Playing Trump Cards

by admin on February 16, 2012

Many many years ago when I was in college, I was one of four girls who shared an on-campus apartment.  Of the four, I was the only student of entirely Caucasian heritage.  Very unfortunately, this bit of information does matter.

One of the girls I had lived with the year before, and we got along wonderfully.  The third I had just met, but was a lovely person.  The fourth happened to be African-American, whose parents emigrated to the US in or around the 1980′s from an African state (this is also important).  This fourth girl, whom I’ll call Emily, was initially a great roommate, though she did have us all sit down to discuss racial issues when we first moved in, which should have been a red flag to me.

As the semester progressed, Emily began to display a number of disturbing habits.  She claimed that due to her ethnic type hairstyle that she was unable to wash her hair.  At all.  Ever.  As a result you could literally smell her arriving most days.  She did not wash her bedclothes for months at a time, and we felt terrible for the girl sharing a room with her, as the air in that room became incredibly oppressive.  Despite the reports of a rapist targeting girls in campus housing we could not get her to lock the apartment.  Eventually it appeared that she was leaving the apartment door not only unlocked, but standing open, out of sheer spite.  She also left her much older boyfriend, whom we did not know, on our couch for practically days at a time while she went and hung out with other friends.  The majority of the time he reported that though she had invited him over, he didn’t even know where she was.

Things came to a head over the dishes, however.  She never washed dishes, and after some time we stopped washing hers for her.  At which point she began using our dishes and not washing them either.  We all removed our dishes to our rooms, and stopped washing hers.  Eventually the filthy dishes attracted flies, which turned into maggots, and was generally horrific.

As I was the least shy of our roommates I was the one who ended up having a conversation with Emily about the state of things.  I tried to be as gracious as possible, but she immediately flew into a tirade about how I was oppressing her, and how I should do this work for her to make up for the years of slavery “her people” had endured.  I found this ironic, as her family as stated before, moved here in the 1980s, and mine in the 1890′s, thus neither of us had ancestors that were either American slaves or slaveholders.  Of course, my reasoning approach did nothing but fan the flames.

Eventually, when she physically threatened me when I asked her to please not loudly play her music in the bathroom adjoining my bedroom before 6am or so, I went to the housing administration to ask for a transfer.  I found on discussing the issue with a counselor, that she had gotten there first, and reported that I was a horrible racist bigot, a comment that would permanently be part of my school record.  I was both crushed and horrified, as I was raised that to be prejudiced against someone over skin color would pretty condemn one to the circle of hell where you’re buried up to your neck in garbage and demons use your head as a croquette ball.

So I ended up moving out to live with my mother the rest of the year, which was calm and quiet.   I heard that Emily continued to have problems with everyone and everything, and ended up getting removed from a prestigious internship for yelling in anger at the middle school aged participants.  It’s clear that this girl had some serious issues, and though she made my life hell for quite a while, I do hope these many years later that she received some help and is having an anger-free life.     1001-11

This topic has the potential to be very explosive and combative so I am warning readers now that inflammatory comments will not be approved.    There does need to be discussion on how people can play various “trump cards” to “win” the hand.

trump card  n.

1. Games A card in the trump suit, held in reserve for winning a trick.
2. A key resource to be used at an opportune moment; a trump:

The race “card” is but one of many “trump cards” people can play to avoid the consequences of their actions or justify their actions or get others to cease holding them accountable to behave civilly or to win the discussion/conflict.  A few of the cards people are the handicapped card, the “I’m a weak woman” card, the “pity me” card, or my personal favorite to dislike, the “God told me this” card.   All are trump cards which no one can “beat” with anything better themselves and it effectively stops all conversation.

In my own experiences, the trump card I see used most often is the “God told me….” card.  It is often used when confronting someone about an action or behavior, as if God has given them the seal of approval on doing something others find inappropriate or ill timed or just plain wrong.  Geez, how can you trump Jesus?   Pastor Kevin DeYoung gave a sermon last May at a NEXT conference which included a snippet of how often young ladies have played the “Jesus wants me to only date Him” card as an excuse to end a dating relationship.  DeYoung had a hilarious response to that….”How many girlfriends does Jesus need?  Save some for the brothers!”   That isn’t to say that one cannot possibly hear from God to do or not do X but to use it to achieve certain results from other people is usually a manipulative avenue to ending all discussion on the matter in order to get one’s way.

