News & Politics

Overplaying the Race Card

The Duke rape claim and McKinney police episode were distractions that diverted public attention from the <i>real</i> fight against discrimination.
In rapid succession, a slew of blacks have screamed that illegal immigrants are to blame for the towering ills that plague poor, underserved, crime-ridden black neighborhoods.

Next, Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney screamed that she was racially profiled by a Capitol police officer who demanded to see her ID when she entered the Capitol building. The officer was only doing his job, and McKinney subsequently apologized.

Then a black female student who moonlighted as a part-time stripper screamed that she was sexually mauled by a pack of white Duke University lacrosse players. DNA tests on the players proved that a sexual attack likely didn't happen. The District Attorney could still bring charges, but it would be a criminal case -- not a race case.

In each instance, the racism cry is just another tired example of blacks overplaying the race card. But even more disturbing is the refusal of black leaders to open their mouths and condemn them for it.

This racial walking on eggshells leaves blacks prone to the charge that they propagate double standards on racism. When a white commits a racially offensive act, they rush to condemn it, but are silent when a black person does the same thing. This swings open the door for blacks who commit crimes or other inappropriate acts to finger-point whites for their misdeeds, thereby deflecting attention from their wayward acts -- possibly even gaining support and sympathy for them.

The endless line of black politicians, ministers and sports icons know the drill well. Whenever they are accused of sexual hijinks, bribery, corruption, drug dealing, even murder, they reflexively shout that they are victims of a racist conspiracy. It's a well-worn ploy, but it's a surefire crowd pleaser because many blacks are conditioned to believe that anything whites (and now Latinos) do or say toward them is malicious. The problem is that the victims of the misdeeds of black miscreants are almost always other blacks.

Sadly, many whites still see blacks through the narrow prism of a racial lens. They think that all blacks think, act and sway to the same racial beat. A tepid or non-existent outcry against black race-baiting seems to confirm it. In the Duke University and McKinney flap, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP President Bruce Gordon should have vigorously spoken out against the misuse of race for personal and selfish reasons, and to grab headlines. But they didn't. Their great fear was that by speaking candidly about blacks who abuse race, they will give piles of new ammunition to bigots to further demean blacks.

That's a false fear. And even if it weren't, so what? If anything, a swift and firm rebuke would enhance the credibility of black leaders. It shows that they are willing to make the tough call and criticize other blacks when they justly deserve criticism.

There are no winners in the Duke case. The dubious allegations of rape cost the lacrosse head coach his job. It wrecked the season for the team. It sullied the reputation of the players who appear to have been falsely accused. It inflamed racial tensions in Durham, North Carolina. It pitted black and white students against each other on the campus. It reinforced the ancient stereotype that black women are sexually loose, and if they are the victim of sexual attack, that they brought it on themselves by their profligate behavior.

There are no winners in the McKinney case either. It embarrassed the Congressional Black Caucus. Not one of its members publicly backed McKinney. It burnished the public image of the congresswoman as a loose cannon, prone to make shoot-from-the-lip comments, and to brawl with anyone who gets in her way.

There are no winners in the illegal immigration fight, when blacks dump the entire blame for the continued economic slippage of poor blacks on illegal immigrants. This lets those employers, who blatantly exploit illegal immigrants as cheap labor, off the hook -- and makes it much more difficult for blacks and Latinos to reach across the ethnic divide and unite to fight for better jobs, a living wage and greater labor protections.

The frivolous cry of wolf to cover bad behavior fuels the suspicion that blacks are eternal whiners when it comes to race, ever-ready to circle the wagons and lambaste whites for real or imagined racial misconduct while defending any black who comes under fire. That double standard makes it that much easier to minimize the fight against discrimination and poverty -- and the fight for immigrant rights.

The McKinney and Duke episodes were comic public distractions that momentarily took the eyes of the public off that fight. And that's the ultimate danger in overplaying the race card, and worse, keeping silent when it happens.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press). The Hutchinson Report Blog is now online at Earl Ofari Hutchinson.com.
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