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Play the race card

Posted by ESC on September 01, 2000

In Reply to: Play the race card posted by Bob on August 31, 2000

: :
: : "Play the race card" has been variously identified as a recent invention and as a coinage of the 1960s. Does anyone have a citation earlier than 1996?

: I don't have a specific citation at hand, but I remember the phrase well from the '60s and '70s, along with variations, such as Nixon "playing the China card." Some commentator a few years later questioned why China chose to "play the American card," which was (for me, anyway) a thought-provoking idea.Someone (Safire, perhaps?) might have a text reference.

Right you are!

PLAY THE RACE CARD -- "Safire's New Political Dictionary" by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993) has a lengthy entry on "card metaphors" used by politicians. "Because of the play of power in card games, the metaphor has been applied to politics for centuries." Mr. Safire doesn't specifically mention "play the race card," but he writes about the use of a related phrase. "When President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, picked up a term several Washington columnists were using in 1978 to describe the leverage on the Soviets of a move toward Peking, Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev charged that 'attempts are being made lately in the U.S.A., at a higher level and in a rather cynical form, to play the 'Chinese card' against the USSR.'"