In the OP’s story, nothing the roommates or the OP does comes off as racist yet Emily plays her race card immediately when confronted with the need to change her habits.   Emily has probably learned over the years that this is a powerful trump card that will stop adversaries in their tracks, frozen into fear of being labeled “racist”.   I think this is an unfortunate misuse of a legitimate resource.  There are times and places to use a “key resource at an opportune moment” when the issue really is about race differences or bigotry.   But using it when it is not the crux of the matter diminishes the impact, or “trump power” that card can have in legitimate applications.    The net result of this experience is that the OP, and probably her roommates, in the future are not likely to give a lot credence to charges of bigotry when used in a similar manner as Emily did.   And perhaps this is a good thing as they analyze for themselves whether someone really is racist as opposed to having a kneejerk reaction of believing the trump card without question.

{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

bloo February 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

OP was the ‘least shy of the roommates’ so she had to have the conversations with Emily? Too bad. Since Emily proved herself to be pretty volatile it would have been better if the other roommates were there to try to ‘graciously reason’ with our dear Emily.

Admin makes excellent point about pulling that trump card out too quick and too often will unfortunately, dilute it’s strength in a ‘legitimate application.’

Poor OP

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Wink-n-Smile February 16, 2012 at 9:28 am

It is sad that OP had the label of “racist” and “bigot” slapped onto her permanent school record. However, as it is neither an academic issue, nor an issue of her breaking any laws or school rules, I don’t see the long-term effects. Embarrassing? Yes. However, even the most PC school cannot (yet) expell a person for being a racist or a bigot – only for acting out, breaking school rules and laws. In short, one can think what one wants, and the school may think they know what OP thinks, but unless and until she gives them some actions for them to condemn, they can’t really touch her.

So, what Emily did was annoying, and yes, it stopped the school from acting against Emily. However, if they had been able to discipline OP for being a racist bigot, I think she would have heard about Emily’s report the hard way, before she approached them, herself.

In other words, Emily’s “trump card” argument obviously doesn’t hold up. We always see just one side of these stories, and there are always people who will jump in with assumptions about the other side. People will say we don’t know that OP didn’t do or say racist things. Well, I believe we know that she did NOT do racist things, simply on the grounds that the school, warned that she was a racist and bigot, never did actually discipline her for any racist actions.

Sorry you had to go through this, OP. You sound like a lovely person.

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LovleAnjel February 16, 2012 at 9:31 am

Oh, how horrible OP! I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that was, even borderline dangerous. You were unlucky not to live with another African-American in the suite, I have a feeling that would have taken the power out of your roommate’s arguments. Perhaps you could have talked to RA earlier on, before she had a chance to poison the well. I am in favor of making a list of responsibilities up front, so everyone know who is responsible for what. It probably wouldn’t have helped, but it would give you something to take to the RA.

I had a messy roommate in college too – she actually ruined my cookie sheets when she left them dirty in the sink for over a week. I locked up my dishes and she resorted to using styrofoam plates and cups that she could just throw out. Honestly, it take 30 seconds to wash your cereal bowl right after you use it, and 20 minutes if you wait a week and let the leftovers dry in there.

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Angela February 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

And the result of Emily’s and ilk’s actions: Jerks now play their trump card, titled “You’re playing the race card”, because in the past/in their mind, THIS will stop the conversation. You don’t have to deal with the minority person’s legitimate complaint if you can brush them off as playing the race card.

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DGS February 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

Emily certainly sounds rude, but she also sounds like she has quite a few potential psychological issues and was beginning to decompensate, her poor hygiene, her anger issues and her paranoia some potential signs that she was in the early stages of a psychotic break (accompanied by either depression or bipolar disorder or a raging personality disorder, although it’s hard to tell without having evaluated her personally). College is when a lot of young people begin to show first signs of mental illness, as the age of onset of a lot of them falls around late adolescence/early adulthood, so it is entirely possible that Emily had much more going on than mere etiquette issues. While OP deserves a lot of compassion for putting up with a horrific roommate who subsequently ruined her reputation on campus, Emily also merits some compassion for what sound like legitimate psychiatric concerns. Hopefully, she has gotten some help, including therapy and medication, and is doing much better somewhere now.

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Jojo February 16, 2012 at 10:02 am

Having lived and worked with tons of people who shared a different heritage to myself, it always amazes me how insular people can be. When I studied in the Netherlands and Denmark, many of my flatmates only socialized with their own cultures. I was fortunate to be the only Brit on my course and in my accommodation so I didn’t hesitate to go out and meet anyone that I could, regardless of their background. When I worked for a festival in a predominantly white but not racist country a few years back, my two black female colleagues ( both from different European countries) completely excluded me. I can only assume I wasn’t included in their cozy lunches, coffee runs and evenings out because I was white and thus part of ‘them’ rather than being a human being in my own right. I do find that once we start hiding behind the stereotypes we make for ourselves and deliberately sticking with ‘our own kind’ that it just magnifies any interaction with people who aren’t like us into something it isn’t. Emily’s just going to have a long, angry and unhappy life blaming others for her own inadequacies and playing the race card, which is a shame – if she’d made the effort she probably could have made some friends instead.

