Race Fail

My parents love the show Survivor and record it and watch it together.  I happened to be in the living room when they were watching last week’s episode, where one player, the lone black man, accused another, a white man, of being racist.  My parents were both appalled at this man’s use of the “race card.”

I was appalled at their used of that phrase. I hate that term.  I hate that white people willfully ignore and/or remain ignorant of the subtle and blatant experiences afforded to us by our white privilege while invalidating the everyday situations POC face.  I do not know what the white player was thinking or feeling when he called the black player crazy.  It may have been a euphemism, like when black men were(/are) called “boys.”  Or it may have been that the black player’s argument made no sense to the white player and his behavior defending it was interpreted to be illogical and wildly aggressive, aka crazy.

But, I never hear people talking about women pulling the “sex card,” or religious minorities pulling the “faith card.”  I explained to my parents why I do not think we should use this term, and I think they’re still chewing on the arguments I made to them.  That is all I can ask for at this point.

And then I get in my inbox today an email from the leader of a “support group” for Bay Area converts.  She wanted us to read and share our thoughts on the latest post of a blogger I’ve come to respect and admire, cross posted onto a popular Jewish site.  Email obscures tone and intent more so than face-to-face conversation, but I was pretty sure I read between the lines (like any good instructor, this leader sometimes employs the Socratic method of instruction) and understood her frustration with the piece.  The way the piece is presented on the site can lead to multiple interpretations of the title, one reinforcing stereotypes JOCs (Jews of Color) routinely encounter.  I wish this Jewish site would be more socially responsible and not provide additional opportunities for white people to read malintent into the words and actions of POC.

And I wish I could live one day without so much race fail.    I hope making that statement doesn’t put me in the same category as the people who say they wish they could get cancer so they could lose weight.

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4 thoughts on “Race Fail

  1. So were you appalled by the use of the term, or by your parents’ indignation about the black man’s response?

    Because I’m willing to agree with you that the term “race card” is unnecessarily dismissive, but I would probably have had a similar emotional response as your parents to the interactions on t.v. I just would have used different words to express my indignation.

    So I’d love some more clarification about what exactly was bothering you about their response…

    • The use of the term “race card” by my parents is what specifically bothered me. As a white person, I’ve been raised by my (white) family to see racism as a bunch of individuals acts, commited by one person against another. That’s not racism, that’s prejudice. And any individual can be prejudice against any other individual. But “-isms” aren’t just about prejudice–they’re about power/social privilege PLUS prejudice. Viewing racism as the former allows us to negate our privilege in this country (the USA) as a means of self-preservation. If you’re not familiar with this construct, I’d recommend http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

      I’ve only seen a couple of Survivor episodes this season, but the black player does seem to be a bit off his rocker–I think it’s an act for tv, myself–and I do not believe the white player meant to say anything racial by his comment.

      But, as a white person in a hypothetical similar situation, my actions should move beyond self-defense because I have the social position of power. It’s okay to feel emotional–we define ourselves in certain ways and when that self-image is challenged, it can cause strong, powerful reactions; it’s only natural. But, eventually we need to move beyond emotions, meaning that if I said something or did something that caused someone to call me racist, after my initial self-interest in defending myself, I would hope to have the humility to see that I offended or hurt this person, and the appropriate response would be to apologize for that person, to ask what I did that specifically caused that reaction, to listen to their response as a means of education, and then to consider how I want to proceed in the future with that knowledge. For example, the black player brought up a Richard Pryor album that caused him to make the leap from crazy to epithet. I didn’t know that there WAS an album by that name before this Survivor episode. But, moving forward, with that knowledge, I’d reconsider how I use that word. Doesn’t mean that I can’t use it, just means that I have to be aware of certain connotations when I do.

  2. Race is such a hard issue. The way you feel about “race card” is how I feel about “color blind”…I think that conversations about race should always be open and honest, given that they are approached from an open-minded point of view. I saw that episode of Survivor and had conflicted feelings. While I understood what Philip was saying and I understood where Greg came from. I still think Philip is crazy 🙂

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