Playing the racist card

Playing the racist card appeals to some of the lowest elements of society . . . journalists

Playing the racist card

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 18 April 2001

Every so often a disreputable politician or journalist accuses opponents of “playing the race card”. Tony Blair likes to throw this particular insult at William Hague.

Calling someone a racist seems to be a slur that requires no critical analysis. All it takes is to take one passage in a Hague speech about European integration, take one phrase from it - “a foreign land” – out of context, and pretend that it was used in a completely different section of the speech which criticised the government, quite rightly, for the disgraceful incompetence with which they have handled immigration and asylum cases.

To large sections of the media it doesn’t seem to matter that Blair’s charge was wholly bogus and dishonest. Once someone has been called a racist we are all expected to suspend our critical faculties. No one is allowed to deny being a racist, because once the accusation has been made it is considered proven. And once someone is labelled a racist their views, on all subjects, can be safely discounted.

In a particularly disgraceful article the Guardian’s political correspondent, Nicholas Watt condemned Hague’s Harrogate speech which, he claimed “came close to playing the race card”. It should be noted that this was on the paper’s “news” pages, and not presented as a point of view.

All this is very strange, because in the UK today there is no race card. That is not to say that there are no racists. It simply means that any politician expressing racist sentiments would lose more votes than could possibly be gained by the move.

But there is a racist card. Votes can certainly be won by calling your opponents racist. And the total lack of critical analysis by the media the moment this all purpose insult is used, means that no politician is expected to produce a reasoned argument, or even a specific example.

One of the worst offenders in playing the racist card is Charles Kennedy. Kennedy, while acknowledging that Hague is not a racist, called on him to "stop using the easy language of fear and start behaving like a responsible leader of a political party". But, of course, the only person using the “language of fear” is Kennedy. By stirring up people’s fears of racism at every opportunity he is following the usual Liberal Democrat policy of negative campaigning. But in this case the dishonesty is particularly marked.

Playing the racist card is to pander to the blind prejudice of the media, some of the lowest elements of society. Party leaders should all sign a pledge promising never to play the racist card again.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 18 April 2001

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