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Justin February 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

I find situations like this extremely frustrating. Racism and discrimination does still exist in our society, which is truely unfortunate. When someone is mistreated or abused because of their ancestry, sexual orientation, gender, or any other trait people should stand up for themselves and those around them and not let the behaviour be tolerated. However, when someone decides to find discrimintation in every situation they are hurting the people who actually are being discriminated against by ‘crying wolf.’

Things like poor personal hygiene, poor social skills, and the inability to live with others in harmony are not linked to any particular race, gender, what have you, they are traits of individual people.

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Xtina February 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

Nothing the OP did or said to Emily could have possibly helped this situation. When one is bound and determined to behave badly, and especially when ones believes that they are *entitled* to behave badly for reasons that are completely unrelated to the issue at hand, then no amount of good sense will get through to them. The trump card is a diversionary tactic, and Emily has obviously learned to use this to her (dubious) advantage. It does not change the fact that it will become very evident to people of any race that spend any amount of time with her that she is dirty, lazy, and irresponsible.

Sadly, trump card’ers live their whole lives wondering how come nobody likes them, how come they can’t maintain relationships, how come there is so much drama in their lives, but nobody can tell them anything, because they have convinced themselves through a lifetime of use that their trump card is legitimate, to the effect that anything BUT what they think will fall on deaf ears.

I agree with the admin that this is one of those cases where Emily is actually doing herself and people like her a great disservice because it lessens the impact of legitimate complaints about inequality.

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NotThumper February 16, 2012 at 10:14 am

I don’t know…when it comes to crap like that let her think I’m a racist. Clearly she’s crazy anyway. I wonder how she would have reacted if the OP had said “yup, you’re right. I’m saying all of this because you’re black. Now what?”

Bet Emily wouldn’t have expected that!

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Miriam February 16, 2012 at 10:14 am

Oh goodness, reminds me of my first two years of college. I was the only white girl in an entire hall of African American females. My roommate was the most amazing person I could ever imagine living with, but in the community bathrooms no one liked me, I could not listen to Michael Jackson or Beyonce without offending somebody (because I’m white, I should listen to some Toby Keith or sumtin’). The best was confronting one of my roommate’s friends for going through my purse (which I walked in and saw her doing) and accusing her made me a racist so that was on my record (and I never got that money back..).

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Kitty Lizard February 16, 2012 at 10:18 am

Bad behavior is bad behavior no matter where it comes from, and bad hygiene is bad hygiene and
no ethnicity excuses it. I hope the poster was able to get the racist tag removed from her school records after the girl lost the internship. My daughter, in grade school, had two little friends whose mother had a master’s degree in urban planning from Harvard. Their mother suggested an overnight. I agreed to it.
When I went to drop them off and went into their condo, I nearly dropped dead. There were clothes on the floor – actually, you couldn’t see the floor. There were at least two weeks worth of dirty dishes in the sink – with food on them. The smell was incredible. I didn’t see the upstairs, but it couldn’t have been any better. I didn’t really want to leave my child there, but was too chicken to say so. The next morning
when I went to pick her up, she told me when she got up early to go to the bathroom, she nearly broke
her ankle when she stepped on a toy hidden on all the clothes on the floor in her friend’s room. Squalor is not confined to ethnicity, although, thank God, the kids were always clean.

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Amber February 16, 2012 at 10:27 am

I hate the misuse of the trump cards. What if Emily ever actually came up against someone who was truly a terribly bigot who kept her from, say, a job? How will anyone believe her when she’s well known for crying racist? And those people who were initially accused (before Emily’s constant accusations are finally questioned) are looked at askance by others until they escape to a new locale. So, a bigot goes Scot free to continue his or her terrible policy against others while innocent folk are dragged in muck by false accusation.

There are plenty of racists, sexists, homophobes and people who look at differently abled people as undeserving of basic human interaction. If those of us who are part of a group that bigots like to demean cry wolf for our own personal gain, all we will achieve is the ruination of an innocent’s reputation while also strengthening the power and position of the bigots. A short term gain equals a long term loss for everyone.

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Goldie February 16, 2012 at 10:50 am

As a mother with one child living on campus and the other starting college in a couple of years, I wonder… why wasn’t the OP able to get the “racist” comment struck from her permanent record? I’d hate to see one of my kids end up with an unjust comment on their record and unable to do anything about it. I didn’t go to college in the US, so I honestly do not know. Is there some kind of a rule that anything that gets on the record, stays on the record, or can these things be reversed?

