Does Playing the Race Card Make You Racist?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
Wouldn’t you say that those who “play the race card” are showing themselves to be racist?

Answer:
It took me a long time to get this straight, but it is impossible for a non-white person to be racist in this country when referring to white people.

Racism is oppression based on racial hierarchy.

Bigots come in all races, but by definition, black people (for example) cannot be racist to a white person.

Some non-white people do “play the race card.” However, I’ll point out that white people “play the race card” every day of their lives. They may not know it, but they do. Such is the privilege of being white in this country.

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30 Comments

  • No, people who “pull the race
    Card” have experienced racism in a country that is content to ignore the blatant examples if racism seen everyday. The very term “pulling the race card” was made to trivialize people who have experienced racism and is detrimental to society. In short: no, talking about racism and recognizing it existence or being victimized by it does not make you racist….

  • Steve Cummins

    “Bigots come in all races, but by definition, black people (for example) cannot be racist to a white person.”

    So when I have been called white trash by a blackman, that’s not racist ? You’re not helping yourself are you?

    • Luke Visconti

      It’s not racist. Probably bigoted, although it could be simply descriptive. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Procrastinator

        Lol. We recently started The Civil Rights Unit in school and my teacher asked us to write a 1 page Essay on “How To Stop Racism”. I came across this and it makes me rethink everything. In my opinion, with my preconceived and (according to your clarification) inaccurate definition of racism, racism will exist for as long as humans will. It will not be stopped. But referring to the accurate meaning of racism, can we ever stop it?

  • Joe Iannone

    So you are telling me when I white person is at work and his boss and many of their coworkers are black they cannot experience racism? Now they are at the bottom of the hierarchy. They can now be ganged up on because of their race. Allowing them to experience racism. This broader racial hierarchy which you speak of does nothing for them. When a white person is targeted and beaten just because he is white, this is not racism? When a city has a black mayor, black police chief, black fire chief and a majority of black council people where does this racial hierarchy actually come in favor of the average white person barely getting buy in the world? White people are not controlling anything then. It’s not like all us white folk are pulling in 300,000 a year The majority of people on welfare are white. They sure would like to know what being white in this society has done for them. So I don’t think your racial hierarchy thing stands up.

    • Luke Visconti

      That’s correct. A white person, given your interesting scenario, can experience bigotry but not racism. The rest of your post is a crock. No Presidential aspirant ever tried to score points with bigots by denigrating white welfare recipients. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” was Black and completely fictitious, but that example—and his starting his campaign in Philadelphia, Miss.—was enough of a dog whistle for racists. It’s a shame, because he didn’t need their support (especially coming after the disastrous Presidencies of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter). He was the only President, before Obama, who was honest about immigration. He also stopped the Soviet Union in its tracks without having to fight World War III. I voted for him, twice. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • You’re contradicting your own definition of racism – when you say that in a city where a white male is the minority and is treated poorly because of his ethnicity – isn’t racism. By your own definition, that would equal racism, because they are at the bottom of the social “hierarchy” in that region. I think we can all agree that bigotry and stereotyping is wrong no matter what the demographic is. But, unfortunately, it will always exist, because no matter where you go, there will always be people who are trying to be a better person than the next. Until they stop competing, (which does not seem likely) prejudices will always exist.

  • Luke visconti- you’re an idiot.

    • Luke Visconti

      So, you spend time on my website. What does that make you? Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Is there any difference between “white supremacist” and “racist” or are these synonymous?

    Can an individual white person without defined power be racist by this definition? For example, if a white employee says he hates working for black people, can he be considered “racist” since he is not in a position to oppress anyone and the specific power flow does not align with a white supremacy paradigm?

    Why do dictionaries consistently disagree with this definition of racism? How does defining the term in this way further our discussion of the topic?

  • Reader comment sent to me directly:

    i believe that the definition of “racism” as something only a dominant
    group can have serves no purpose other than to cloud the issue. I do
    believe that white privilege is a very real thing, as is
    institutionalized racism.

    Here’s a real historic situation:

    Until the early 1900s, much of what is Greece today was under Turkish
    power, and Greeks (and all Christians) were second-class citizens.
    When the Greeks took the lands that comprise NE Greece today, Turks
    became second-class citizens and were subject to similar
    discrimination.

    Throughout the period, there were people on both sides of this
    shifting border who believed in the superiority of their own group and
    were bigoted toward those of the other.

    When the border moved and those who were formerly the rulers became
    subjects, did their bigotry suddenly change? Did anything in their own
    character change?

