The NFL’s controversial Take a Knee protests have the nation talking about racial issues. That’s a good thing. That’s the whole point of the protests, to bring attention to the problems that many black Americans say they face on a regular basis. The debates are raging on social media. I have been in the middle of several of them. For the most part, the discussions have been open, honest, and frank–that’s a very good thing. However, whenever such debates take place, I always notice common themes within the push back coming from the people farthest to the right. I have identified 5 common responses–I’ll call them cards, for lack of a better term–that conservatives continue to go to, often in an attempt to deflect the conversation into a direction where they feel they have more solid footing. Read on and I will lay out these 5 cards that conservatives keep up their sleeves and at the ready any time discussions turn toward racial problems in America.
1. The Human Race Card
This is a favorite card of the conservative–his or her “ace in the hole” as it were. The reason they like it is because it sounds so harmonious. The problem with it is that it assumes a level playing field which has never existed. A popular version of this card lately has been the refrain “all lives matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Who could argue with that? Of course, all lives matter. But that isn’t the point. By playing your human race card, you are hijacking an important message and cheapening an important cause. Yes, we get it…there is really only one race–we all bleed red–we all have basically the same essential DNA makeup. Wouldn’t it be great if we all lived like that were true? But we don’t–you know it and I know it. So to play the human race card is only an attempt to deflect attention from from a topic that makes you uncomfortable. That’s not helping.
2. The Rich and Successful Black Person Card
Conservatives often like to point to black Americans who’ve attained a great degree of success and use that to somehow show how the playing field is level if people will just work hard and assimilate into the path toward the American Dream. This is insulting when you think about it. Nobody does this to justify white poverty. I’ve never heard a conservative tell a poor white person to be more like Bill Gates. There are exceptionally successful people from all cultures. They may or may not be great role models. But to write off deep-seated racial issues because a certain percentage of people of that race have made it big is beyond irresponsible–it’s demeaning.
3. The Conservative Black Guy Card
Man oh man, do white conservatives love to play this one! Every time our nation gets to talking about a racial protest, conservatives will come out of the woodwork of social media and begin posting videos of conservative black guys ranting about how dumb the protesters are. Hey, we get it, there are some black conservatives…so what? Do you not understand how silly that makes you look? Do you not see that it is the same thing as the time-honored “I have a lot of black friends” cliche? Again, the fact that black conservatives exist doesn’t change the fact that the racial injustice exists.
4. The Division Card
This is a big one. I’ve heard and read countless times how the nation was cruising along just fine until President Obama came along and caused more racial division in 8 years than anyone else before him had ever done–poppycock!!!! President Obama didn’t cause division. President Obama exposed what had been there all along. Some conservatives, I believe, felt like Obama’s election would be the end of all the racist talk. They felt, “well, this proves we’re past racism so now we can all shut up about it and move on.” That’s pretty simplistic thinking. When it didn’t happen, division that was always there bubbled up to the surface. Then, with the election of Trump, many of the old-guard extreme right became emboldened to come all the way out into the daylight–such as we haven’t seen in 40 or 50 years. Talking and protesting about the problems doesn’t cause division, it shines a harsh light on it. That makes us all uncomfortable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
5. The Chicago Card
Wow, conservatives keep close tabs on the Windy City, don’t they? This is another of their aces in the hole. “What about black on black crimes?”, they’ll cry. They point to the ongoing and admittedly disturbing statistics that continue to pile up in Chicago where parts of the city have been devastated by terrible gang violence. Yes, Chicago has big problems. What does that have to do with the bigger picture of racial injustice? We never talk about white on white violence. The statistics on that are very disturbing as well. To bring up Chicago and black on black violence is to deflect attention from the bigger issue. Do we need to address the problems of gang violence that so many young black men get caught up in? Certainly–it’s a big problem. But that problem is really just a symptom of the bigger problem–the very one from which some conservatives are trying to deflect the conversation.
Why are gangs such a big problem in places like Chicago? Dig down below those statistics and find the disease. That will take us back to that uncomfortable conversation about racial inequality that has been with us for centuries.
I don’t think most conservatives–at least those I know best–are really racist at heart. I just think that they try very hard to believe that the American Dream is truly equally available to everyone. They have crafted an internal narrative that oversimplifies the issue. They believe at their core in personal responsibility and assume that means that if someone has found themselves in a tough situation, it has little to do with race and more to do with personal failure. Because they don’t recognize white privilege, they can’t see how there are barriers some Americans have that they do not. I once thought this way (read my story here). Circumstances of my life have opened my eyes to a different perspective.
I have been on both sides of this debate–this is why I write.