My answer to this question is that it all depends on what you mean by "racist," obviously. That is the first question anyone should ask when asking this question to themselves or to anyone else.
You need to first define what it is you mean by a racist, and then you need to either show that Donald Trump falls into that category, or doesn't. Here's the thing: I'm not sure I can define all the relevant aspects of exactly what a racist is, even though I can certainly give you examples of racism. I'm not sure I know exactly where that blurry line is where true racism becomes non-racism. That line is on different ends of the spectrum depending on who you talk to.
For example, some people think that if you merely make a joke that makes fun of a race of people — what many would consider a racist joke — just one time, then you're a racist for the rest of your life. Make one racist joke, you're a racist for life.
Other people would say, no, it takes a little bit more than that to be a racist. You have to show a consistent pattern of making racist jokes. Then you're a racist. Other people would go further than that and say, yes, you have to show a consistent pattern of making racist jokes, but it depends on the context. If you're making them in the context of friends that you know very well with no racist intentions and you're just making a joke that you think is funny and everyone in your company is OK with it, then you're not a racist. But if you're doing it in the context where people are not comfortable with it where you have racist intentions, then you're a racist.
OK. Some people would agree with that and then go a little further and say that that doesn't really qualify you as a racist — you actually have to discriminate against people. You actually have to not treat people equally when you're dealing with them in your personal life and also in your professional life, and so some people add that criteria to what is racist.
Some people would go a step further and say everyone has the right to associate with whomever they want to, and doing so isn't necessarily racist — in the same way you're allowed not date people of a certain race if you don't want to and that wouldn't make you racist. So if you choose to only have friends of a certain race then that doesn't make you racist either, they argue.
Other people would say, well if that's OK, if that doesn't make you racist, then what does is having all those things mentioned up until now but in addition to that having a condition where you're actively going out and harming people of other races: You're burning a cross on a black person's lawn, you're bombing a synagogue or a black church, or physically going out of your way to harm people of a different race — that makes you a racist.
Well OK. Look at this whole entire spectrum here and notice how it went from just making a racist joke one time making you a racist, to all the way on the other end of the spectrum where you must actively be going out and harming people of another race physically and not just merely making jokes; you must go out and you must physically attack someone of another race or try to destroy their property. And only that makes you a racist.
Think about that. This is a huge debate here and I'm not sure I know exactly where I land on this spectrum, although I think I'd probably stand somewhere in the middle. The Google definition of a racist is "a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another." That certainly is racism but I think this definition is a little too strict. What if one thinks they're racially superior, but never discriminates against anyone based on race? What if one discriminates against people by their race but doesn't think any race is superior? These questions make defining racism a bit difficult.
But back to the original question: is Donald Trump a racist?
My answer to that would be I certainly think at the very least he's racially insensitive in the sense that he has a kind of old-school mentality where he does and says certain things that offend people of different races. This includes making certain kinds of jokes that make fun of people based on race, which I actually don't think that alone makes you a racist. I make racist jokes from time to time. I make sexist jokes from time to time. There is a difference between what I believe and what I think is funny. I think certain jokes that are considered racist and sexist are funny and I have no problem making them in the right company. But that doesn't mean I'm a racist or a sexist. I'm just politically incorrect. I only think making racist jokes makes you a racist if you intend to offend people of another race in a way that attempts to make them look racially inferior and you show a consistent pattern of doing this. I think Trump does this and goes a bit further.
When he was president of Trump Management Corporation the company was sued by the Justice Department for discrimination against black people in their apartments back in the early 70s. This was certainly racism, but this was at a time when this kind of behavior was fairly common — not to justify it, but to put it into context. We're judging what Fred and Donald Trump did 40 or 50 years ago by today's standards. If Donald was OK with that back then, which he probably was, he certainly was racist.
But are you a racist for life for doing something racist in your past that was over 40 years ago? I think being a racist requires a current state of thinking and behavior. I used to be very homophobic when I was in high school. Now I'm not. I got over it. But should I be considered homophobic for life? I think that's stupid.
More recently, during his campaign Trump used fear of Mexicans and immigrants to stoke the anxieties of white people with exaggerated claims about their criminality. This was either a carefully calculated political move to win over the mostly white Republican electorate that he knew still had large numbers of people with anti-immigrant attitudes, or deep down, Trump really and sincerely believes this. Or both. Either one could make someone a racist by my definition. Personally, I don't think Trump is as racist as many on the Left make him out to be. I don't think he's Hitler, but I definitely suspect that Trump generally prefers a white America over a more racially diverse one. Most of his dealings with non-white people seems to be business relationships where he stood to profit from them. I think he's reminiscent of a time when the US was 85-90% white, like it was in the 1950s and 60s when Trump grew up. Trump seems to have a general bias in favor of white people over all others. That in my mind makes him at least a little bit racist because his views are due to the general dislike of non-white people living here in this country. There are also many claims of him wholesale discriminating against non-white people in his businesses, and if these claims are true, that would definitely make him a racist.
So I'm weary of the term racist being thrown around too loosely. We liberals have to be more careful when calling someone a racist. We have to have a stronger standard of what a racist is and have good reasons of accusing someone of being a racist. And that standard shouldn't be anywhere near: if you make a racist joke, you're a racist for life.
Welcome to Atheism and the City. This blog is about exploring atheism through contemporary urban living. I live in New York City, the secular metropolis, and I have an avid interest in all things religion, science, philosophy, politics, and economics. I am an atheist, a humanist, a philosopher and a thinker, and the purpose of Atheism and the City is to write about my thoughts and experiences on the subjects and topics that I have a passion for. Feel free to respond to any post whether or not you agree.