What Makes a Racist?

In an earlier post, I called Donald Trump a racist. I didn’t back this up with any examples. I thought it was unnecessary because the evidence is overwhelming. But a reader disagreed with my claim. He gave examples that, in his opinion, showed that Mr. Trump is not a racist.

This is old, old ground. It has been much explored and much trampled. But I’m going to tackle it again. My focus is to discuss what would constitute evidence to back up my statement. In my “other” writing life, I write a lot about critical thinking and evidence-based practices. I think that will be a good approach here.

So this post won’t prove that Donald Trump is a racist. Instead, it demonstrates how one might go about assessing that in an evidence-based way–for Donald Trump or any public figure. I told my reader that we were using different metrics to assess Mr. Trump regarding racism. Here’s my metric.

The Definition of Racism

The first step is to define the term.

Racist: A person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.–Oxford English Dictionaries (American version)

My second step is to list observable behaviors that correlate with the definition of racism. Here’s the list I came up with.

  1. Has this person created and participated in situations where people of color or different ethnicities were discriminated against?
  2. Has this person made remarks that perpetuated racist stereotypes?
  3. Does this person treat people of different races differently?
  4. Has this person been dismissive or silent about racism?
  5. Have racist organizations embraced this person?
  6. Does this person promulgate information from such groups?
  7. Does this person hire and surround himself mostly with white people?
  8. Does this person hire and/or associate with racists?
  9. Does this person contribute financially to overtly racist causes?

If the person has performed any of the above behaviors or stated these beliefs, we should note how many of these incidences are part of the public record. This isn’t because private racism is OK. It’s because we are making a case. Public evidence is strong.

Take-Home Assignment: Trump’s Score

I know of multiple public, recorded examples of all the numbered behaviors above on Donald Trump’s part except for #9. But I’m not going to rehash them. That would convert a 700-word post to a 2,700-word one. My focus is on how to make the assessment. The behaviors are ones that everyone who followed the election even a little bit is aware of.

Making an Assessment

In the life of any public figure, there may be examples of racist behaviors and contrasting examples of inclusiveness or stepping up to combat racism. Perhaps their attitudes and behaviors changed over time. Perhaps they are a person who tries hard but slips up now and then. So the third step would be to look at the evidence as a whole. I’ll be discussing that part in the next post.

But here’s a hint:

  • “Being nice to a black person once” does not make one non-racist.
  • Receiving an award 30 years ago does not make one non-racist.
  • Posing for a photo with people of color does not make one a non-racist.

I will cover this in the next post and will include a discussion of tokenism.

I used a definition of racism above that is narrow and easy to work with. But I believe that a white person growing up in the United States cannot help but be racist. It’s intrinsic to our language, present in our mores, and still implicit in many of our laws. My job as a white person is to fight those tendencies and be a good ally, not to claim immunity or award it to people I approve of.

To me, whether someone is a racist is not a yes/no question, but a question of degree. However you look at it, I bet if you assess it using the list above you will find Mr. Trump’s score to be pretty high.

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016

Coming up:

  • What Makes an Anti-Racist?
  • Making White Privilege Visible

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016