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Gracie C. February 16, 2012 at 11:00 am

wow – if the OP hadn’t said she was the only full caucasian in the situation, I would have sworn she was my former roommate writing about another of ours. In my case there were 6 of us, 2 full caucasian – and 4 of various ethnicities. Two of whom were disgusting slobs (and problematic in very similar ways as described) – which had nothing to do with their ethnicity, but one of the two did try to claim racism when the rest of us would gang up on them about their disgusting habits. She would swear that the other girl whose ethnicity was exactly the same as hers was not only racist but a traitor for siding with people not of their race. It was absurd. I don’t know that I ever said anything so blunt, but I think today I would simply say, “Your personal hygeine and household cleanliness are unacceptable and it has nothing to do with race.” The other offender, thankfully, would be horribly embarrassed and try harder for a while, but would always fall off the wagon again. Luckily they only lived with us one semester and then moved on. The cleaning that was necessary in the bathroom they shared makes me horrified just thinking about it to this day.

Meanwhile, “How many girlfriends does Jesus need…” – PRICELESS!

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Wendy February 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

I didn’t live in student housing while in college, fortunately, but I think there is at least one obvious question: why did the roommates wait so long before going to someone in authority? Which leads to the next question, why the passive-agressive approach? From day one someone should have said, “Yes, you can wash your hair/bedclothes/dishes and if you do not, we will, as a group, go to the housing administration and ask to have you moved.” Period.

Of course, it’s too late now to do anything about it, but for future reference for anyone else planning on college roommates, be proactive from day one. Set some ground rules and don’t let things “fester.” (Both literally and figuratively!)

I do feel bad, though, for the girls involved…that things got that disgusting, that the housing administration wouldn’t hear both sides of the story, etc. I think we can assume this girl was both unstable and raised to feel entitled…a dangerous combination!

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Princess Buttercup February 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

One I’ve seen often is; “you’re religious so you can’t disagree with me, so I win”. That to me is the ultimate in “I’ve got nothing so I’m going to stick my fingers in my ears and yell la-la-la!!”. At that point I mention that their statement is completely false and a sign of desperation and walk away.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are _so_ many people who have no common sense when it comes to communal living. How do so many people have no clue how to do basic clean up after themselves and have basic courtesy for room/house mates? In my experience there are way more “no sense” roommates then actual good roommates.

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Jesbelle February 16, 2012 at 11:39 am

Don’t forget the PMS card. That excuses every tirade, tizzy, and general grumpy behavior you have for at least one week every month — more, if your victims don’t have access to a calender.

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Politrix February 16, 2012 at 11:50 am

In my humble opinion, this is less an issue of etiquette, or even an issue of race, as it is about someone who has serious psychological problems (I’m referring, of course, to Emily, not the OP!) My only comment is that the OP and her other room mates should have confronted Emily about her inappropriate behavior much earlier, and had that not worked, gone all three together to the school counselor to address the issue as a unit. In this way, the complaints against her would carry much more weight and validity, and would be less likely to degenerate into accusations of racism and bigotry. I’m not sure why the OP’s room mates allowed her to confront Emily alone, when clearly they all had issues with what she was doing.

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Cat February 16, 2012 at 11:52 am

Mental illness knows no racial boundaries and this room mate sounds more mentally ill than anything else. I have known many Africans, but never met one who did not believe quite strongly in personal grooming, dishwashing, and clean bed linens.

As was pointed out, there’s an “any old stick to beat the dog” quality to this saga. Whether I believe God told me to do something-and I did have a friend who told me that “God” had told her to break up with her boyfriend although she never did it- or that I am being subjected to ill treatment because I am short, tall, fat, thin, religious, agnostic, atheist, white, black, gay,celibate, a cat-lover…while it does happen, it also happens that people use such things as an excuse for their own deplorable behavior.

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WildIrishRose February 16, 2012 at 11:57 am

When OP went to the housing administration and found that Emily had gotten there first, she should have INSISTED that someone from that administration accompany her back to the apartment to see for himself the yuck that Emily perpetrated on her roommates. She would no doubt have been backed by the other two girls, and her record would be clean and she wouldn’t have had to move out and in with her mom. This whole thing could have been handled better. Emily sounds like she has a chip on her shoulder for no good reason, and she needed to be called on it by someone in authority. Sounds like there was plenty of evidence against her.

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Stacey Frith-Smith February 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

It is true that trump cards stop all conversation and come in all forms. In the case of the OP, the duration if not the degree of agony could have been mitigated by talking to her flatmate much sooner in the process, followed by a visit to the housing administration when she failed to comply. Some people do indeed assign blame externally, making others become a sort of container where all bad feelings can be projected. Being victimized in this fashion can create an appalling aftermath of unexplained wounding and guilt. I hope OP can remove herself from the scenario and simply decline to play her originally assigned role, even in her memory.

