Playing the race card is an idiomatic phrase that refers to the exploitation of either racist or anti-racist attitudes in the audience.


The phrase is commonly used to allege that someone has deliberately and falsely accused another person of being a racist in order to gain some sort of advantage.[1][2] An example of this use of the term occurred during the O. J. Simpson murder trial, when critics accused the defense of "playing the race card"[3] in presenting Mark Fuhrman's past (e.g., his recorded use of the word "nigger," alleged tampering with murder evidence in prior cases, and use of the Fifth Amendment to avoid potential self-incrimination upon questioning) as reasons to draw his credibility as a witness into question.

Stanford professor Richard Thompson Ford has argued that the race card can be played independently of the person making the claim, or the race in question. An example cited was the Hillary Clinton campaign's assertion that Obama won the 2008 Democratic primary in South Carolina due to the disproportionate number of black registered Democrats in the state, implying more racism in the general population.[4]

George Dei, et al., in the book Playing the Race Card[5] argue that the term itself is a rhetorical device used in an effort to devalue and minimize claims of racism.

Malaysian politicsEdit

In February 2008, Group Chief Editor Wong Chun Wai of The Star wrote, just before the Malaysia general election came, there is an unusual degree of tolerance and flexibility in matters of race, language and religion as politicians try to woo the people. "Also, there are those who still continue to play the race card, in this age and time. At their party conferences each year, they play to the gallery by projecting themselves as the communal heroes. But during the general election, they shamelessly become the true Malaysian leaders we dream of. They greet their voters in Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil; and if they can speak all these languages fluently, they would do so."[6]

In August 2006, the Singapore Institute of International Affairs wrote that Malaysia politician Khairy Jamaluddin "played the race card" by stirring up the Malays and the Chinese Malaysian community. Responding to criticisms and demands for an apology, Khairy said his remarks were misunderstood and he "will not apologize" as he was acting only "in defense of the Malays and his party" and that "if we truly fight for our race, one should not apologize".[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Schraub, David. "Playing with Cards: Discrimination Claims and the Charge of Bad Faith." Social Theory and Practice 42, no. 2 (2016): 285-303.
  2. ^ "Playing the race card: Trump or joker?". BBC News. 2001-04-24. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  3. ^ Wickham, DeWayne (2005-04-04). "Spare Cochran legacy of 'race card' label". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  4. ^ Ford, Richard Thompson (2008). The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-24575-7.
  5. ^ Dei, George Jerry Sefa; Leeno Luke Karumanchery; Nisha Karumanchery-Luik (January 2004). Playing the Race Card: Exposing White Power and Privilege (1st ed.). New York: Peter Lang USA. ISBN 978-0-8204-6752-8. OCLC 51266234.[page needed]
  6. ^ Wai, Wong Chun (2008-02-10). "All for the sake of winning votes". The Star. Archived from the original on 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
  7. ^ "Use of race card stirs controversy in Malaysia". Singapore Institute of International Affairs. 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2008-09-09.