    I would argue that it did not. They gained or lost privilege based on
    the political reality. They found themselves on one side or the other
    of institutionalized prejudice and either benefited (whether they
    acknowledged it or not) or lost accordingly.

    Yet we don’t need to somehow redefine bigotry (I’m avoiding the word
    “race” here even though some of those people do see things in terms of
    race, demonstrating that it is indeed a social construct) to say that
    it can only be practiced by the dominant group. We have perfectly good
    terms to describe that: privilege of the majority and
    institutionalized bigotry.

    One person here gave the example of being discriminated against as a
    white man in a company where all his superiors were black. If it’s an
    empowered majority group within any context discriminating against a
    less-powerful minority, what purpose does it serve to call one’s
    bigotry one thing and another’s bigotry something else, other than to
    cloud the issue?

    Human beings’ most base, primitive and animalistic characteristic is
    the way they divide themselves into an “us” and a “them,” and band
    together against those who have less power in whatever context.
    Straights can be homophobic, so can gays. Christians can be bigoted,
    so can Muslims, and wherever one is the majority, they can and often
    do use that power to disenfranchise the minority group. We don’t need
    a special term for that bigotry because we already have terms.

    So why do we need to redefine racism in such a demonizing and divisive
    way? And why is someone defined (by you) as “racist” when he questions
    it?

  • My response:

    Interesting analogy. I’m half Greek, my Greek grandmother immigrated when she was young. She told me that her family left a chicken cooking in the oven, because the Turks were invading and chopping people into pieces. As a young teenager, she literally ran for her life. My grandparents were not bigoted people or racist, but they hated Turks. Imagine my surprise when I researched the endless conflict and discovered that there were atrocities on both sides.

    Here’s the problem: I can probably pick out a Turk from a Greek more than half the time. Because I lived in Asia, and my children are Chinese, I can discern who is Chinese, Japanese or Thai (for example) 85% of the time. Most white Americans cannot discern anything – except Black and white.

    Racism is this country’s Original Sin. Enslaved people were the number one source of wealth for rich people right up until 1861. It defines everything we are. White people will do anything to avoid the obvious, because to address this directly is embarrassing and humiliating – and begs the question, why haven’t we made reparations? Our great country, founded on slavery? George Washington’s enslaved people weren’t happy and dancing and smiling? Because I’m white, other white people tell me how awful President Obama is, as if it’s some sort of common ground to build a friendship on. Almost like a fraternity handshake.

    Our society feels compelled to humiliate black people; the front runner of the Republican Party has never denied his birther slander against (what any honest evaluation of the facts would describe President Obama as) a great president, who led us out of two unjust wars, led the economy back to recovery out of the worst economic depression since 1934 and gave health insurance to poor people. “Make America Great Again?” What garbage – America is already great, with the longest lived constitution in human history. Trump is a despicable racist, inciting racism among the ignorant.

    Yes, I feel racism is evil, and I’m happy to describe it as such, so that people don’t take false solace. Rather than cloud the issue, my accurate, not redefining, definition helps people gain clarity.

  • I agree with everything you’ve said, but I feel like I have to make a few things clear, since this is an extremely contentious subject that no one seems to be able to agree on.

    Firstly, the definition of ‘racism’ is a prejudice directed against a race based on the idea that one’s own race is superior. What some people like you are trying to do is turn the word ‘racism’ into something that it’s not i.e. “oppression based on racial hierarchy” as you say.

    What you should realise is that the word ‘racism’ means exactly the same thing as ‘bigotry’ except that it is specific to ethnicity. Therefore, if a Person of Colour is bigoted towards a White person and that prejudice is based entirely on their race, then that is racism by definition.

    The point you’re trying to make is that a White person cannot be discriminated against because they hold a privileged position in society and I agree with you completely on this one. White people, whether they are aware of it or not, will experience white privilege and it is almost unheard of for them to be denied an opportunity of some sort based on their race. What I’m trying to make clear is that this is a separate issue from ‘racism’ and is discrimination based on racist beliefs. White people cannot be discriminated against based on their race in a country where white privilege exists.

    However, I also have to make it clear that White people do not always hold a position of power in society. In places where the predominant race is non-European, any foreigner living in that country is a minority and therefore White people can experience racial discrimination in the same way that people of colour do. When a White person encounters this discrimination, their experience is not devalued by the fact that they are White, since they are at the same level in that society’s racial hierarchy as a Person of Colour.

    Therefore reverse racism does exist when a Person of Colour had bigoted beliefs about Europeans based on their race, BUT White people cannot be discriminated against based on race when they hold a privileged position in society.

