Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Deeply Rooted Response

One of my current projects involves exploring the "race card" response to claims of racial injustice. A large part of why that interests me is because it seems to the retort of choice when faced with any -- and I mean any -- allegation that racism might be an issue. Consider the conservative response to President Obama's statement that "deeply rooted" in America. That's a statement that seems banal, bordering on trivial. It doesn't call any specific person racist. It doesn't attack his political opponents as racist. It just acknowledges, in a vague, general way, that racism is significant problem in America and it won't be solved in a day.

And a good portion of the right went ballistic.

"Playing the race card more overtly than ever before" screams Breitbart.

"How many ways can he insult Americans?" demands the American Thinker.

"So much for that post racial America promise," sneers Gateway Pundit, linking to a speech where the President, um, promised no such thing.

In theory, the "race card" complaint should be reserved for situations where a claim of racism is so patently incredible that the only reason one could bring it up is as a distraction. I'm skeptical that, even on those terms, the "race card" response is ever appropriate because I'm skeptical of our pre-discursive intuitions regarding what sorts of racism claims strike as credible or not. But this response illustrates that the issue is not with particular claims, it's with there being a claim at all. Folks like Breitbart complain about the "race card" almost as a matter of reflex; it's the response of first resort no matter what type of claim is being made here. If it can deployed in as innocuous a case as the one at hand -- a general, even platitudinous acknowledgment of the ongoing power of racism -- there's no circumstance where it won't be deployed.

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