Jump to content

Race card

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Cartoon by John Tenniel published following Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The phrase itself came into use more than 100 years later.

"Playing the race card" is an idiomatic phrase that refers to the exploitation by someone of either racist or anti-racist attitudes in the audience in order to gain an advantage.[1][2][3] It constitutes an accusation of bad faith directed at the person or persons raising concerns as regards racism.[4] Critics of the term argue that it has been utilized to silence public discourse around racial disparities and undermine anti-racist initiatives.[5][6][7]


The phrase is generally used by people to allege that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person or group of people of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.[4][8] An example of this use of the term occurred during the O. J. Simpson murder case, when critics accused the defense of "playing the race card",[9] in presenting Mark Fuhrman's past as reasons to draw his credibility as a witness into question.

The Republican Southern Strategy has been characterised as an early example of exploiting racist sentiments for political mobilization and exaggerating the threat of the civil rights movement. Consequently, this strategy facilitated the transformation of the Southern states from a Democratic to Republican political stronghold.[10][11][12]

Stanford Law School professor Richard Thompson Ford has argued that the race card can be played independently of the person making the claim, or the race in question. An example cited was the Hillary Clinton campaign's assertion that Barack Obama won the 2008 Democratic primary in South Carolina owing to the disproportionate number of black registered Democrats in the state, implying more racism in the general population.[13]

George Dei, et al., in the book Playing the Race Card,[14] argue that the term itself is a rhetorical device used in an effort to devalue and minimize claims of racism.

Other uses[edit]

The phrase has been used to describe racist mobilisations by politicians, as for example with the campaign to elect Peter Griffiths, the Conservative Party candidate for Smethwick in the 1964 UK general election. However, the term was only applied to describe this situation in the 1980s.[15]

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."[16]

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 apologize" as he was acting only "in defense of the Malays and his party" and that "if we truly fight for our race, one should not apologize".[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "to play the race card". Collins Dictionary.
  2. ^ "play the race card". The Free Dictionary.
  3. ^ "race card". Oxford Learner's Dictionaries.
  4. ^ a b Schraub, David. "Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith." Social Theory and Practice 42, no. 2 (2016): 285-303. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24871344.
  5. ^ Hirsch, Afua (16 January 2020). "The 'playing the race card' accusation is just a way to silence us". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Lisiero, Dario (21 September 2014). America's Many Faces. Lulu.com. p. 168. ISBN 978-1-312-32365-0.
  7. ^ Kivisto, Peter; Croll, Paul R. (12 June 2012). Race and Ethnicity: The Basics. Routledge. p. 1-200. ISBN 978-1-136-58945-4.
  8. ^ "Playing the race card: Trump or joker?". BBC News. 2001-04-24. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  9. ^ Wickham, DeWayne (2005-04-04). "Spare Cochran legacy of 'race card' label". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  10. ^ Gonzales, Manuel G. (20 August 2009). Mexicanos: A History of Mexicans in the United States. Indiana University Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-253-35368-9.
  11. ^ Joseph, Ralina L. (2013). Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial. Duke University Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-8223-5292-1.
  12. ^ Hillygus, D. Sunshine; Shields, Todd G. (24 April 2014). The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns. Princeton University Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-1-4008-3159-3.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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]
  15. ^ Martin, Gary. "Play the race card". The Phrase Finder. Gary Martin. Retrieved 30 November 2021.
  16. ^ Wai, Wong Chun (2008-02-10). "All for the sake of winning votes". The Star. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  17. ^ "Use of race card stirs controversy in Malaysia". Singapore Institute of International Affairs. 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2008-09-09.