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Thursday, August 13, 2009

We Need a Hand That Will Beat the Race Card

I don’t know if you are familiar with the television series, “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but one of its episodes provides an interesting illustration. In it, the crew encounters a hostile and advanced alien race called the Borg. One of their amazing abilities is to adapt to the weapons used against them. When they attack our heroes on the Starship Enterprise, the crew is able to kill just two of the Borg. They were not able to kill three, because by then the Borg had adapted to their weapons. What they did was both amazing and easily anticipated: the Enterprise crew stopped firing! Since their weapons no longer had any effect, why should they continue to fire?

Let’s leave that analogy for a moment and consider another one (I will reveal what that particular story of the Enterprise crew and their encounter with the Borg is analogous to shortly). It’s eight in the afternoon and you are about to have dinner with your family. All of a sudden the phone rings and intrudes on your privacy; the caller identification is displaying, “Caller Unknown,” and immediately you think to yourself, “don’t they know people have Caller ID and that their telemarketing won’t work?” But the world of telemarketing plays the averages; if one person out of every twenty they call commit to using their services then those nineteen busy signals, answering machines, and rejections were worth it for them. It is a fact that telemarketing works, and that is why it continues. Presidential candidates don’t spend millions on phone banks and directory listings for fun. I myself worked the phone banks for President Bush when he was running for re-election in 2004 and I was able to make a difference… Bush won.

Where am I going with all this? Over the last two weeks my eyes have been opened; I now see the ten thousand pound gorilla in the room. Two weeks ago president Obama accused an innocent police man of being a racist because he arrested a black man. When asked if people protesting healthcare reform reminded him of anything, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) said the following on MSNBC: “Well, the last time I had to confront something like this was when I voted for the civil rights bill and my opponent voted against it. At that time, we had a lot of Ku Klux Klan folks and white supremacists and folks in white sheets and other things running around causing trouble.”[1] Chris Matthews asked Cynthia Tucker this question: “Put 100 of these people in a room. Strap them into gurneys. Inject them with sodium pentothal. How many of them would say "I don't like the idea of having a black president? What percentage?” Cynthia Tucker responded with this comment, “Oh, I'm just guessing. This is just off the cuff. I think 45 to 65% of the people who appear at these groups are people who will never be comfortable with the idea of a black president.”[2] They, Dingell, Matthews, and Tucker were talking about people who are standing against Obama’s plan for healthcare reform.

In looking at all these examples I realized something (my eyes opened), the charge of racism is a weapon that people like president Obama, John Dingell and Cynthia Tucker will never stop using because it is effective. Like the telemarketer who continues to call no matter the consequence, it works. Now back to the ten thousand pound gorilla in the room, what is it by analogy with current events? It is playing the race card. People continue to play it because it works. The only way to stop people from using this weapon against you is to make it ineffective. Remember the Borg; the Enterprise crew stopped firing their weapons when the Borg became immune to them.

Sergeant Crowley has led the way on this. He is the white policeman who was racially castigated by the president for arresting a black Harvard professor. Sergeant Crowley stood his ground and said, “No - I will not apologize!” A beautiful thing happened because the president’s racial attack was ineffective against him; The writes:

The president said he should have chosen his words more carefully but stopped short of an apology.”Because this has been ratcheting up and I helped to contribute to ratcheting it up, I want to make it clear that in my choice of words I unfortunately gave the impression I was maligning the Cambridge police department and Sergeant Crowley and I could have calibrated those words differently," he said.

Seeking to lighten the situation further, he said at the daily White House briefing that he had invited both Crowley and Gates for "a beer here in the White House."[3]

The president stopped his attack, invited Crowley for a beer, and did not apologize, which confirms my point that not being a racist is not necessarily going to stop people from calling you a racist; these things are deep in people’s hearts. My pastor mentions repeatedly what experience confirms, namely, kicking a bad habit first starts with a commitment to acting differently; feelings will inevitably fall in line.

If we can get people like president Obama, John Dingell and Cynthia Tucker to stop calling people of good conscience racists (who cares if they think it; what a person thinks does not affect me) then perhaps ten years from now they might actually start believing that not every white person who opposes them is a racist. But it all starts with you my white friends and it doesn’t matter if you are a white democrat, just ask the first black president, Bill Clinton.[4] It’s time for a white civil rights movement, but instead of “We shall overcome,” it will be, “We shall take it no more.”

Danian Michael,
Political Agenda.


[1] Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) made these comments on the cable network MSMBC. But don’t take my words for it, listen to him yourself.

[2] Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist; she writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Cynthia made the comments I cited on another MSNBC program called Hardball with Chris Mathews. Read the account at

[3] Read the entire article titled “Obama invites race row policeman for a beer in the White House” at

[4] Bill Clinton was accused of being a racist for attacking Candidate Obama in support of his wife, who was also running for president during the primaries last year 2008

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog.

August 13, 2009 at 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Diane G. said...

I don't get 2 of the examples you used. How does what Rep. John Dingell and Cynthia Tucker said (the quotes you shared) constitute "playing the race card"? Aren't some things having to do with race a geniune recall of actual past events, or expressions of current (or past) facts/opinions/statistical data?

