Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Leftover thoughts on "the race card" and the Simmons/Jackson kerfuffle

That's right, I used kerfuffle in the post title.

Commenter JimNantz (not the famous Jim Nantz, presumably) doesn't understand why a white writer using "playing the race card" bothers me. I spent most of the day at work drafting a response in my head, only to find that a quick Google search of "race card" yielded more concise, coherent responses than I would be able to put together for a blog post. First read Jon Swift's gleefully parodic thoughts on the matter, then read Tim Wise's incisive historical and cultural view.

But a basic summary of Wise: the phrase "race card" reflects both white naivete about the institutional and cultural history and presence of racism as well as the term's use as a way to trivialize real racism. That summary doesn't do his essay justice, but it hits the major points.

And I'll add this: like any other cliche, "playing the race card" is dead language that shortcuts serious thought. Because it has to do with such a crucial and difficult issue as race, that shortcutting becomes even more thoughtless and frustrating.

Do I think Bill Simmons is a racist? No. I don't know him, of course, and I suspect he's not a racist. However, his use of the phrase reflects his worst tendency as a writer (really, any writer's worst tendency): imprecision, probably born of laziness. (Notice also that he claims Scoop Jackson uses his race as a "crutch"; see how Wise deals with that metaphor in his essay.)

Do I think Scoop Jackson wrote a thoughtful column about Las Vegas and race? No way. I made clear in my other post that Jackson is a sloppy writer and thinker; Simmons certainly had plenty to criticize in Jackson's column.

And maybe the most important question, since I'm a white male born and raised in the south: do I think I'm free of any racist vestiges because I jumped on Simmons and I support affirmative action? No; unfortunately, free as I'd like to be of any racist (or race-based) impulses and instincts, I'm aware of how incredibly difficult they are to eradicate. I criticized Simmons in the first place because of how much his response reminds me of me.

Update: Oh, one more link to check out: Sports on My Mind's takedown of Simmons.

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