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The "race card" refers to an argumentative tactic in which someone tries to exploit racism or anti-racism in order to advance a position.
One may "play the race card" in order to appeal to allies who share antipathy towards a particular group. This can often be done through the use of terms that have a dog whistle effect, allowing the person playing the card to bring race into the argument without directly expressing racist sentiments.
One may also "play the race card" by accusing an opponent of racism without reasonable justification in order to demonize them with ad hominem attacks. It should be noted that, since racial inequality is a foundational element of many social and political systems, assumptions about race and racism are often at play in political debates even if they are not being clearly articulated at a given moment. Nonetheless, it is far from unheard of for people to inject race into disputes where it was clearly never the matter at hand.
In America some liberal politicians and pundits may try to play the race card against conservatives to dismiss them all as racist, and it is the case that the GOP has a race problem more significantly than Democrats do  and have employed campaign strategies to woo the racist vote. The popularity of Birtherism among the right also gave off the preconception that most Republican voters are racist...which, considering the GOP's power in The South suggests that there may be a problem there.
Nevertheless, not all Republicans and/or conservatives are racist, and the accusation of racism can be hurled without merit. Some examples:
- Dismissing all criticism of Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder as racist.
- Accusing all Republicans of being racist.
- Accusing all Donald Trump supporters of being racist.
- Chris Matthews calling gun nuts "racist."
- Al Sharpton, Alton Maddox, and C. Vernon Mason accusing a prosecutor of being racist and having been involved in a racially motivated gang rape of Tawana Brawley because the prosecutor, a white man, didn't believe Brawley had been raped after examining the evidence.
- A distressing number of people at Duke university and around the country, including Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, claiming during the Duke lacrosse case that either the accused students or all of the white players on the team were racists, that the accused students received special treatment because they were white and their accuser, Crystal Gail Mangum, was black (even though that was precisely why the prosecutor targeted them), and that racism motivated the gang rape Mangum alleged. Some went even further, openly and/or implicitly arguing that the students should be punished due to their "white privilege" regardless of whether they had actually done anything.
- Louisiana State Senator Karen Peterson saying that opposition to Obamacare is caused by racism.
- Calling all opposition to Affirmative Action, either conceptually or in practice, "racist."
- Claiming that any criticism of Islam is Islamophobia and/or racist.
- Jesse Jackson criticizing Obama in 2007 for "actin' white."
- Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson flirting with anti-Semitism.
- Saying Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina makes him racist, as opposed to just incompetent (or semi-conscious neglect of poor people since, as Barbara Bush suggested, the situation was "working very well" for Katrina victims, who "were underprivileged anyway".
- A number of people who supported the Jena Six claiming racial motivations were behind some of the events which led up to it and the sentences for the people involved, even those where there was strong evidence that race had not been a factor and those which demonstrably had no relation to the case at all.
- Both sides of the Trayvon Martin debate got caught up in accusations of racism, some of which proved to be wholly falsified.
- Uber attempting to justify its dubious (at best) business practices by claiming without evidence that the taxi systems in New York, where mayor Bill DeBlasio was one of the first to call them out, are racist, all the while entirely failing to address the issues DeBlasio actually raised.
- Implying or outright saying that food stamps/welfare is a racist Democratic plot to control minority communities. Quote mining LBJ (yes, that LBJ) is usually a favorite for those who make this accusation.
- Similarly, saying liberals are trying to brainwash minorities to feel "victimized" in order to control them. Even crazier right-wingers will compare liberalism in the black community to "plantations" or "slavery." (We'd advise you to search the current white-to-minority ratio in the Congressional GOP, thanks.)
- Calling abortion a "black genocide." Innumeracy in statistics, much?
- Dismissing criticism of black conservatives as racist (e.g. Fox News calling Jon Stewart racist for making fun of Herman Cain). Many conservative bloggers are quite edgy about this, often saying that it's only a matter of time before liberals attack conservative minorities for "opening their eyes." Stewart's response is quite relevant (and funny).
- Calling liberals in general racist.
- Saying liberals created ghettos to control the black community, or because they hate minorities. Lolwut.
- Again, most Birtherism has racist undertones. (It was started by a few bitter Hillary Clinton supporters, but was dragged out for much longer and by far more right wing activists and far-right websites.)
- Calling Barack Obama racist against whites, or saying his "loyalties" lie with Kenya and thus he hates "imperialist America."
- Rush Limbaugh blaming Barack Obama for a white student being attacked by a black student on a bus.
- "Barack HUSSEIN Obama"
- Herman Cain comparing the New York Times to the KKK.
- Dismissing any criticism of Israel, or lack of support for Israel, as anti-Semitic. (This effectively means that a majority of Jews are anti-Semites.)
- Jews who are in any way critical of Israel may be referred to as "Self-hating Jews".
- For the pseudo-intellectual wingnut, implying Democrats are racist because the Democratic party of yesteryear supported the KKK is popular.
- NC Senator Jesse Helms' 1990 campaign creating an ad that portrayed a black man taking a white man's job was accused of exploiting racism against blacks. The accusations are probably justified.
- Nixon's Southern Strategy.
- Accusing all liberals of playing the race card or being obsessed with race (Damn, this one's meta).
- Creating paranoia around Muslims. This includes Michelle Bachmann and Frank Gaffney's attempts to label State Department official Huma Abedin (Anthony Weiner's wife) a Muslim radical, or arguments in favor of openly discriminating against Muslims in airports. Being paranoid about Keith Ellison is also popular (his skin color also helps).
Playing the "race card" card
Sometimes actually racist comments being called out for being, well, racist, will be dismissed as the "PC crowd playing the race card where racism isn't an issue." For instance, when Sarah Palin accused President Obama of engaging in "shuck-and-jive", or when she gave shoutouts to Birthers, those who called out her comments for being racist were dismissed by some as being "PC libtards playing the race card where racism isn't an issue." The same applies to Birthers who, when called out for pushing a borderline racist conspiracy theory, may claim that they're having the race card played against them where racism supposedly isn't an issue. Ben Carson became Fox News' latest token conservative hero when he whined about "political correctness" at prayer session (with Obama present).
patriots nationalists may also try to pass off something in American history that was clearly racist as not being racist, accusing historians who disagree with them of "playing the race card where there isn't any racism". Claiming Japanese Internment during World War II wasn't racist is a favorite among these folks, and people also tend to get up in arms if you call the Founding Fathers racist. And don't forget about the plain silly like saying Robert E Lee was not in favor of slavery - despite the fact that he personally knowingly and willingly led armies in defense of it. But of course the Civil War was not about slavery. States' rights are a favorite with those folks.
- You thought that was a joke. It wasn't.
- E.W. Jackson strikes. Wingnuts love it.
- Herman Cain pulled this too, apparently.
- Bernie Goldberg calls Jon Stewart a racist, while just asking questions
- http://www.rightwingnews.com/liberalism-in-120-seconds/liberalism-in-120-seconds-liberals-who-criticize-herman-cain-are-racists/] John Hawkins claims liberals are racist against minorities
- #19 on the list
- Glenn Beck
- Elbert Guillory pulled this as well
- It's Jonah Goldberg, so you know it's good.
- E.W. Jackson strikes again