It is absolutely unfortunate, as well as abhorrent, that the United States has the history with African Americans that it does. The United States was the last Western developed nation to make slavery illegal, as well as being the nation most notorious for racial violence against this particular minority group to this day.
Due to this history, there emerged a concept some use to describe an African American using their minority status to gain an advantage, usually in a conflict. This concept, defined as “playing the race card”, does not always have zero merit, but has become a taboo in today’s society in many ways.
In many ways it is understandable that an African-American would automatically assume racism when they are presented with a situation that is potentially unfair. Even after the 13th Amendment ended slavery in America, Jim Crow laws, especially in the deep South, carried on well into the 1960’s. This is barely a generation removed at all–old school thought still exists in a large part in America, on both sides of the racial spectrum. Somewhere in between exists a harmony America has never been able to achieve.
Much the same way the concept of “playing the race card” evolved so did the concept of simply denying racist motivation at all. It has been established that there are some aspects of the law that will always be racist, and this is by design–it is said nothing can be done, because changing in favor of one, makes it disproportionately in favor of another. However, there are definitely modern examples where the simple denial of any racist motivations simply does not explain everything.
In the early 1900’s, the film “Birth of a Nation” was released. Essentially a film that outlined a very selective history of both the Civil War and the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, this film resulted in a large influx of Klan supporters to reemerge–this film, to this day, is cited as one of the causes of the modern day Ku Klux Klan’s existence.
I think both concepts have the potential to do equal amounts of damage to modern society. They are on complete opposite sides of the spectrum, and as with any extreme, have the potential to do damage in many aspects of American life.
The concept of proverbially playing the race card, though as previously stated is sometimes valid, furthers stereotypes of African Americans, and can cause disproportionate amounts of jealousy between the two races. Though it is not a direct impact, a similar and more than comparable example is the Affirmative Action Program. Many white students, employees, and the like harbor ill feelings for minorities they feel were hired, promoted, or accepted simply to fill a “quota”. The two issues parallel each other very well.
A denial of racist intentions, in many cases, has also become a taboo. For example, Mark Fuhrman, the prosecutor in the OJ Simpson trial was caught on tape using a derogatory word for an African-American. He denied that it was meant in a racial way. Comedian Michael Richards ran into the same issue a few years ago, when he made a tasteless joke using the exact same word. The fact that both these men denied any racist intentions, made them immediately open to scrutiny.
The main point: is it tasteless? If it may be, odds are, do not say it.