This is so similar to my own thoughts and so well stated that I can think of no additionally worthwhile statement.First, let me say this is a wonderful post. Thanks for a level headed and well reasoned opening statement.
I think this is a difficult issue, in part because I think BOTH things have legitimate potential to damage race relations, ferment racial divides, and protect racism.
When it comes to the accusation of people "Playing the race card" there are definite issues that can occur from that. It creates a defacto defensive stance whenever anything relating to a charge of racism occurs; moving the individual away from objectively viewing the incident and instead placing them at a vantage point seeking to find a way to excuse it. It also creates a clear dissentive for people to call out or admonish racist behavior for fear of being declared a "race baiter" or of playing a "race card". It is often used so wantonly, and so quickly, that its application becomes broad which both diminishes it's intended message AND at times protects overt racist actions. This actually becomes a defense mechnism to ALLOW for racism to occur when it's used as a knee jerk and routine reaction.
On the flip side...
The notion of "expose racism wherever it is" can also lead to a number of problems. This mindset too leads many to function from a defensive state; parsing every action and statement for potential racial connotations and assuming them to be legitimate fact based on a mere possability. It creates an environment where racism is seen in every corner, and attributed to almost any action that one side may deem unacceptable. This creates a draining effect on the every day individual where they become numb to the notion. When minor instances that are typically highly speculative in nature occur and cause a major reaction, then it weakens the likely outrage that will occur or the reaction to that outrage when/if a major and/or blatant incident does happen. Essentially the "boy who cried wolf" phenominon.
Where the "Race Card" folks take any possible explanation that leads to "not racist" as evidence that an action was factually "not racist", the "expose racism at all times" folks will take any possible explanation that leads to "racist" as evidence that an action was fuctually "racist".
What is MORE damaging? I honestly don't know. I think both are severely damaging when done to an irresponsable degree. Those who say "RACE CARD" immedietely, with no seeming deeper analysis of the situation or what's being said what so ever, regardless of the situation are definitely damaging. Those who cry "RACISTS" immedietely, with no seeming deeper analysis outside of their own bigoted assumptions and stereotypes what so ever, to every situation are ALSO damaging.
In theory, the situation that would be most beneficial would be to reliably point out, admonish, and combat legitimate or blatant instances of racism and to deride and dismiss attempts to speciously apply the term to question situations based on stereotyping, bigoted assumptions, and mind reading. For those instances in the middle, the possability is reasonable to be acknowledged but not placed forward as a singular reasoning, fact, or focus.
The problem is, that's unlikely to ever happen. The reality is that there's a myriad of factors playing into the issue of racial relations, such to the point that there's a reason that "racial politics" is even a relatively common term. Both sides of this equation ROUTINELY over use their general argument and belief, which does nothing but enflame the other side and embolden them to continue to act in a more illogical and extreme fashion regarding their arguments.
So to answer your question, I think flat out dismissing legitimate racism is "worse" than the act of "using the race card". But when it comes to which is worse between "using the race card" and "accusing people of using the race card", I don't think one is necessarily "worse" than the other. Both, when done to ridiculous and illogical extremes, create situations where legitimate racism is more likely to be dismissed and where more questionable forms of racism are more likely to be fomented.
Well done Zyphlin.