How to make racist comments without being a racist

The New York Times reports: Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the nation’s highest-ranking Republican, on Tuesday called Donald J. Trump’s remarks about a Latino judge “racist,” an extraordinary indictment that generated a fresh wave of criticism and panic from other Republicans. By the end of the day, Mr. Trump was forced into a rare moment of damage control and said that his words had been “misconstrued.”

Mr. Trump, who said last week that a Mexican-American judge in a case involving Trump University was biased against him because of his heritage, issued a statement Tuesday saying, “I do not feel that one’s heritage makes them incapable of being impartial.” He added that he was simply questioning whether he was receiving a fair trial, but he did not apologize for his remarks, something many Republicans had urged him to do.

Mr. Ryan said Mr. Trump’s criticism of the judge, Gonzalo P. Curiel of United States District Court, was “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” But Mr. Ryan also reiterated his support for Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. [Continue reading…]

The Republicans, such as Ryan, who are disavowing Trump’s racist comments yet reiterating their support for him, are less concerned that Trump is indeed a racist than they insist he must stop sounding like a racist.

Paradoxically, on the one hand they acknowledge that racism is manifest in behavior — such as the comments someone makes — and yet they also seem to be saying that someone can engage in racist behavior without being a racist.

It’s either that, or what Ryan et al are really saying is this: We know Trump’s a racist but we wish he’d stop making it so obvious.

Trump’s statement that from now on he’ll stop talking about the Trump University court case, suggests he got the message. The question now is not whether he’s a racist but whether he can keep his mouth shut. That seems about as likely as it is for his hair to stay in place.

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1 thought on “How to make racist comments without being a racist

  1. hquain

    I suspect there’s an important distinction here in how right and left view the word (and concept) of racism. On the left, racism is a hideous, damaging set of false beliefs espoused by individuals who range from ignorant to vicious. On the right, ‘racism’ doesn’t even really exist as an objective category — it’s just a term used by the left to defame ‘common-sense’ and those who recognize the way the world is.

    This view is subtly present in Ryan’s statement — the undertone is that it’s a ‘textbook’ thing, not something that he, Ryan directly judges and feels. Over the last decades, the norm of US public discourse has shifted away from allowing expression of obvious racist sentiments. So what Ryan’s statement means to those in the community he’s addressing is something like “he has said the wrong words, and I have to condemn him with this phony terminology, but it doesn’t really matter to us — obviously.”

    An important consequence is the futility of character assassination attempts from the left on right-wing figures. The terms of defamation are embedded in an ethics that is not shared. From the left: “He’s proven his racism, we’ve got him now.” From the right: yawn. There’s a whole range of things like this, and their use (and failure to have lasting effects) is always accompanied by puzzlement — on both sides. Assumption: We all agree on basic ethics and its terminology, don’t we? Fact: We profoundly do not.

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