This post is part two of a series of topical thoughts inspired by the book Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G. I. Hart.
The race card. Sometimes you’ll hear the argument, “You’re always playing the race card!” as a means to dismiss another’s point of view. You might even use that as a political argument, “There they go again, playing the race card,” while complaining about ‘identity politics’. The problem with the “race card” is that it’s just one card and ignores the deck.
Let’s call it instead the ‘ace card’. If you’re playing a game and holding an ace card, that doesn’t mean anything without the context of the game and knowledge of the deck. An ace card might be high or low value. Its importance might depend on other ace cards, like in poker, or it might depend on its suit, like in spades. If you’re playing a game like spades, hearts, or gin it may or may not be a good thing to be holding an ace card based on what else has already been played. In other words, the value of your ace card depends on rules of the game, the context within the game, and knowledge of the deck as a whole.
When we argue about the “race card” we’re only focusing on that single card. We don’t consider its context and we ignore every other card within the deck. Yet for minority communities, they cannot separate a single card from their whole deck of experience or the context of the unfair game being played against them. So in order to overcome racial division we need to study the whole deck and the context in which that particular card is being played.
Why is the death of George Floyd a thing now, in this particular moment? It is just a single event, an individual “race card” that without any other information we cannot measure its value. It is only when considered in a particular context and seen as a pattern within history that we can assign a specific value to this individual event. Only when we recognize the game and see this as one card played from a very, very large deck, can we begin to understand, relate, and empathize with other players unfairly losing the game.
As Drew G.I. Hart describes the difference between the “race card” and the entire deck of systematic racism, “White people must learn to define individual incidents in light of the larger patterns of society.” We cannot limit our experience to a single headline in the news, we need to listen and learn, and stop being so defensive and dismissive because we only see a single card.
Originally posted on Facebook, June 6, 2020. For more from Frank Friedl, check out his new blog, Public Christianity.
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