    I hope you understand what I’m trying to say, I do agree with you, but I think your definitions are a little off and it’s worrying that people believe you. You make it sound as though People of Colour can say whatever they want about Europeans and it’s fair because they have white privilege, but that simply isn’t the case.

    • Your last sentence is completely wrong. Nonwhite people can certainly be hateful, bigoted and discriminatory.

      However, white people have had overwhelming (to the point of being absolute) control over every aspect of power and wealth in both Europe and North America in known history. There is, therefore, no way a nonwhite person on those geographies can be racist.

      Think about it this way – if a Black person is overtly bigoted, they’re going to be unsuccessful – they won’t be able to find a good job, housing – won’t even be able to shop in a mall without being fired, evicted, or thrown out.

      However, until very recently in America, any white person could toss around the n-word At Black people in any of those situations and do just fine. Although that behavior is now socially unacceptable in most circumstances, look at who is the leading republican presidential candidate. A hate spewing racist.

      • Hi Luke,

        What is it then if a predominantly black workplace doesn’t offer a job to someone of Pakistani origin on racial grounds?

      • I am totally shaking my head. Ignorance sure is bliss. You need to lay off the history books, dude. Especially when half of them aren’t accurate anyway. Whites don’t know anything about oppression? How about the Irish immigrants who came to this country? They were treated worse than blacks in America. They were called “white niggers”. Or how about the German Americans in this country during both World Wars? During WWI Germans in this country had to register at the local post office as an “alien” and failure to do so would result in prison time. That’s if they weren’t born in this country. My great grandmother, who was a German American, faced a lot of prejudices during both World Wars in this

        • We never had an African country declare war against us. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

        • HOW ABOUT ALL THE DIFFERENT PEOPLE THAT CAME TO THIS COUNTRY WAY BACK WHEN THAT SLAUGHTERED & OPPRESSED & TOOK AWAY ALL THE RIGHTS & LAND AWAY FROM THE NATIVE PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY. YOU TALK ABOUT ALL THE HATE & BIGOTRY , BUT REALIZE WHERE IT REALLY LIES.

  • Your definition of racist not completely correct. Using a position of power or hierarchy is a pschological definition. Racism is thinking that one race is superior to another. Any race, not just white. The kkk was racist just like bpp going around screaming black power was racist. Louis farrakhan calling on 10 thousand people to kill what people is racist. Youre a bigot. Any race can be racist. You only took one definition of the word.

    • Howdy Trump voter!

      The KKK was the main driving force behind roughly 4,000 Black people being lynched after the failure of reconstruction. Thousands more were worked to death in legal schemes where Black men, imprisoned for bogus laws (written for the purpose) had their fine paid for by white business owners who then worked their charges to death.

      At its peak, there were MILLIONS of KKK members.

      At its peak, there were maybe 5,000 BPP members.

      There is simply no comparison.

      By the way, Minister Farrakhan likes Trump because he “is the only member who has stood in front of the Jewish community and said, ‘I don’t want your money.’” OH OH, now you have something in common with Louis Farrakhan, what are you going to do?

  • Ron Critchlow

    Hello Luke,

    I read your comments with interest. I pondered your assertion that “Racism is oppression based on racial hierarchy.” I believe that is a revised definition. The traditional definition made no reference to ‘racial hierarchy.’ It defined racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races; Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

    If I understand you correctly, using this old definition, a member of an oppressed group, like Native Americans, who refused to sell hay to a white man, because he believed all whites to be untrustworthy, is acting in a racist manner. Under the revised definition, the absence of racial hierarchy, or more accurately, the inverted racial hierarchy, would mean this was not racism.

    Questions: What is gained by this revision? Why is it better?

    Why is it that those of who have embraced this new and expanded definition fail to clearly state that it is a new and expanded definition? You should have said “It is impossible for a non-white person to be racist in this country when referring to white people, using the new and expanded definition of racism, i.e ‘Oppression based on racial hierarchy’, rather than the traditional definition that made no mention of racial hierarchy. So we’re not saying black can’t be racists. We’re saying if you abandon the traditional definition and instead use our new and expanded definition, blacks cant be racist.”

    Question: What do you call it when a black person won’t hire a hispanic accountant, because they just ‘feel more confident’ in the professional abilities of a white or Jewish accountant?

    What do you call it when a Hispanic landlord won’t rent an office space to a black accountant, because they just ‘feel more confident’ in the abilities of a white or Jewish accountant to cover the rent without difficulty?

