Alas, the ‘cards’ we play!

Several times in my last column, I mentioned “playing the race card.” Well, because some readers asked for more examples of “card playing” as a weapon for silencing others I figured, hey, why not! 

But for context it made sense to start with a refresher on the origins of the “race card.”

Briefly, the “race card” is generally used 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. 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” in presenting detective Mark Fuhrman‘s past racist comments as reasons to draw his credibility as a witness into question. And of course, others may remember how Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas froze the Judiciary Committee when he claimed to be a victim of a “high tech lynching.” 

However, unlike others, arguably the race card is the Rodney Dangerfield – “I get no respect” – of all cards in that it’s the one that garners the most attention and angst. So let’s now sift through the “deck” and pull out examples of other cards folks will play, beginning with the “woman card.” 

The “woman card is a metaphor referring to the exploitation of one’s female identity for rhetorical gain. While some argue that “playing the woman card” is the last refuge of incompetents, others argue that it may be used to dismiss real problems and to undermine the credibility of the person accused. 

Over recent years, “gay cards” have become more prominent in the gay community as an affirmation of pride of one’s sexual orientation. On the other hand, some have reported getting slammed with the “homophobic card” when they, for reasons of sincerely-held religious beliefs, oppose homosexuality.  

Turning now to the “White” card recently written about by Black author Willianm Spivey, a card, he says, that’s played as a means to an end. Black folks “playing the White card” means downplaying his/her race to fit in, speaking “properly” (the king’s English”) and other behaviors that may foster negative stereotypes of African Americans.   

“Every successful Black person I know has used the White Card to some extent” wrote Spivey. “When used by Black people, the White Card can allow access to traditionally white spaces and are issued on a temporary basis based on compliance and appearance. When Black people get a White Card it is always conditioned not only on acting in a white-approved manner but sometimes by serving the needs of the people granting the card.” The desire for a “token Black” is an example of such a need.

Wrote Spivey, “few are the times when announcing one’s Blackness produces a favorable result. Black Cards are used for social acceptance, White Cards are for networking and access that usually translate to money, and the race card is only used as a reason not to discuss a real issue.”

Let’s retrieve other cards from our “deck,” shall we?

Now given the current Israel/Gaza war, it should come as no surprise that card playing is occurring on both sides of issue. Said “Bobby,” If I express support for Palestinians I risk getting called anti- semitic. On the other hand if I say I support Israel, I risk getting accused of Islamophobia, so I just keep my opinions to myself.” 

Now how about those who play the “class card?”

Class-based bias, or classism is discrimination on the basis of social class. It includes attitudes, behaviors, systems of policies and practices that are set up to benefit the upper class.  

Now as far-fetched as this may seem, some will play an “accent card,” essentially using a favored accent to gain acceptance. For example “Gary” was born and raised in the rural South and had a southern accent. But when he moved to Boston his co workers joked that he sounded like a low intelligent “country bumpkin.” So he worked to reduce his southern accent to sound more “Boston-like.” When he returned to the south on vacations the locals were struck by his impressive new “New England accent.”  

And how about those who play the “Big doner card.” 

In my last narrative I wrote about the plight of Harvard University’s president, Dr. Claudine Gay and efforts to get her to step down amid the school’s response to anti-semitism on campus and alleged plagiarism of her academic papers. She has since resigned due in part to well heeled big doners who played the, “big doner card,” a threat to withhold future donations to the university if Gay did not resign.

Now closely related to “big doner card” players are the occasional “last name” card players, those who will let you know in no uncertain terms that they are related to famous people, former presidents for example.

Need more examples of playing cards for personal advantage? Well, look no further than those who play the “legacy card,” an attempt to leapfrog other, sometimes more qualified, candidates to get into favored schools. Now the good thing is that college acceptance decisions based on legacies have come under fire lately causing many universities to do away with their legacy programs.   

On the issue of  “playing the ___ (fill in the blank) card,” have you ever heard the phrase “dealing from the bottom of the deck?” If not, it is an expression used in card games to describe the act of cheating by manipulating the deck of cards so that the dealer can deal a specific card from the bottom. This gives the dealer an unfair advantage.

Okay, just imagine a world where less “card playing” and more unfiltered, honest communication are the norms.

Humm, far fetched? 

Well, you tell me.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel,, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.


1 thought on “Alas, the ‘cards’ we play!

  1. Terry this article is one to be used at cocktail parties as an ice breaker. If more folks were just open and honest, we would be a more inclusive society. Well done my friend.

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