Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Did I Just Play the Race Card?

Last week, the presidents of three homeowner associations in southwest Richardson made a presentation to the Richardson City Council about the need for redevelopment along Spring Valley Rd. I blogged about it in a piece called "The Hispanic Elephant in the Room".

Did I play the race card? I observed that no one at the council meeting appeared to be Hispanic. I speculated that the interests of Hispanics didn't seem to be represented. I suggested that Hispanics needed to start speaking up (and voting more!) if the decisions that affect where they live and shop are ever going to be made by people who represent them. I ask again, did I play the race card?

Right off, I want to disregard the argument that Hispanic is an ethnic classification not a racial one. Technically that's correct. So, even if I were guilty of playing some kind of underhanded card, it wasn't, technically speaking, the "race" card. But I don't want to be acquitted on technical loopholes. So, let the question stand. Think ethnicity instead of race when I ask, did I play the race card?

The verdict depends on what is meant by "playing the race card." For guidance, I turn to my trusty reference, that arbiter of popular opinion, the crowd-sourced Wikipedia. Wikipedia says, "Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase that refers to the act of bringing the issue of race or racism into a debate, perhaps to obfuscate the matter." Well, I admit that I brought the issue of race into the debate, no question about that. I titled my blog "The Hispanic Elephant in the Room" to highlight the fact that no one else was talking about race. So, I'm guilty, right? Not necessarily. I certainly didn't do so to "obfuscate the matter." In fact, I'd argue that ignoring ethnicity in this case is an obfuscation itself. So, I'm innocent, right? Not necessarily.

Wikipedia goes on to explain two contexts for the phrase. "In the first, and more common context, it alleges that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage." I didn't accuse anyone of being racist. I pointed out that there are no Hispanics in Richardson government. I didn't attribute that fact to racism. So, I plead not guilty to the charge.

"In the second context, it refers to someone exploiting prejudice against another race for political or some other advantage." The classic examples are cases of white politicians using ads that play to racist fears among white voters. I certainly wasn't doing that. If prejudice is a factor in the politics in Richardson, I'm on the side of extinguishing prejudice, not in exploiting it for political advantage. So, I plead not guilty to this charge, too.

In the end, the only thing I plead guilty to is raising the subject of race. But just raising the subject is not enough to be convicted of "playing the race card." What matters is what you say about it. I still think what I said was fair, unprejudiced, and non-exploitative. I claim I did not play the race card. Whether the jury will see it that way and acquit me is anybody's guess. Regardless, I have a stinking suspicion that this question has to be thrashed out before redevelopment on Richardson's southwest side can begin.

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