Yikes, he called me a racist!

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Recently, First lady Michelle Obama addressed the graduating class at Tuskegee University in Alabama – a historically black academic institution. She recalled to the students how the media covered her during the early days of the Obama presidency. She was described as “Obama’s baby mama” and one of her husband’s “cronies of color.”

“Back in those days, I had a lot of sleepless nights worrying about what people thought of me,” the first lady said. Ultimately, Obama stressed to students to believe in themselves and not let the perceptions of others shape their views on who they are as people.

Almost immediately, some on the “far right” accused her – as they did her husband, Eric Holder, Pulitzer Prize columnist Leonard Pitts, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, etc., – of playing the “race card.” Like others I replayed her speech several times intent on finding evidence — in the form of finger-pointing, blaming and shaming — of the “race card” being played. No luck. In fact, I thought that the transparency of and relevance of her message was spot on and timely. Not once did I hear her cry racism, did you?

Hum, “race card!”

What the heck are they talking about here? We offer a definition of “race card” and why and how it’s typically “played” further down.

But first this.

I dismissed his comment as sour grapes, coming from a person in pain, someone desperately in need of an external rationale, an excuse for an unfortunate turn of events in his life. So I guess my rear end served him that purpose. It’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last.

You see, apparently he got fired from his job some five years ago by, get this, yours truly. Now not only did I not fire this guy, I have absolutely no idea who he is. I repeat, no idea who he is. But that’s not the point here. Far from it. Here’s what he wrote in response to my March 20th article, “The N-word Still Stings:”

“That must have been the day you decided to retaliate and let me go despite my exemplary record there (previous employer) for over 5 years. What better way to apply some salve to your wounded pride than fire some White guy. Racists come in all colors of people.”

At first I get hit with the N-word. Now I get clobbered with the R-word, racist. I wonder and am bracing for what’s next.

Now the truth is that people sometimes hurl out words to deflect from the painful realities of their own circumstances, to avoid getting submerged by their anger and frustrations. I get that.

And for some, frankly, it feels good to smack someone down from a distance, to blame from beyond. And what better way to do that than blame this dude Terry Howard, a person he’ll never meet in person.

Now the real reason for his firing could be the reality of a corporate downsizing, lack of talent, failure to obtain results, outright incompetence, insubordination, or for some other reason. Who knows?

But in his mind he wants to believe, and have others believe, that his being a white guy was behind his firing. Yes, he played the proverbial “race card” on me, one that’s arguably used to deflect from reality, the facts; to avoid facing the person in the mirror. However, on the plus side, it’s kinda nice to be put in such elite company as the Obamas.

Now if asked to rank in order the most venomous conversation stoppers in human interactions in the United States, my list begins with the N-word – the nuclear bomb of all racial epithets – followed closely by the “racist” word then, further down the list, the “B-word,” the “homophobic” word, etc., etc., etc.

So, what is the race card why is it sometimes played?

The “race card” is expressed – aka “played” – as a reason, excuse or rationale for someone else’s behavior or decision. It presumes that the behavior or decision is based on race or racial identity. Often playing the race card is designed to put the recipient on the defensive since no one wants to be thought of – let alone be accused of – being racist. It’s also played to discredit, imply ulterior motives and cause divisiveness. Sometimes in the minds of some, the mere mention of race is seen as playing the race card. .

Although some play the race card as an excuse, a way to deflect from an ongoing personal issue or a shortcoming within themselves, others play – or suspect it – when all other reasonable factors are eliminated. For example, if such a person possesses all the desired qualifications for a position and has a sterling performance history, yet gets passed over by someone with lesser credentials, he/she may assume that race (or gender, or age, etc.,)  was the reason for getting passed over. In short, playing the race card is designed to slam the door on meaningful conversations. And unfortunately it often works

So, what do we do?

First, and despite the hurt from being called something that you know that you’re not, understand that the comment says more about your accuser than you. Like the gentleman who accused me of firing him because of his race, chances are that there are others factors going on in the person’s life, ones that you are probably not aware of and, as a result, you may be the target of his/her frustrations. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt!

Second, avoid getting overly defensive, excessively apologetic and trying too hard to convince the person that you’re not what he/she just accused you of. Saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you feel that way about me and, if you open to the possibility, I’m willing to discuss your concerns further. If not, I do want to wish you well!”

And last, forge ahead, just keep on keeping on. Don’t let a single unfounded accusation keep you from saying what needs to be said or doing what needs to be done. Now if you are a racist, shoot me an email and let’s get together so that I can put you on an aggressive “racism reduction program.” And don’t worry because the treatment is covered under Obamacare!

Until the next time….

©Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, trainer and story-teller who reads, writes and revels from Douglasville, Georgia. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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