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GoTwins February 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm

The saddest thing about people using the race card is it’s a slap in the face to those who actually experience true racism.

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LilyG February 16, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I give the OP props for graciousness and courage. It is difficult to approach a loaded subject no matter how objective one is. My daughter had a similar experience last year as a freshman at a prestigious art school. In that case, the other party played the “you’re an anti-Semite” card. It didn’t ruin my daughter’s life, but it has made her wary of an entire group of people undeserving of suspicion.

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lkb February 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I’m sorry to read this and wondered if the OP was able to take steps to defend her record with the housing department. It seems a shame that her record was damaged by hearsay evidence with no chance to state her side of the story. Glad she was able to get out of the situation though.

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Calli Arcale February 16, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thank you for that beautiful explanation of why Emily’s use of this particular trump was wrong. It’s not about race at all. While I could certainly forsee someone who actually did have slave ancestors and who was talking to someone else who actually did have slaveholding ancestors using the trump card in this way, it doesn’t excuse it — a trump card only has real power when it is relevant. Otherwise, it’s just an excuse, and using it that way tarnishes it against its real use.

I actually encountered someone using a variant of the “gold told me this” card in a roommate situation. With no attempt to work things out with me or even to tell me what the heck I’d done to offend, my roommate (who I thought was also my best friend) informed me that she couldn’t live with someone who had “problems with God” and had already arranged for a transfer to a different room. She moved out the next day. The whole thing still baffles me to this day. I’ve always been a Christian. Heck, I was a Christian longer than she was. I have no idea what she thought was the real problem; she never told me, nor explained what sort of problem she thought I had with God. The only precipitating event I can think of is that I’d confronted her not long before about the guilt I was feeling; we’d moved together from a much louder dorm into one of the handicapped rooms because she couldn’t tolerate the noise in that dorm. We’d done so using my ADD diagnosis as a justification, but I felt guilty because really it was a lie — I wasn’t having any problems with the noise at all. She was the one who couldn’t stand that dorm, and I went along with her plan in order to get us moved. But it doesn’t make sense that she’d make up something horrible about me just because I confessed I was feeling guilty about going along with her idea. I fell into a terrible depressive funk at that point; I felt massively rejected. But when I came out of that, I eventually decided that I was well rid of her. Obviously she’d never been much of a friend at all.

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inNM February 16, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I’ve blocked a trump card once. I was at a small amusement park one afternoon with a Caucasian friend, S, (while, I myself am predominantly Black, and look so) when we observed this family (also Black) with four wild children in line ahead of us to use the race cars. We get in, start the race and my friend and I are concerned with our own private race between us… until I was heading up an incline and was hit smack dab in the face by a wad of spit. Considering the activity, I had deduced the wad of spit came from the car in front of me, which was driven by one of the boy children of the wild family. I pulled over at the first opportunity, which cause the ride operator to come over to assist me, and I made a complaint as I furiously wiped my face.

At the end of the ride, one of the ride operators approached the family and asked them to leave for spitting on the track. I know this because I was in the car right behind their cars, and I could hear the conversation clearly. The parents began their loud performance to play their race card, insinuating that this was a racist establishment, and their precious son would never, ever spit, far less to spit on anyone, and they wanted to know which racist white person would complained about their son. At this point, I walked up behind the poor operator, and said, “Me. I’m the racist white person that your son spit on. And I’m not white.” The family clammed up immediately, and hustled their family from the park, without the help of the staff. The staff was appreciative of the quick and final end of the situation that they offered my friend and I a free turn on the racetrack, good for any one time for the rest of the day.

If you have to resort to the trump card, be it race or otherwise, it’s a sign of desperation. It’s a sign that I’ve won.

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Redblues February 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

‘Emily’ sounds mentally ill. I would have reported her and requested an apartment change as soon as she wouldn’t lock the door and let some strange guy sleep on the couch and hang out when she wasn’t even there. I wonder if any of the other residents requested residence changes? It would have been good if all of you had.

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Ellen CA February 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

To me, the most horrifying part of this story is the assertation that the roommate’s report ” that I was a horrible racist bigot”, would permanently be part of the OP’s school record. What kind of school is this?

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nannerdoman February 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Unhappily, I can see a similar problem arising today. One solution might be to notify the housing office that one roommate was refusing to wash her bedding or dishes, leading to an unhealthy and untenable condition for all the residents. The housing office would have the authority to handle the situation.

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Ashley February 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Race should never be a trump card in situations where race clearly isn’t the issue.

