Race Profiteers

Playing the race card is a common power play on the left -- it's only effective against liberal whites who bend over backwards not to appear racist. But it's just a power play -- dirty politics. It has no effect on real racists, and blacks who play the race card know that. It's a tool for self-promotion by people who profiteer in tweaking black rage.

I recall a writer's conference where my publisher, a progressive white man who had published several books by black writers, was crucified as a racist. At a staged panel discussion, people screamed at him like he was Simon Legree. My editor Sasha Alyson, a cultural pioneer himself, had sponsored an award for 'literary pioneers' in the name of the pioneering black poet Joe Beame, but he didn't restrict the award to black writers. That made him a racist -- he had thought of the pioneering black poet as 'pioneer first' rather than as 'black first.' I knew that every other white editor at that conference wouldn't look twice at a black writer's manuscript. So I walked around after the excoriation, asking what was that about? All I got was a chorus of groupthink, a string of intimidated PC 'Chatty Kathy' dolls: 'I love people of color, I love people of color.' It was straight out of the body snatchers -- these were all writers, editors, people presumably invested in freedom of speech/thought, except when it came to race.

My editor later told me that the writer who staged the excoriation only objected to the literary prize after he found out he hadn't won it.

'mmmmm -- where have I heard that before?'

Whites will profiteer with the race card too. My neighborhood (Chelsea) may be the most racially diverse/harmonious in New York. A large Hispanic population in the city housing projects co-exists with gays, upscale whites, very upscale art galleries and shops, with little racial tension. In 1992, a hip-hop disco called 'Home Bass' opened up in the neighborhood. This was the pre-IPOD 'boom box age.' The night the hip-hop club opened up, we were invaded by 'boom box jeeps' - a traffic jam backed up from the riverfront halfway across Manhattan. Five floors up, my wooden floors vibrated from the bass beat down in the streets -- at 2 A.M. I couldn't drown out the noise if I turned my own stereo up full volume. The noise in the street from the boom jeeps was louder than the sound systems in most clubs.

Now there's nothing unusual abut discos disrupting neighborhoods, triggering a standard response of massive, organized complaints from the residents. Because the hip-hop club's clientele were mostly black and Latino youth, I knew race would complicate the problem, so I got involved. Predictably, the club's pricey attorney, a white man speaking for the club's white management, accused the neighborhood of being racist -- suggesting we wouldn't complain if it were the Hell's Angels pissing on our doorsteps instead of black and Puerto Rican teenagers. (Please! I have no preference for the smell of white piss!) It made no difference that the black and Puerto Rican families in the neighborhood wanted the club shut down even more than the whites because the popular disco attracted crack dealers targeting young buyers. (Many of the upscale whites in Chelsea, and of course the gays, don't have kids.)

So we lobbied the City Commissioner, our City Council Rep, and our State Senator -- all white, all liberal Democrats. That's when I saw the power of the race card. Among the club's young clientele were gay bashers who had never seen men holding hands in public. (Chelsea is known as an 'urban gay mecca.') In one weekend alone, there were twelve bashings. Yet even our openly gay City Council rep (Tom Duane, now a State Senator) was intimidated by the race card and hedged on shutting down the disco.

But in particular, the City Commissioner (Mark Green, who later ran for Mayor) was completely castrated by the totally bogus race card. Chelsea is known as an 'upscale neighborhood' because of its shops and galleries, though in fact it's socially and racially very mixed. But the club's lawyer threatened to run newspaper stories: 'whites in Chelsea don't want colored kids in their white neighborhood' -- absolute bullshit. Mark Green was completely paralyzed by the race card. While the neighborhood was railing for the club to be shut down, Green approved a club renovation to double the club's legal occupancy. The City Commissioner was kneecapped by the race card.

My white neighbors complained about the race baiting. My advice was this: If they play the race card, you play the race card back!

Instead of complaining about the noise and gaybashing, we argued to Green that the club's primary economic purpose was to attract black and Puerto Rican youth into one location as targeted customers for the crack dealers. We claimed that the club's legal fees were actually being paid by high level drug dealers as part of this 'crack marketing strategy' targeting black kids. We claimed that a violent racial incident involving the police was inevitable--in which case, we'd have Rev. Al Sharpton marching through Chelsea and city wide riots. If that happened, we'd have some press attention that we could control, and we would then accuse Mark Green of letting the most racially harmonious neighborhood in the city descend into a hotbed of racial tension. The riot prediction was especially effective (this was the autumn after the L.A. riots.) Armed with some 'race card' ammunition of his own, Mark Green grew back his balls, canceled the club's permit, and won a court challenge to his action.

So now we're seeing the same thing with the Obama campaign crying race to intimidate the DNC.

As I said, this is just a power play, dirty politics, patronage, payout, nothing new. Playing the race card is just as revolting as yelling "9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!" I'm used to dirty politics. But I'm especially offended by the race card (1) because it's so neurotic -- my editor's excoriation was a virtual bonfire of neurosis. And (2) because it suppresses free thought -- it requires groupthink from blacks, and passive submission to censorship by whites. It also incentivizes stupidity (like the Orlando Patterson piece).

And I'm offended when black elites play the race card for their own personal gain because it legitimizes the very concept of 'playing the race card.' So when blacks have legitimate grievances (and we have plenty), those grievances are often met with 'you're playing the race card.' I know 'playing the race card' triggers a backlash, and that backlash then provides cover for brazen expressions of real racism. The 'cry wolf' metaphor is absolutely dead-on.