A Progressive Explains to Conservatives Why We Won’t Stop “Playing the Race Card”

© Josh Sager – July 2013


A significant strain within the American conservative movement believes that racism is no longer an issue in the United States and thinks that we are now in a post-racial society. As such, they see any attempts to claim that racism still affects people in a negative manner to be nothing more than “race hustling” or “playing the race card.”

Conservatives often ask when progressives will stop playing the race card and stirring up racial resentment—in this article, I will answer their question.

Put plainly, progressives keep “playing the race card” because racism is still a very real problem in the United States and progressives would like to address racism head-on rather than deny its existence like most conservatives do. If conservative want to call progressives’ exposure of such racism “playing the race card” than that is okay, but they are wrong to say that such exposures are bad or improper. Unless we point out racism, it will sit in the corner and fester, becoming even more of a problem then it is today.


While it is undeniable that we have made progress on the issue of racism and that overt racism has become socially unacceptable, it is also undeniable that our country is still home to a great deal of racial conflict.

If you doubt this, I suggest that you simply turn on your television and watch the news for a few minutes: Perhaps you will find yourself watching responses to the Trayvon Martin shooting and the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his profiling-induced killing of a black kid. Or maybe you will see news stories describing how stop and frisk has disproportionately targeted over a million African American males in New York for unwarranted searches. Or maybe you will switch to a channel where they are covering Republican politicians’ gaffes, calling immigrants dogs or asserting that all DREAM applicants are really drug mules. Or, if you are watching less serious programming, perhaps you will simply find yourself listening to the discussion over celebrity chef Paula Dean’s desire to have a plantation-themed wedding (complete with black serving staff) and history of racist comments.


In the face of such stark examples of racially-charged situations, it is simply a denial of reality not to recognize that racism still exists within our culture.

In addition to the issue of racism in society, conservatives have made it necessary for progressives to “play the race card” during political debates. Conservative politicians have proposed racist policies and associated with racist individuals in a way which makes it necessary for progressives to respond. This isn’t to say that all conservatives are racist, but it is undeniable that many racists exist within the conservative coalition.

Case in point: five conservatives on the Supreme Court just eviscerated the Voting Rights Act’s 4th and 5th sections, prompting numerous Republican-run states to implement previously illegal voting law changes which discriminate against racial minorities. The VRA’s body was cooling for less than 6 hours when Texas announced their plan to implement laws which were previously blocked for being unconstitutional and racist.

Conservatives getting angry about liberals always playing the race card is akin to a soccer team getting angry about the number of red cards that they receive when their roster is filled with players who regularly sucker-punch members of the opposing team. It may very well be tiring to have your bad-acts pointed out for everybody to see, but that doesn’t mean that people should restrain themselves from pointing such acts out.

Brazil v Spain: Final - FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013

In this situation—just as with our politics—if the soccer team wants to stop having red cards thrown at them, they simply need to stop allowing their players to punch the opposing team members.

Because I have always been a helpful kind of person, here is a very simple list of seven things that conservatives can stop doing in order to dramatically reduce the justifiable use of the race card against their party:

  1. Stop trying to disenfranchise minority voters
  2. Stop trying to deny that racism exists and saying that anybody who exposes racism is simply “playing the race card
  3. Stop using racial dog-whistles to attack black Democrats (we all know what you mean)
  4. Stop mainstreaming obviously racist candidates
  5. Stop listening to ideological leaders who have a history of racially biased beliefs (ex. Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, Mark Levin, John Derbyshire, Sean Hannity, etc.).
  6. Stop assuming that racial minorities don’t work as hard as whites and simply want “hand-outs”
  7. Stop idolizing the Confederacy and downplaying slavery (and for god’s sake, reject those who said that slavery wasn’t that bad or who deny that it had negative effects on the lives of African Americans)

If conservatives can manage to stop doing all seven of these things, perhaps their belief that the race card is being used unfairly will be justified. However, until they can manage this, virtually every accusation that they see as “playing the race card” will be justified.

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