Race card

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For the horse racing term, see racecard.
"The Race Card" redirects here. For the 2001 book, see The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality.

Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase that refers to exploitation of either racist or anti-racist attitudes by accusing others of racism.


In the less critical sense, the phrase is commonly used in two contexts. 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.[1] An example of this use of the term occurred during the O. J. Simpson murder trial, when critics accused the defense of "playing the race card"[2] in presenting Mark Fuhrman's past (e.g., his recorded use of the word "nigger" in addition to his being accused of tampering with murder evidence in prior cases, as well as his use of the Fifth Amendment to avoid potential self-incrimination upon questioning) as a reason to draw his credibility as a witness into question.

In the second context, it refers to someone exploiting prejudice against another race for political or some other advantage. The use of the southern strategy by a political candidate is said by some to be a version of playing the race card, such as when former Senator Jesse Helms, during his 1990 North Carolina Senate campaign, ran an ad showing a black man taking a white man's job, intended as a criticism of the idea of affirmative action. The ad was interpreted by many people as trying to play to racist fears among white voters.[3][4]

Stanford professor Richard Thompson Ford has argued that the race card can be played independent of the person making the claim, or the race in question. An example cited was the Hillary Clinton campaign claiming that Obama won the 2008 Democratic Primary in South Carolina due to the disproportionate number of black registered Democrats in the state, implying more racism in the general population.[5]

George Dei, et al., in the book Playing the Race Card[6] argue that the term itself is a rhetorical device used in an effort to devalue and minimize claims of racism.

Malaysian politics[edit]

In February 2008, Group Chief Editor Wong Chun Wai of The Star wrote, just before the Malaysia general election came, there is an unusual degree of tolerance and flexibility in matters of race, language and religion as politicians try to woo the people. "Also, there are those who still continue to play the race card, in this age and time. At their party conferences each year, they play to the gallery by projecting themselves as the communal heroes. But during the general election, they shamelessly become the true Malaysian leaders we dream of. They greet their voters in Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil; and if they can speak all these languages fluently, they would do so."[7]

In August 2006, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs wrote that Malaysia politician Khairy Jamaluddin "played the race card" by stirring up the Malays and the Chinese Malaysian community. Responding to criticisms and demands for an apology, Khairy said his remarks were misunderstood and he "will not apologise" as he was acting only "in defence of the Malays and his party" and that "if we truly fight for our race, one should not apologise".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Playing the race card: Trump or joker?". BBC News. 2001-04-24. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  2. ^ Wickham, DeWayne (2005-04-04). "Spare Cochran legacy of 'race card' label". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  3. ^ Broder, David S. (November 30, 1994). "Pit Bulls". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 24, 2015. No one in current politics has played the race card more flagrantly than [Helms] has in his campaigns. 
  4. ^ Cornwell, Rupert (July 7, 2008). "Jesse Helms: Powerful Republican senator who championed right-wing causes during three decades in Congress". The Independent. Retrieved July 24, 2015. The spot showed a white hand holding a crumpled job rejection slip, and a voice-over blaming positive discrimination. With its subliminal racism, the ad became a sinister classic of the genre. 
  5. ^ Ford, Richard Thompson (2008). The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-24575-7. 
  6. ^ Dei, George Jerry Sefa; Leeno Luke Karumanchery; Nisha Karumanchery-Luik (January 2004). Playing the Race Card: Exposing White Power and Privilege (1st ed.). New York: Peter Lang USA. ISBN 978-0-8204-6752-8. OCLC 51266234. [page needed]
  7. ^ Wai, Wong Chun (2008-02-10). "All for the sake of winning votes". The Star. Retrieved 2008-09-09. 
  8. ^ "Use of race card stirs controversy in Malaysia". Singapore Institute of International Affairs. 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2008-09-09.