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.
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.