Is Trump a Racist?

Recent heated demonstrations at gatherings supporting Trump or even just at venues where he speaks seem to focus heavily on his racism, particularly toward blacks. A cursory web search reveals many sites that discuss this issue, all quite convinced that he is an out-and-out racist. People seem to believe that his closet probably harbors Klan regalia.

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But while the quotations they cite, with one exception, may be boorish and inappropriate they don’t seem especially racist to me. They often criticize our black President, but that is hardly dispositive. The one clear exception is his statement that “blacks are lazy.” This is a common theme among racists, so it might substantiate the charge. However there is a history behind this that is a bit more complex. In fact, the origin lies in Northern perceptions of the indolence of Southerners in the early 19th century, whites and blacks alike. Due to the preponderance of blacks in the antebellum south, they particularly bear this burden through to the current day.

This lingering perception is reinforced by many aspects of the black experience in modern America. Somewhat unfairly, their inability to achieve success comparable to their white or Asian-American peers is attributed either to inherent inability, a clearly racist view, or to their lack of drive to succeed. The latter could be considered racist, but it might contain at least a germ of truth. Consider First Lady Michelle Obama’s commencement address at Bowie State University. She said too many young black people “can’t be bothered” to get a job. “Instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games and watching TV,” she said at the time. “Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.” Is that black racism from a privileged and accomplished black woman? Or is it an uncomfortable truth that partially supports the laziness charge?

There is more to this issue of course: lack of role models at home and in the community, poorly educated parents, media stereotypes, ineffective and badly resourced schools, and so on. It is understandable that few would have the inner resources and luck to overcome these handicaps. Many would just see their obstacles as insurmountable racist barriers and essentially give up. But then, from the comfortable external viewpoint, they would appear to be lazy. And that is how Trump evidently sees them. At worst this is just sloppy thinking, a characteristic that Trump often displays.

There are other components to the racist charge against Trump. His defamatory statements about Mexicans and his proposal to bar all Muslims from entering the country are the main examples. I could be wrong, but I doubt that either are fundamentally racist. Rather they are probably more xenophobic in nature, and it is possibly a coincidence that the targets are largely non-white. But this may be a fine distinction that escapes the fevered perceptions of the shouting demonstrators.

The bottom line, as far as I can tell, is that Trump appears to be no more or less racist than any run-of-the-mill white Republican. He is, however, undoubtedly incautious in his expressions. So, demonstrating against him on this particular basis seems to miss the mark. There are plenty of other reasons to oppose him, although none justify overriding his freedom of speech, as some demonstrators clearly intend.

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