(NOTE: This post is for white-folks – but others are welcome to read and reflect)
How many times have you heard someone claim, “he/she’s playing the race-card!”?
The comment is usually made by a white person complaining when a person of color raises the issue of race. Accusing someone of “playing the race card” is equal to saying racism is a game and their complaint is baseless. But truth is, white people like me can also play our “white-race-card.” It is an abuse of power and privilege and something I am thankful that, with the help of people of other races and cultures. I am learning to give up.
How I see this Through a Biblical Lens
As we near Easter, Christians around the world reflect on the sacrificial death of Jesus and his miraculous resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote about this mystery, and challenged believers to emulate the humility of Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
It is central to Christian theology that Jesus surrendered his rights of divinity in order to become a human being; to live with us; give us an example to follow, and to conquer death and sin. None of that would have happened had he not given up his power and privilege in order to be human. In becoming human, he gave up divine powers like omnipresence, and had to walk to get where he wanted to go. He had to eat and drink and experienced the pains of hunger and thirst. He got dirty and had to bathe,
Jesus’ power and privilege of divinity were rightly his, yet he laid them down for the sake of humanity. Yet, while most white American Christians admire this theology, they are unwilling to follow in practice, few of us white-folks are willing to give-up any our power or privilege for humanity (or even a neighbor for that sake).
However there is a HUGE difference between our power and privilege and that of Christ; his is legitimate, ours is NOT, it is the result of generations of injustice and violence.
It was a long journey for me to accept the reality of white privilege, you can read more about that here and here.
Many of my brothers and sisters of European descent deny it exists, I beg to differ. I have seen it in action, I reap it’s rewards and judgement. While we could spend days discussing the impacts and reality of race-based privileges. I want to explore how people ignorantly play into this trap. I say “ignorantly” because I don’t think most of us intentionally think about playing our “white-race card” we do it because we have been raised in the culture of whiteness and thus we play it believing it is the basis for all that is”normal”. We subconsciously (and sometime very consciously) believe that white is right, it is world as everyone should experience it. Yet that assumption itself, is rooted in our race-based privilege. (See White-Card #1)
“But”, you ask, “why should I give it up? AND how do I play a white-race card?”
A) Give it up because you will be a better human (not just a white-person) – and in the process better connect to all humanity.
As I mentioned above, Jesus had to surrender his LEGITIMATE power of divinity to connect with us humans. I am challenging white folks like me to let go of your ILLEGITIMATE race based power and privileges. Whiteness was designed as a social designation to separate humanity into a hierarchical system. It has been maintained to keep some people out and give opportunity to others through unjust laws and terroristic acts of violence to enforce it’s rules. It is,in a sense, a false-god that for generations has predestined some to success and others to failure. I assure you, letting it go where you can and refusing to blindly accept it WILL open doors to a deeper level of humanity and greater connection to all.
B) Ways people play the “white-race” card (As shared with me from friends and from personal experiences)
- Assume that the WHITE way is the RIGHT way; From the way you set the table to the way you define theology; to call your preference “RIGHT” and all other forms “Hyphenated” (Black-theology, Asian-table setting) forgets that your view is rooted in your cultural preferences.
- Declare the argument of another is invalid, just because of misspelling, incorrect grammar, or a minor flaw to their logic. The truth of a person’s experience is not linked to their ability to communicate it within the framework of proper English. (I have heard this complaint over and over from Latino’s, Natives and African Americans as a way white people try to dismiss their views)
- Shift the focus to yourself during a discussion on the struggle of low-income communities of color, by crying and talking about how bad YOU had it growing up as “white-trash”
- Try to escape your part in historical racism by declaring that “your-whiteness” was not involved in a particular historic event (ie owning slaves, or southern segregation) even though ALL of the USA supported legal discrimination until the 1950’s and most of our shared wealth is rooted in these and other horrific events,
- Never allowing the focus to be on any one race (ie. Black Lives Matter,. Black History Month, Tribal Rights) when the focus has always been on white lives, white history, and white rights.
- Being more concerned with the comfort of white folks than the injustice being perpetrated on others. ( ie. “Talking about this… protesting like this… will only make people uncomfortable”)
- Saying “I don’t see race” or “I’m color blind” – our culture has taught us race is always present and always an issue. To say this is insulting to most people of color who, unlike many white people, acknowledge that their racial identity is an important part of how they view themselves. It is also usually untrue because fact is we all do see race. The question is how does it impact how we see the people around us?
By no means is this list exhaustive. But hopefully before you accuse someone of playing the race-card, you will consider how easily us white people play the white-card to silence, humiliate, or marginalize people of color and their concerns. Additionally, learning to relinquish the illegitimate power and privilege of whiteness opens the door to becoming more human, better able to connect with others, and launches a journey towards experiencing the Beloved Community.