What Exactly is the “Race Card”?


By Billy D. Washington

Edited By Al Bahmani

Of the hundreds of adorable people I met and performed for in North Carolina this past weekend I received one complaint, apparently there was a patron who thought I played the “race card” in my performance far too often. Help me out here.

What exactly is that? Why are black people so susceptible to it’s definition?

Jews seem to be able to talk about being Jewish, gay comics seem to be able to talk about being gay, overweight comedians, short comedians, Mexican comedians, etc. expose their differences in ways that are both entertaining and compelling, but when a black comedian shares his experiences with hue as a backdrop then we’re somehow labeled as some sort of an extremist. The “race card” as I know it is an extreme definition of one who uses his race as an excuse for his shortcomings. I am wise enough to know that on some levels I am judged based on the color of my skin but it’s weight is not in the scarlet letter proportion just in order to make people laugh.

If I say, “Michelle Obama is the first black woman to make love in the White House since the Jefferson administration” am I playing the race card, or am I integrating a a clever concept into an obscure albeit true reference to American history?

If I say, “My great, great grandfather was a runaway slave because my great, great grandmother was a bitch” am I playing the race card or have I created a misdirection piece that can be both logical and far fetched at the same time.

If I say that “I hope Republicans run out of gas on their way home”, it’s not that I literally want them to be stranded on the side of the road, it’s a specific reference to how gas prices skyrocketed during the Republican administration. I know it seems pretty petty but our patron took offense to it.

For those who know me and have seen my work you know I do not rely on “white men walk like this…” material to make people laugh. Sometimes I wish I could write in a way that’s more consistent to what people view as black comedy, but I can only make believable what I know. When I say, “I was the only black cop patrolling an all white neighborhood” , it’s true, and for me not to share those experiences would undermine the integrity of what it do. I can’t talk about crackheads and make that funny because have never hung out with any, but would not be opposed to it if it gives me another 5 minutes of material.

There are people who use being black as a crutch, in my shows I use it as a plot point along with a myriad of other topics ranging from singing cats to Stephen Hawking.

Someone once said, “Play the cards that you’re dealt”. For the record I’ve never been dealt the “race card” but if it was in my hand I’m smart enough to know that even if played it … it can never beat a full house.


Billy D. Washington is a former Harris County Deputy Constable in Harris County, Texas (Houston) turned international touring headliner. He’s been seen on “Last Comic Standing” and “The Late Show With Craig Ferguson” and the movie “Arlington Road”. He is also an accomplished musician and playwright.

Originally Written January 13th, 2010

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