Barack Obama's presidency: an important victory, but racism and oppression is ongoingMaster Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo

‘Playing the race card’: a phrase often bandied about when black people speak out on their experiences of discrimination. This phrase implies that black people manipulate racial tensions to turn arguments in their favour, unfairly alleging oppression and tarring all white people with the same ‘racist’ brush in angry red lettering. The assertion that black people trot out their race as a ‘trump’ card in order to ‘win’ arguments serves only to silence those who speak out on their experiences.

“Accusations of ‘playing the race card’ will only add to tensions instead of promoting healthy, honest discussion”

The ridiculousness of the phrase ‘playing the race card’ is plain to see. As a black person I can tell you that being black isn’t something you can hide. Somehow people tend to notice. Your blackness is never something that can be ‘whipped out’ when the occasion calls.

When faced with discrimination, one should be able to express their anger and hurt without others trying to abruptly end the conversation and delegitimise one’s experience. We shouldn’t stop talking about race until equality is achieved. Frankly, those who have never experienced the discomfort of being treated differently because of their race have no place shutting down such discussions. Making people feel ‘uncomfortable’ is the only way to confront deep-rooted prejudice in society, prejudice so ingrained that one might not even realise when forming a judgement based on unconscious bias. How can we expect people to check themselves if their views are never challenged?

Oppression doesn’t have to come in the form of bonds and chains for it to exist. Therefore, the notion that we live in a ‘post-racial society’ is ill-informed and highly dismissive of the racism that is still present in today’s society. Claiming not to ‘see’ colour is ignorant and not ‘woke’ as people who say this think. Not having to ‘see’ colour is a privilege arguably afforded to white people, benefiting from a system that has long favoured lighter skin over darker and as a result have the privilege of being oblivious to the prejudice people are still subjected to. While most of the people I’ve heard say this mean that they personally do not contribute to and perpetuate racial inequality, claiming not to see colour is a misguided observation. Making such a statement constitutes a failure to acknowledge the issues associated with race, and thus allows those who make it to remain in a perpetual state of ignorant bliss.

Those who lauded the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as a sign that Britain is no longer racist should take off those rose-tinted glasses and swap them for a magnifying glass. They are evidently missing the subtle yet detrimental racism that continues to exist in Britain today. The same goes for those who proclaimed racism was over when Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, conveniently glossing over the fact that black Americans are still facing oppression, most notably in the form of police brutality. While not wanting to ignore the progress made in racial equality in this country, we cannot deny that there remains much more to do. I’m left stunned by those who claim that black people in this country benefit from a ‘black privilege’, citing positive discrimination as one example of this. Positive discrimination isn’t about giving people of BAME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds an advantage over others, but seeks to thwart both conscious and unconscious racial bias that historically has prevented bright BAME individuals from entering many industries. Getting a foot in the door doesn’t stop the discrimination that black employees may face in the workplace, where even the most able candidates are passed over for promotion time and time again.


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While writing this I was conflicted about how best to approach the question, not knowing whether I needed statistics to most adequately ‘support’ my argument. Then I realised, discrimination is not something that can be quantified. Facts and figures cannot adequately portray the damage prejudice in all its forms can have on an individual and for the black community as a whole. Despite the fact that race relations in the UK have improved dramatically from the days of my grandfather and many other immigrants like him, we cannot ignore the subtle racism that continues to exist. Accusations of ‘playing the race card’ will only add to tensions instead of promoting healthy, honest discussion.

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