Word of the Week: Racist

Much has been made in recent days of a series of tweets (below) in which Trump refers to four Congresswomen. A day or two after he wrote them, the news media routinely began referring to them as “racist tweets.” When the tweets were publicized, I immediately guessed that there would be controversy over whether they were racist, or offensive at all.

After all, I myself think the word “racist” gets bandied about far too easily these days. It seems like this label is applied to the mildest display of bias, whether related to human beings or not. Telling a blonde joke is “racist.” Singing the particular lyrics of a pop song is “racist.” Preferring dark chocolate to milk chocolate is “racist.” We seem to have forgotten that “bias,” “prejudice,” “discrimination,” “sexism,” “misogyny,” and “bigotry” are also in our verbal arsenal. As our high school English teachers taught us, when we overuse the first words that come to mind, we end up stretching their meaning and diminishing their potency. To be sure, this linguistic trend may have its roots among good-natured people, charitably pointing out racism in contexts where it is less than obvious. However, it has become a further injustice to the victims of racism, taking the very word for what they have suffered and rendering it ironic or neuter.

Let us therefore ask ourselves exactly what makes these tweets offensive, and whether “racist” is really an appropriate adjective for them.

At their core, these tweets are telling people to “get outta here,” go back where they came from. This itself can only be considered rude and utterly unprofessional.

Big deal. “Get outta here!” can’t be the worst assault an American adult has endured on their delicate sensibilities. Yeah, sure, it’s the President of the United States, but everyone knows he shoots from the hip, and the people he is talking about are themselves Democratic members of congress, with power in the government. If they can’t tolerate his honest feelings, they have no business dealing with the President in the hallowed halls of the capital.

It doesn’t end at rude and unprofessional, though. He says they are “telling the people of the United States…how our government is to be run.” But he is talking about members of congress, duly elected by people of the United States for exactly the purpose of running the government! It is no surprise that the people he is talking to—and the people who elected them—would feel insulted and take offense.

Okay, but “racist”? Look at the definition of “racism,” copied below from two sources. At no point does he say any race is inferior to another. These tweets don’t even mention the race of the people he is addressing. He doesn’t use the N word, or any of the other words that beleaguered white men are forbidden to say by those speech Nazis, the political correctness police.

Here’s the thing though. He’s not just telling them to get out (as in generally get out of his presence) but to go back to the countries from which they originally came. According to him, not only do they not belong in his presence, they don’t belong in his country, the USA, telling his countrymen what to do. Yet, three out of four of them were born US citizens, and the fourth is a naturalized citizen. So, in fact, they do belong right here, doing exactly what they are doing.

Yeah, but there are 535 voting members of congress. How is one man supposed to know whether each one of them was born a citizen or not? The President of the United States, the Commander in Chief of the most awesome military in the world, has got more important things on his mind. He can’t be troubled to know these irrelevant details.

Fair enough. Let us assume, for the moment, that he doesn’t know for sure. The fact is, he says they all originally came from other countries. On what basis does he do that? Most people would think that a congressional representative came from the very district they represent.

Their names…

Indeed, at this point, there can be no doubt. Solely on the basis of their names, their dress, and their skin color, he assumes they don’t belong in the USA doing what they are doing. On the basis of racial indicators, he assumes they are inferior. That’s why these tweets are racist.

Okay, these particular tweets may be racist, but the President is not.

At the end of the day, we cannot peer into another person’s brain to see what opinions they actually hold. We must judge them by their words and their actions. This incident has striking similarity to the birther movement led by Trump. That, too, was a persistent attempt to delegitimize the position of a (twice) duly-elected official on the basis of his race. If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.

Well, even if he is racist, he has done a lot of good for our country.

The goodness (or not) of what he has done for our country is a separate debate, isn’t it? Public racism, by any elected official, does great harm to our country and its global standing.

We previously assumed that he didn’t know where these congresswomen originated. If we assume that he did know, then a more nefarious character is unveiled: Knowing that his supporters will believe what he says, he employs baldfaced lies to fan the flames of racial animus, all for his own political gain. Or perhaps he expects to draw the approval of his supporters with these lies, the way he drew the cheers of WWE fans with his farcical attack on Vince McMahon.

What good can compensate for this?

The Definitions

Dictionary.com defines racist as (noun): a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. (adjective): of or like racists or racism.

Mirriam-Webster defines racism as: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

The Tweets

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Updated at: 20 July 2019 10:07 PM