I work at a loan office and once had to turn down an African American woman because there was nothing at all about her information that checked out. I would have turned ANYONE who came in with that information down. Not one thing provided was up to the standards and guidelines we are required by law to follow. I attempted to explain all of this to her as politely as possible. Her race never entered into my explanation. I have other customers of all races. Before I could even finish explaining, she started shouting at me about how I was a (pardon the language here, her words, not mine) “racist white b**** in a racist white town”. I was so flabbergasted I honestly did not know what to say other than to offer to call my manager and have HER explain the policies.

My manager was working in a different office in a different town this day. She could not see this woman. She did not know her race. She explained the policies, and then the woman started shouting similar obscenities down the phone at my manager, accusing her of being racist as well. Then she THREW the phone back at me and left.

To this day I am still unsure as to why she thought race would be an effective trump card in this situation. Other than leaving me completely at a loss for words, it did nothing to improve her chances of getting a loan.

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Cherry February 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm

You know, Emily runs the risk of eventually being trapped in a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” situation. Unfortunately, racists do exist, but if one goes around accusing everyone of racism in order to get their way, then if there was ever a real complaint about racial abuse or harassment, Emily may find that people don’t take her allegations very seriously due to her history of crying wolf.

Also, the fact that an allegation was, without any proof besides Emily’s testimony, placed on OP’s permanent record is awful. Emily should NOT have done it, but to have it written down, to potentially cause OP a lot of problems, without even checking the facts is a huge fail by the school.

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Timothy February 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm

The playing of the “race card” was bad enough, but to go to the counselor to get you labeled a “racist bigot”? That’s despicable. Regardless of race, doing anything to get a permanent mark on one’s permanent record that will follow them for the rest of their schooling out of spite is just wrong. Is it illegal? I don’t know. But it is quite unethical.

As well, Emily should have been reprimanded by the school board for leaving the door open at a time of a rapist on campus warning. That was dangerous not just for Emily, but her roommate as well. Of course, had the school done that, she may well have simply played the race card, but the effort should still have been made.

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gramma dishes February 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I am disturbed by the idea that your counselor would listen to an accusation like that — and include that “information” in your school record — without any follow up. Isn’t it usual and customary to hear the other side of such a complaint?

Perhaps when you went to the counselor or dean of housing or whoever was the person in charge, all three of the rest of you should have gone together. (I know. Too late now.)

I’m sorry you moved out. She should have been the one who moved. Unfortunately I’m afraid that the lesson she learned was that she ‘won’. She behaved very obnoxiously and she got her way! I hate when that happens. ;-)

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Bint February 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm

All racism aside, Emily was disgusting and an absolute witch!

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clairedelune February 16, 2012 at 2:35 pm

the most puzzling thing to me about all this is the idea that “Emily” registered a complaint with the housing office that the office evidently took seriously enough to place in the OP’s permanent record–but not so seriously that they notified OP of the charge or gave her any chance to respond to it.

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LadyK February 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I know of someone who defeated the ‘race card’ once. Some background on her: her father left her family when she was young and she was raised and adopted by the African-American man her mother married later on. So to pull the race card on her is something you do at your own risk, as she has quite the acerbic tongue when she gets going.

One day she was shopping and a gentleman of African-American persuasion started harassing her, telling her things related to her shopping and trying to get her number. She kept brushing him off and eventually he pulled out the race card.

Him: You won’t date me ’cause I’m Black!
Her: No, I just don’t date outside my species, and you are an ass.

She just walked off, leaving him stunned and the shoppers who overheard rolling with laughter.

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travestine February 16, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I had a forner landlady try to use the opposite of the “God told me …” trump card.

B/G She had effectively evicted me from the home I had rented from her for eight years. She asked permission for her contractor to come in and “have a look” at a leak problem in the main bathroom of a one floor house. When I came home from work, the floors had been ripped up from the ensuite in my bedroom to the kitchen. Everything I owned (including very personal items) had been loaded into bins and placed in my living room. My front door was wide open and my indoor cats were missing. I had to move into a hotel for two weeks (at her expense, thank goodness, although the insurance company paid).

What ended up happening was that I had to move far away from my neighbourhood, my son was devastated and one of my cats died. THEN – when I asked for the return of my security deposit, she tried to claim I had caused all of this “damage” to her home in the eight years I had taken care of not only the floor I lived on, but the basement suite. When I insisted, she started in on my religion – “some good Christian you are, what a good Christian lady, trying to take money from me in these circumstances. If the people at your church knew what you were doing, they wouldn’t let you in. You’re a TERRIBLE Christian!”. This from a woman who never set foot in a church – and didn’t know that it was the men and women of my church who pitched in, helped me gather up my belongings, clean everything we could, and move to my new place.

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NotCinderell February 16, 2012 at 3:58 pm

The saddest part about all this is, racism still does exist in our society, and it’s a huge problem. Playing this “trump card” as a way to never be accountable for one’s actions results in a person who has a legitimate claim of racial discrimination being ignored.