August 14, 2009 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Diane, you are white and I am black. Here you are writing a response to me in disagreement to a position I hold. What if instead of responding to your comments I said something like this:

People like you Diane who see a black man try to make his views known then just tear him down reminds me of a good old fashion lynching.

August 14, 2009 at 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I get the overall point you're making. But I can't even say yet that I DO disagree with your position. I'm working on asking some questions and having some back and forth - to get to a clearer understanding where you're coming from, because I'm (obviously) interested in the topic and your viewpoint. So I'm not sure the lynching comparison works - I don't think I'm "tearing you down". Or - am I?

If I was coming over to your hose and screaming at you, I think your "reminds me of a good old fashioned lynching" might apply.

Which is part of my view of the JD comment. Wasn't he responding to a situation where people really WERE behaving in an aggressive, uncivilized and inappropriate manner? (Making the behavior itself - more than the views - the part that may've been "reminiscent" to him?). I'm just sayin'... I mean, I'm not sure where I stand yet, and that's why I'm asking and working on understanding your opinion on it

Diane G.

August 14, 2009 at 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Cheryl D. said...

Wow, I really appreciate your article and I couldn't agree more. It seems to me that all the dancing around white folks do in trying so hard not to offend black folks only makes it worse. It's like if you're white you're automatically guilty. It causes white folks to automatically feel nervous around black folks because they're so afraid they are going to say or do something wrong. As a white person I am pretty aware of what is in my heart but I am also aware that I am judged automatically by many in the black community soley because I am white. I hate the chasm it causes and I also hate that it continues to separate white folks from black folks. Segregation still exists, maybe not outwardly, but inwardly. Where will it end?

August 14, 2009 at 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Smile said...


What a refreshing approach. It seems helpful that race relations are being discussed in a calm and honest manner.

Because of the problems, myths, and even lingering racism, your approach is especially pertinent and appreciated.

Agreeing that the "charge" is predominately used as a weapon, the solution isn't yet clear. I can see that the attack stopped. I see that he took a stand "I will not..." Yet, I don't see that I have a clear picture of an effective response/non response.

Certainly the denials didn't do anything for Clinton. It was clearly used as a weapon. No matter. The question I'd have would not reference him though. If it were an average, innocent white person, what would be their best approach?

More importantly, how should the average innocent black person approach this problem? One of the most hurtful things I see is the attacks and accusations of blacks towards other blacks who disagree with the accusers.

August 14, 2009 at 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Alan D. said...

Great article! After working in Detroit for 20 years I can say that racism is still very much alive and well but it needs to end.

August 15, 2009 at 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Racism is like the blanket that a little child drags around with him and refuses to let go of. The blanket is old, dirty, torn and smelly yet the child is unwilling to let it go because it provides comfort and security.

When people hang onto bitterness it becomes like that child's blanket. Holding onto it isn't doing them any good, yet letting go is too scary. It has been with them for so long, it is like a pet that they feed, water and stroke every day.

My hope is that people of both races, white and black, will see how destructive their pet is and learn to let it go and move on.

August 15, 2009 at 10:25 AM  
Anonymous Laurel Federbush said...

Great article! Being a white person, I continue to feel the pressure of being seen as a racist for not supporting Obama. But that makes me admire someone like Danian Michael even more, who, being African-American, must be under much more intense pressure to support Obama. Michael is right--we shouldn't let the opposition have that kind of power over us. We should render it harmless.

August 18, 2009 at 11:24 PM  
Blogger Danian Michael said...

Hello Laurel,

I want to thank you for taking the time to read the article and for responding with such kind and thoughtful words.

In my experience, I have found white Americans to be very accepting of me, as a matter of fact, in all of my 20 years of living in this country (I was born in Jamaica)I have never experienced racism against me. One would think by watching the television that the United States was a cesspool of racism. It isn't, and we need to affirm that fact once again; take back the country as it were.

August 19, 2009 at 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm about to confess something that I rarely speak about out loud. I'm a white woman. And I'm very fearful of black men and maybe even racist against them, based on my personal experiences. So when I hear about the race card being played, I often wonder, is it really a card being played? I think I do discriminate against black men, and if one of those men were to get mad at me about it, I don't think he'd be playing a card. Becaue I know in my heart that I'm fearful and that I probably act very defensively in many situations. And even if I'm not acting defensively, I know what's in my heart, and the fear and racist attitudes that I have.

So if I, an educated and supposedly progressive white woman am a closet racist in a way, and fearful of black men out there in the world. Well, how many other not-as-educated or not-as-progressive people are there out there who discriminate against black men, and women too, and aren't even ashamed to admit it? I'm ashamed to admit that I do it, and I'll only admit it if I'm posting anonymously.

I don't know if I'm making a clear point. But well, I really wonder about the race card idea. When is it a card being played, and when is it a response to actual racism in the environment? How can we always know? I bet I play off my racism pretty well sometimes. I hide it away as best I can. Sad, I know.

September 17, 2009 at 1:46 AM  
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