    Best regards, Ron

    • Hello Ron, the root of the word racism is self-evident. I do not believe of expanded the definition of racism, simply refined it. The examples you gave are bigotry. Ultimately, there is no white man in this country who would derive benefit on a lasting basis byntrading places with any black man.

      I will add that the “conservative” press picked up the banner of non-white racism for several years now, as a pseudo-counterbalance for 8+ years of overt racism against our president. Bogus stories like the New Black Panther Party are promoted to excite the people who were first Tea Party people and now support trump.

      As if there is equivalency between six crackpots in Texas and three centuries of overt, violent and pernicious racism.

      • Ron Critchlow

        Hello Luke,

        If, as you say, the definition was not recently expanded, please cite any dictionary definition of racism prior to 1999 that included the element “Racism is oppression based on racial hierarchy.” I was unable to find one. It appears that you are using a revised and expanded definition to refute the definition that was prevalent earlier. The revised definition may well be an improvement, but it cannot make the previous definition incorrect. I don’t have to cause racism to be a racist. If I did ever buy into that idea it would mean that the only white people who can be racist are people who hire and fire, and process mortgage applications, or otherwise play an active role in creating racist conditions. What about the fat lady in dirty flip flops buying beer at Walmarts, who makes minimum wage working part-time picking up empty beer cans at the local park? After I accidentally bumped into her, she yelled “All ni**ers need to go home to Africa, you’re too dumb to be Americans”, She can’t be racist either.

        Regarding your assertion that “no white man in this country who would derive benefit on a lasting basis by trading places with any black man”. I have no idea how that is relevant to the specific questions I raised. It sounds like a handy generic catch-all phrase one would use to bolster one’s argument. But it doesn’t, firstly because it doesn’t in any way negate the fact that people of all races can exhibit “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”, and secondly, because its patently false, both in a general sense and in a literal sense. Surely you don’t seriously believe that the next homeless white man living on the street that you pass would not :derive lasting benefit by trading places with” Barack Obama!!!

        You have not been able to articulate why this new expanded definition of racism should not be viewed as a new and expanded definition of racism. Nor have you been able to articulate why either the laws of physics, or something equally quantifiable and inviolate, make it impossible for racism to emanate from a member of the lower group, against a member of the higher group.

        It appears that you’ve forgotten that racism is, first and foremost, personal. Know this: A homeless, jobless, lonely man living his life in a state of quiet desperation, waking up on a park bench on a brisk morning, feeling hungry, will be stung by the cruel words of a father passing by with his kids, who tells them “See that white man there? He’s proof that there’s nothing that is guaranteed to keep a white man from ending up like him, smelling like a sewer and looking more dead than alive.”
        His whiteness does not change that, no matter what you or anybody else says

        Regards, Ron

        • Ron, I don’t think “the dictionary” prior to, or after, 1999 is competent to give a nuanced definition of any racially loaded word. The book industry industry was and is stale, stodgy and peculiarly not diverse.

          Your fictional scenario while possible is utterly improbable. There is no average white person in this country who would benefit by trading places with an average Black person. If there was an advantage, Rachel Dolezal would not have occupied the front page of every news website for a solid week. She is the classic man bites dog story.

  • Ron Critchlow

    Luke, my scenario is not improbable. In downtown Brooklyn I regularly encounter a group that speaks of white people in those very terms. Is that not racism? Here’s a video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLb3o65q0vk

    Luke, you have a penchant for moving the goalposts. First you say “there is no white man in this country who would derive benefit on a lasting basis by trading places with any black man.” When I show that to be demonstrably false, instead of acknowledging you posited a false argument, you re-word it to include the word “average”. Clearly that is your preferred way to attempt to support your assertions, and even then you fall way short.

    You are free to use whatever definition of racism suits you, but unless and until you can demonstrate that the definition you use was previously in use, your denial that you’re using a revised and expanded definition is intellectually dishonest, as is your subsequent assertion that the old definition is no longer valid, supposedly because somehow you were given the power to relabel things as you see fit..

    • I move the goalposts because I think they need to be moved – and because I can. I have that power because I EARNED it, my goalpost moving reaches 300,000 people monthly. Your YouTube video is silly. A bunch of sidewalk crackpots prove nothing. They’re probably actors paid by Michael Savage or Breitbart’s mausoleum.com so trump lovers can make a false equivalency. “See the five Black guys yelling at people? See the (other five actors in the) New Black Panther Party? They prove that white people aren’t so bad – just ignore slavery and Jim Crow.”

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