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--Lia February 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

There’s a comment on your permanent record saying that you’re a horrible racist? The problem is with the housing administration. I don’t know what college you’re at, but if you’re in the U.S., you’re entitled to a hearing, a sort of in-house trial, before you’re convicted of that sort of crime. (“Convicted” is not the right word since that would have the sense of an actual criminal investigation, but you get the idea.) If the university actually has a rule that says that whoever complains first is deemed correct, that should be taken to the school newspaper or the city newspaper to make such a thing public. Nothing like a little free press to rectify an unfair situation.

I’ve just reread the original letter and see that this all took place many years ago, so my advice about exposing the housing office for its unfair practices is a little late. But if there’s something on your permanent record, I’d still urge you to reopen the case.

All that said, I’m glad for the admin’s essay on trump cards. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.

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Enna February 16, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Wow. Emily sounds dangerous – if I was her roommate and she left the door open I wouldn’t tolerate that espeically if there was a rapist around. I hope the OP got that false allegation wiped off her record. If someone’s housemate/room mate is being really untidy and dirty and they tired to play the race card with me I would say “it has nothing to do with your race, it has everything to do with your lazy personality.” Some posters have p0inted out that if Emily carries on she will be like the Boy Who Cried Wolf and I agree. But would also want to add this: she could end up being sued for slander/libel.

If someone finds themselves in a simliar position – with a dirty housemate then take photos: if the housemate tires to play dirty then they can’t deny the photos. Also if it just come to a race-trump card situation getting character refernces can be useful.

@ Ashley when that woman called you a “racist white B@@@@” that was infact racist as she used the word “white” in conjunction with an insult. Also generalising that the entire town was white and racist is in itself racist as it is making a prejudice genrealiastion based on race.

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Lucy February 16, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Um, this chick sounds like she needed a mental health intervention. Seriously, I would have acted much, much, sooner, and reported her to school authorities (in a concerned way, not a punitive one).

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Kira February 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm

She should have gone to whoever was in charge asking for advise. Stating one of the flatmates was causing issues and could they come act as an intermediary while they have a GROUP house meeting where EVERYONE spoke up. Or even just to state it on the record (all of them individually) and if going about it alone resulted in this. When the girl came to speak to them there is already a record.

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Cat Whisperer February 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Emily is crazy. Crazy in the sense of not responding rationally and reasonably to people who are acting rational and reasonable. (She is also, perhaps, “crazy” in the sense of having a real mental illness, as defined by the diagnostic “bible” of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), but that’s not what I want to address.)

Here’s what I have learned about dealing with crazy people:

1. You cannot uncrazy them. No matter how hard you try, you cannot uncrazy a crazy person by trying to reason with them, show them logical truth or even practical common sense.

2. They can make YOU crazy. That’s because the knee-jerk reaction of normal reasonable people, when they meet crazy, is to try to behave reasonably, and the crazy person does not respond the way normal reasonable people respond. They say and do illogical irrational things that leave you sputtering and speechless, trying to figure out how in the name of little green apples their response makes any sense at all, and how it is possible to respond. It makes you crazy.

So how do you deal with crazy people? First of all, you learn to recognize crazy when you see it. And you accept that you cannot uncrazy the crazy person. So you don’t try.

How does this apply to this particular case? When Emily started acting in ways that were irrational, e.g. the hygiene and safety issues and her response to the concerns of her roommates about these things, you recognize that you are dealing with crazy.

The only successful way to deal with crazy is to find a way to put distance between yourself and the crazy person. When it became apparent that Emily’s behavior put her in the ranks of crazy people, it’s time to start working on an escape strategy.

My daughter is in college, and I remember from my college days, that if you’re involved in a roommate issue with on-campus housing, they want you to try to work things out with your roommates before you go to an escalating series of contacts with the housing authority: work it out yourself, if that fails go to the resident advisor; if that fails go to the head resident; if that fails, go to the housing authority, which usually offers some sort of mediation. OP undoubtedly had to work her way through this, which is a pity. When you’re dealing with a person who is crazy, this isn’t going to work. It would be nice if colleges had a way to “cut to the chase” and allow an immediate change in a situation where people in a residence hall are dealing with someone who is crazy.

I think OP did the correct things, etiquette-wise, but I also think that as a learning experience, she needs to recognize that she was dealing with someone who was not behaving rationally, and those are people for whom the rules of etiquette are superseded by another set of rules: the rules for personal safety. The issues of hygiene that she mentioned, specifically insects breeding in dirty dishes, are distressing enough; but failure to secure the residence at a time when there is a known rapist in the area is a much higher magnitude of putting everyone at risk. It’s at that point that you need to forget etiquette and think about safety– and that means going to campus security, complaining to the housing authority, doing whatever it takes to get rid of the person who is behaving in a way that puts others at risk.

