Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Playing the race card and Metro Detroit
I spent the day in suburban Detroit trying to convince White men to sit down and share their views and opinions about race and social opportunity with me in a survey. As you can imagine, it would have been easier for me to learn Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor (and trust me I don't even know how to play an instrument)in between writing dissertation chapters. If nothing else was confirmed to me today, its that most White Michiganders don't want to talk about race and ethnicity, unless it's on their terms. The survey is a lengthy one, so I can understand people being intimidated by length, but I was intrigued by one White man's response. He took the survey, looked it over for about 5 minutes and returned it to me empty and said "I'm not prejudice in any way and I'd rather not take this." So the good social scientist in me says, "Well Dumi, he thought you were trying to get him to answer in a certain way, thus you tainted the experience." But the catch comes in that this same man when I asked him about the city of Detroit a few minutes earlier told me, "It's going no where" and the problem of the city were because "people want to play the race card." He went on to explain some issues with race and how they were too trumped up, etc, etc. His returning of th survey reminded me of 2 things about White dialogues about race: 1) we can talk about race and ethnicity, but only on White folks' terms and 2) the race card is real in White folks' minds.
Now you can say I am unfairly characterizing a group, White men, on this guys response, but trust me, I had a number of guys be not so kind to me after the survey. I don't think it was simply the people who I bumped into today, but this country and Metro Detroit has a serious silence on the dialogue of race. Now Detroit is the most segregated major metro area. Want the evidence of it? I spoke to people who have lived over 10 years in the suburbs of Detroit who admitted to me that they had only been into the city 2 or 3 times. When I informed some people I wanted to get their opinions about Metro Detroit they said things like, "Well I don't know anything about the Detroit area." Ladies and Gentleman, if you live in the same county, less than 8 miles from the city limits, you may be a part of the Metro Detroit area. I didn't make the term up, hell if you watch the news they say it at least 30 times each morning. But somehow, White Metro Detroiters, seem to consider themselves autonomous, and in many ways are. If you live in a completely segregated space, attend segregated work, and socialized in segregated ways, you are autonomous. But if you live in those conditions then why not talk about race?
Well because talking about race means that someone is going to play that dreaded card. That's right, there is always a hold card tucked deep in my hand. It's more powerful then a flush and apparently all Black folks are adept at playing it, it's the race card. I think the term the race card is really interesting in that it immediately trivializes social experience. There is nothing cool or joyous about being pulled over and having police officers approach your car with their gun drawn because you're a young Black man. There is nothing fun about being followed around stores when you're really trying to buy something. There is nothing amusing about living in substandard conditions because you inherit the debits of your family's "misfortune." When I talk about race, I'm not playing shit, I'm telling you my experience. Don't discount my experience because you have lived a different one than me. I don't discount your experiences. What if I said, "Oh he's playing the class card." People don't say that, because folks who are White, Black, Asian, Latin@, Purple know that social class matters. Isn't it peculiar that race and ethnicities, which are just as "socially real" as social class, are part of a game.
There are so many rhetorical tricks around the issue of race in the country that silence the dialogue. If you want some good reading on them check out Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. I think the first step to real dialogue about race and opportunity is realizing that no one here is playing a card or a game. The stakes of segregation, discrimination and deprivation are real. See cause if this was a game, I would be holding chips under the table, because the race card doesn't seem to "win" me much. Ah man, I'll write more later.