat. Not that they are directly to blame, but you talk about racial issues for too long, and, like an overplayed Facebook status, it becomes too difficult to keep those mouths and fingers quiet.

Enter “the Race Card”.

The race card is something that white people like to talk about because it absolves us of guilt.


There is no race card. White people made it up as a way to once again say to minorities, “you’re nuts. You’re imagining things. Get over it. Slavery was like, a million years ago. We’re equal. Promise.”

*wink, wink*

I just realized I've never heard any non-white person talk about the "race card". Know why? Because we're holding the cards. But it's easier to feel okay about that fact if we brush it aside as a silly game. Oh, they're playing the race card again. Translation:” I don't want to look like a jerk just for being white, and I don't think you have anything to be upset about. “

Pretending racism doesn't exist is not the answer.

I understand the theory. It’s time to move on. I agree. That would be lovely, of course. But we can’t move on by telling a whole group of people that they are IMAGINING years of being followed, pulled over, ignored, made fun of, profiled, degraded, and even murdered. Having empathy doesn’t have to equal accepting ALL the blame.

Have you ever been in a relationship where the other person had a problem that you didn’t understand? Did you look at them and say, “Oh, stop playing the ________card”. Or did you try to see it from their perspective and realize that it takes WORK and UNDERSTANDING to make things right? There’s no time limit to recovery. It takes however long it takes.

In the middle of White People Are Getting Tired of Hearing About Trayvon Week, this little movie called The Hunger Games opened up to the third highest opening weekend for a movie, ever. Everyone has been raving about the movie. Again, one of the few times recently when MOST people I know agree on something. (I’m learning to stop trusting that feeling). Then this blog post appears calling out Twitter users for posting horribly racist thoughts about the movie.

For those 7 of you who have not read the books or seen the movie, one very important character in the books, sweet little Rue, is described as dark-skinned, and comes from the district that is hinted to be primarily made up of Black people. It doesn’t spell it out, but for anyone with basic reading comprehension skills, you could figure it out and envision your Rue accordingly.

After the movie, tweets like these began to surface:
(I wish I was paraphrasing)

“Ewwwww, Rue is black? I’m not watching.”

“I still don’t understand why Rue is going to be a little black girl in the movie. I pictured her white. Maybe I’m racist though…”

“Rue can’t be black in the movie. No. It can’t be.”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad. #ihatemyself”

YES, I know that we ALL know that a lot of people are not this blatantly ignorant. There are idiots of all shapes, sizes, and races. That is common knowledge.


If my son ever tells me about a time when he is being followed, or some blonde won’t date him, or he gets pulled over for no reason, or someone gets out of the pool when he gets in, or he’s upset about a comment made on the bus, am I supposed to look at him and tell him he’s just “playing the race card?”

Would you tell him that?

How can we not agree that it’s an absurd concept? Is there a “Jew card?” or a” Gay card”? Can we make ourselves feel better about any kind of discrimination simply by giving ourselves an out in the form of an imaginary card?

“Oh, Mark is just upset because he can’t legally marry his partner. He thinks he’s not being treated fairly. Playing the ol’ Gay Card again. Eyeroll.”

The point is this.

It’s not just about Skittles and hoodies. It’s not just about Rue. It’s about facts, and learning to face them instead of sweeping them under the rug. I for one would bet the farm that if Trayvon were white, he’d still be alive. It’s okay if you don’t agree. But you don’t have to dismiss the possibility to justify your righteousness. You didn’t shoot him. Not your fault. You’re surely not racist, so therefore racism must not even exist. Shrug.


Is it so hard to admit that, as white people, we tend to be the default? The “norm”? And I get that it’s uncomfortable to have to “feel bad” for that. It SUCKS when my 6 year old kid tells me he wants to be white. To deny that white privilege exists is nothing more than a defense mechanism.

Try to empathize with this kid’s family.

With those of us who fear that one day it could be us.

With your fellow HUMAN BEINGS… not as a THEM but as a WE.

If you don’t want to stand together on this, then feel free to sit down.

But when you do, you should also shut up.