My daughter and I have had a talk about this sort of thing, because she’s sometimes more concerned about appearing rude than being safe. I’ve told her that my view on that is I’d rather have people think she’s rude than get the kind of phone call or visit from police that every parent dreads: “We need you to come to the hospital/morgue to identify your daughter.” Better safe and rude than polite and dead. JMO.

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Jenny February 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I am appalled by comments and I understand that it is a terrible problem.

But it’s also not okay to make comments about “White privilege.” I had a classmate and former friend who was African American, while I am white. She’s always making comments about how I was a privileged white girl. The thing is, she went to a posh private school, I went to public school. I worked three jobs through college, her parents gave her extra money because they didn’t want her waiting tables like I did. So it was very annoying her constant comments how “well you had everything.” She had way more than I did!

Sure, the stats are what they are, and it is still a problem. But interacting like that was just hurtful. Racial insensitivity cuts both way.

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Just Laura February 16, 2012 at 9:41 pm

My mother teaches in an at-risk school in the Dallas area. Many of her students are of a darker complexion. One time, a parent yelled at my mother, saying that Mother was failing her child because the child wasn’t white. Therefore, my mother must be a white racist. My mother yelled back that she is, in fact, American Indian, so perhaps this woman was persecuting her due to race! (Mother is Poarch Creek.) That was the last time Mother was accused of being unfair to other races.

I’ve used that too. When an unpleasant person in college said I should feel bad about my (supposedly white) race’s past, I said, that I do. “It’s terrible to have one’s ancestral lands stolen.” Some folks forget about the other nonwhite race in America.

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Edhla February 16, 2012 at 10:41 pm

I am appalled that all it takes is a baseless accusation to get “racist” and “bigot” on your permanent record. That’s disgusting!

Although you couldn’t possibly have known it at the time, this is probably a good example of why polite spine is better than suffering in silence. Emily MAY have reacted that badly if you’d pulled her up before maggots were involved, but it seems like she got away with so much for so long that she completely flipped when she was finally called on her behaviour.

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ilex February 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm

I’m shocked that the OP was marked as a bigot on her record. She was threatened with physical violence in her home and they told her this “racist” remark against her would be permanent? She should have called FIRE.

The attitude that skin color alone automatically makes one the descendent of American slavery (or slaveholding) also gets to me. I come from a mixed race family. Some family members look totally white, but are, in fact, descended from slaves. If she had tried that on my niece, Emily would have had another thing coming.

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Kathryn February 17, 2012 at 5:01 am

The kids at my school like to play the trump card a lot. I work in a school that’s 99% Indigenous kids and the naughty ones love to say (among other expletives) “you hate me coz I’m black!!” Yup, I’m working at this school, out of ALL the other schools in the WHOLE country and I hate black people. SURE!!! It makes me giggle a little.

Related, I hate it when various key words are said that shut me down. For example:
•are you PMS-ing today? (PMS card)
•stop being such a nag! (Nagging card)
•why are women so emotional? (Emotion card)
Things that validate them not listening to me or taking me seriously! Boy, it makes my blood boil!!

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LiLi February 17, 2012 at 8:53 am

Admin is certainly right about the “trump cards” and when the race trump card is used it undermines accusations of true racism. Unfortunately on both sides of the spectrum will try to use it to get their way (ie She only got the job due to affirmative action, he only got into that school cuz he’s a rich white boy).

My husband sadly had to deal with this. He is a white male who was up for a promotion at his job and the other candidate was a black woman. It basically involves working with students, a large portion tend to be minority. He has experience and a master’s degree in the field. She had a lot of experience but never pursued her degree. One day after the interview process started, DH’s boss calls DH into his office. Boss lets my husband know that he was been approached by the HR department, it seems as though someone lodged a complaint that he’s a “bigot” and a “racist” after being in the department for over 8 years. HR came to talk to boss directly and boss said he initially laughed at the accusation until he realized that the complaint was serious. From what I understand boss responded something close to the following:

“Well I have known him for the past 8 years and I’m black and we’ve never had a problem. His best friend in the world is a gay black man. His lovely fiancee is half Irish, West Indian. So either he is REALLY good at hiding his racism, or someone is trying to tarnish his good name.”

HR notated that they investigate and found the claim to be baseless, but its still in his HR file. That was the last that was heard of the complaint and DH eventually got the promotion, but he was rightfully upset for days. There was never any indication that the other candidate had a direct hand in lodging the complaint, but it was just a little too coincidental.

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Sarah Jane February 17, 2012 at 9:27 am

The worst thing about playing the “race card” is that most of the time, it is racist in and of itself.

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