(Not) playing the race card

16 Nov

We’re back to it: “playing the race card” (see last Thursday’s post). But not by choice.

Today I heard on NPR that Joe Amendola, attorney for former Penn State coach and accused child molester Jerry Sandusky, has claimed that his client is the victim of “lynch mob mentality.”

Interesting Cain-like choice of words, no?

So I drove home with my soy chai latte and started googling.

“Sandusky lawyer lynch” turned up lots of hits: notably, none quoting Amendola. (Adding “Amendola” as a search term did not help.) Actually, the hits were predominantly and bountifully comments from readers, bloggers and the general public in general using the term “lynch mob” liberally, in such phrases as [with emphasis added]:

  • “the public has responded in lynch mob fashion,”
  • “there is a lynch mob out to hang the guilty villain,”
  • “Is he the victim of a lynch mob mentality?”
  • “the media lynch mob has descended,” and even
  • “What ever happened to lynch mobs?”

Seems the idea of a lynch mob really serves Sandusky’s defense as well as his detractors.

My second search consisted of the terms “Sandusky lynch race card.” No results linking the language of “lynch mob” to “playing the race card.” In fact, the only page I found where “Sandusky” and “race card” showed up (almost) together was another blog: in separate postings on “The Domino Theory by Jeff Winbush” (http://jeffwinbush.com/), Winbush asks us to “cool it with the lynch mob mentality” on November 12th, 10 days after he posted about Cain’s claim of “high-tech lynching” (and both Anne Coulter and Condoleezza Rice’s subsequent commentary):

“One more thing: the statute of limitations is up on the usage of the term, ‘hi-tech lynching.’ Whenever a Black conservative gets their nuts caught in the washing machine the first thing to fly out of the pieholes of their defenders is they are on the receiving end of a ‘hi-tech lynching.’”

While Winbush never explicitly accuses Cain of “playing the race card” (he let’s Rice do the talking for him, quoting the same interview I did), he is more than explicit that Cain doesn’t get to say “lynching.” Nor does any other black conservative with a “piehole.”

However, Winbush does. Ten days later, to be exact.

Before I continue, let me be transparent: I am no fan of Cain. However, I’m not writing about political affiliation or even whether Sandusky or Cain are guilty. I’m writing about the convenient and inconsistent use of the phrase “playing the race card”: who gets to say it, and who gets accused of it.

I believe the first category is more inclusive than the second. I don’t know how Amendola or Winbush identify/are identified racially (note: Winbush’s avatar is Huey Freeman, the African-American protagonist of The Boondocks, but the point of an avatar is fictional representation, so I’m not making any assumptions), but in my experience–and as illustrated by Rice–anyone of any racial identity can accuse someone of “playing the race card,” i.e. bringing up race to be intentionally inflammatory and to divert attention from the supposedly real and race-free issue at hand.

Also in my experience, the accused is pretty much always a person or group of people of color. The Sandusky case is an interesting example. Granted, I haven’t yet found any reliable record that Amendola actually used the term “lynch mob,” but perhaps even more telling is the free-for-all use of the phrase by people commenting on the Sandusky controversy without a single obvious mention of the fact that “lynch mob” is a racially loaded term.

Does Sandusky appearing to be a white man (and to my knowledge, not identifying otherwise) have anything to do with the silence about any “race cards being played”? How could it not be?

And what I find myself returning to is the blatant inequity and the outright racism of the phrase “playing the race card.” By “racism,” I don’t mean someone talking about race, or even just one person’s bigotry on the basis of skin color. I mean a systemic, socially sanctioned ability to take away the power and voice of  certain people based on their racial identity. I mean a historical, consequential and subtle but stunning disadvantage that we perpetuate every time we use the term “playing the race card” as if this is something (only) racial minorities are wont to do.

Do individuals–like Cain and allegedly Amendola–sometimes use racially loaded language questionably? Of course.

All I ask is that we challenge when this happens, recognizing that the very act of accusing someone of “playing the race card” is itself racially loaded and questionable.

Note: Thanks to Derald Wing Sue, et al. for the research on racial microaggressions that named the sometimes “subtle but stunning” experiences and effects of racism.

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