Robeson declared that black Americans would refuse to fight for the U.S. if war broke out with the Soviet Union. “It is certainly unthinkable for myself and the Negro people to go to war in the interests of those who have oppressed us for generations,” he said in a speech. The next morning, the headline “Negros Won’t Fight Russia, Robeson Says” appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and the story was picked up in papers worldwide.For several years, racists had been claiming that blacks were welcoming toward communism and lazy during World War II (even though during the war, half a million blacks had served in Europe alone). Many African American leaders objected to Robeson’s statement because it played into both slurs.

(The Red-Baiting of Lena Horne, The Atlantic, AUG 27, 2015)

What does the bold phrase mean? Does "slurs" here mean the two unfair remarks on black people by racists?


Your understanding of slurs is correct: a slur is an insult, often (but not always) an indirect suggestion rather than an explicit statement.

The idiom play into is an interesting one. It originated in card games like whist or modern bridge, which oppose one pair of players to another: to "play into your partner's hand" means to play your own cards in such a way that your partner can make the most effective use of her "hand", the cards which she is holding. This notion developed in two directions:

  • In a game which does not use teams you may conspire with another player to cheat a third by "playing into each other's hands".

  • You may miscalculate the distribution of cards and inadvertently "play into" your opponent's hand, giving the other team an advantage you did not intend.

All three notions are still current, and the idiom has been metaphorically extended beyond the card table. Today "play into" means, broadly "lend support to". Almost anything may be said to "play into" someone's hand(s)--or into their purpose or theory or activity. And the support this provides may be open or surreptitious, deliberate or inadvertent.

In your example, then, the African American leaders are said to have felt that Robeson's remarks gave inadvertent support to the notion that blacks were welcoming to communism and lazy, ineffective defenders of their country.

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