I’ve realized recently that many of my online conversations with conservative friends about race and justice and politics have been derailed when they suggest that Donald Trump’s racism (or, in their eyes, his not being a racist) is a key factor in the conversations around politics and race.
When these folks talk about an individual human’s racism, they usually define it this way: this person (Donald Trump, for example) intentionally, in their heart, believes that people of another race (or all other races) are worse because of their race.
What I mean when I say “he is a racist” (and how it’s probably different than what his defenders mean)
So, for starters, let’s say one thing clearly: I don’t know what Donald Trump thinks in his head. I can only presume what he thinks by what he says and what he does. And I think this is scary to a lot of white people who don’t feel entirely up-to-date on how to behave in what they often call a “politically correct society”—there’s an underlying fear that, “if that famous person is called a racist for behaviors that don’t seem all that bad to me, then I will also eventually be called a racist.”
Before we go any further, then, let’s remember a previous blog post in which I referenced Ibram Kendi writing the following: “racist and anti racist are not fixed identities. We can be a racist one minute and an anti racist the next. What we say about race, what we do about race, in each moment, determines what—not who—we are.”
I’m not saying that I can tell you exactly what Donald Trump thinks in his head. But I can look at the things he does and describe that A) they are racist and B) they reflect racist ideologies. Does this mean he can’t change? No. Does this mean you’re “a racist” (meaning a horrible person who hates Black people) if you do or would do any of these things in his stead? Not really. But it does mean that Donald Trump, you, me, and everyone else we know have racist moments and we need to identify them and try to stop having them, not run away from the word racist.
For a much more nuanced treatment of how to better talk about racism, and how our fear of being called racist has made white people really bad at having these conversations (and a hopeful approach for how to fix it!), check out the first few chapters of Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist.
How I know Donald Trump Is Racist*
OK, so now that we’ve established that this statement is not entirely true, but instead that *I can say that Donald Trump consistently acts, speaks, and legislates in racist ways, let’s talk about just some of those ways:
- He called Latin immigrants animals, depicted them as primarily criminals and rapists, and campaigned around a wall to block them out of our country (source)
- He campaigned on the promise of “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” (source)
- He has constantly called his Black critics “stupid”
- He claimed immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” (source)
- He called white supremacists “very good people” (source)
- He is reported by a former close employee having said “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (source)
- He claimed “the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics”, and retweeted a false claim that “81% of white murder victims were killed by black people” (source, source)
- He ran full-page advertisements against the Central Park Five, calling for their execution, and continued to support his idea that they were guilty even 17 years after their exoneration by DNA evidence (source)
- His hotels and casinos have been fined and constantly criticized for racist behavior (pausing here, will keep adding sources for the rest as I find time)
- He frequently describes cities like Oakland, Chicago, Ferguson, Atlanta, Baltimore, and others as “hell”, where “you walk down the street and you get shot”, frequently describing any Black people who disagree with him as “thugs”
- He ran ads suggesting Mohawk Native Americans would do cocaine and bring violence to an area to try to keep their casinos from competing with his own
- He pardoned Joe Arapaho, the sheriff who was responsible for “the worst pattern of racial profiling in U.S. history”
- Multiple former employees have described his anti-Black behavior as the owner of casinos and hotels
- When he was required to hire a certain number of minorities in order to get a building contract in Gary, IN, he A) underhired employees of color compared to what he was supposed to and B) hired those employees on only menial, temporary positions, giving all the good jobs to white employees
- He accepted, benefitted from, and refused to denounce the support of former KKK grand wizard David Duke (and many other white supremacists). Caveat: he did eventually denounce him.
- Many members of the cast and production team from The Apprentice have recorded him using racial slurs
- He frequently has tweeted or spoken criticism against Black and Latin politicians by deriding their home districts, saying things like “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came,” or describing their districts as “infested”, regardless of whether those areas were or weren’t doing poorly crime-wise, and not specifying exactly what they are “infested” with.
- He was sued for discrimination against Black renters by the Department of Justice, and he settled the claim; they sued him again five years later because he was doing it again
- He was one of the loudest voices in support of “Birtherism”
- He said AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Presley came from countries with corrupt governments, suggesting they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.
- He described having seen TV reports (which did not exist) about thousands and thousands of Arabs in New Jersey celebrating during 9/11.
- He called Haiti, El Salvador, and several countries in Africa “shitholes”, suggesting the U.S. should encourage more immigration from “places like Norway” and countries in Asia
- He frequently refers to Jewish people using stereotypes about money, and suggested that if any vote for Democrats, they’re “disloyal”
- He banned Syrian refugees from entering the US, and also temporarily banned any immigration from six other primarily Muslim nations
- He’s frequently suggested that the majority of welfare recipients are Black
- He constantly retweets White supremacist accounts, memes created in White supremacist Reddit groups, and directs U.S. attention to overseas concerns that are supported by American White supremacists — for example, the purported mass murders of white farmers in South Africa
- He rejects taking down confederate monuments, requests that they are put back up, and also rejects renaming military institutions named after Confederate generals.
- He has hired multiple white supremacists, including Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon, and many others with ties to or some actions suggesting white supremacy, including Larry Kudlow, Kris Kobach, Ian M. Smith, and many more.
Why It Doesn’t Matter (and, of Course, Why It Actually Does)
So, let’s start with why it doesn’t matter if Donald Trump is a racist.
If “Donald Trump is a racist” means “I know the insides of his head and heart and can speak to what’s in there”, then we can just fight all day long about how “I know he is because of his actions” vs. “You can’t know how someone thinks!”
So… in the end… it doesn’t “matter” what he thinks in his heart. What matters is what he says and does.
So, that’s what matters more. Not how Trump feels or thinks, but what Trump says and does. And what he says and does? Those things are racist.