This week I’ve appeared on Dr. Drew’s HLN TV show, Jami Floyd’s WNYC radio show, and several others, talking about race. Reality show star and real estate magnate Donald Trump said of Mexican immigrants a few weeks ago:
“They are bringing drugs. They are bringing crime. They are rapists and some I assume, are good people.”
For good measure, he threw in:
“They are not our friends, believe me.”
These were not accidental remarks. Mr. Trump made these statements in a planned speech. Offered the opportunity to retract or soften his words, he refused and insisted that he said exactly what he meant. Even at the pain of losing various business contracts, he has stood by his claim.
Is he a racist? Only if you apply the normal definition of racism to his remarks. Racism means attributing negative characteristics to all or most of an ethnic group, so that one’s own race appears superior.
Mr. Trump’s blanket insulting comments about Mexican Americans, that they are criminals, drug dealers and rapists, are the very definition of a racist attitude. His attempt to soften the blow with “Some, I assume, are good people” indicates that he knows that Mexican Americans are violent criminals, but perhaps – he can only assume – a small percentage are not. It’s like saying “I have black friends” after making a negative comment about African Americans as a group. Does not fly. His words reflect deep-seated, damaging stereotypes about Hispanics, which should be relegated to the dustbins of history.
What’s surprised me is how many people have jumped to Mr. Trump’s defense, saying the remarks were not racist. If they were not, then what comments would be?
More recently, Mr. Trump pointed to a few criminal incidents involving Mexican Americans for an “I told you so.” But surely none of us, especially a Presidential candidate, should reason from one or two anecdotes to an entire group of millions of people.
As I wrote in my book Suspicion Nation, whites can and do commit horrific crimes in America. A few weeks ago, Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black worshipers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, but no one says white men are all killers. This is so even though disproportionately mass shooters are white, as are arsonists, drunk drivers, property vandals, and several other categories of criminal offenders. Yet no one looks out the car window and thinks, “white guy – probably a DUI.” Crimes committed by whites are considered individual sins. Crimes committed by people of color are used unfairly to tarnish an entire group.
It is a hallmark of racism to attribute the negative qualities of a few African Americans or Latinos to all members of the racial group. And we must call it out when we see that happening. The “whites commit crimes, but all Mexicans are criminals” attitude is corrosive and antithetical to the egalitarian nation we profess to be.
Mr. Trump’s comments are explicitly racist and should be criticized as such by all who care about equality. Those comments have no place in a presidential race in 2015, on the national stage, or on any stage.