Donald Trump is racist as shit, but the world already knew that. So when he called a few countries populated primarily by black and brown people “shithole countries” and asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” I was disgusted, but not especially shocked.
I was far more outraged by how most media outlets chose to cover Trump’s racism. Some Brave White Men, like New York Times columnist David Leonhardt, came forward to proclaim, “Time to Say It: Trump Is a Racist.” In the New Yorker, John Cassidy argued that “there are good reasons for exercising such caution” in using the big scary “R” word, but “The obvious truth can no longer be avoided or sugarcoated: we have a racist in the Oval Office.” Sure, Trump’s “shithole” comment could have come from the mouth of KKK Grand Wizard, but it’s hardly the first overtly racist thing he’s said or done. White journalists like Leonhardt and Cassidy shouldn’t get any extra credit for saying what Jamele Hill, a black ESPN reporter, got suspended for plainly stating months ago.
Meanwhile, other media outlets once again obscured Trump’s racism, using phrases like “racially provocative” and “vulgar,” to sidestep the word that instills the fear of God into good white people. These are some of the headlines from major outlets:
The man white Americans overwhelmingly voted for has talked openly about his derision for black and brown people since forever. In the 1970s, the federal government sued his real estate company twice for discriminating against black people. He essentially founded the racist Birther Movement, demanding to see Barack Obama’s birth certificate, a movement that was anything but subtle in telegraphing its message that there was no way a Black man could be fit for office. Throughout his presidential campaign, he called Mexicans rapists, promised to institute a Muslim ban, and surrounded himself by white nationalists like Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. He was endorsed by the fucking KKK. In his first year in office, he turned his racist ideology into policy just like he said he would. He has retweeted white supremacists and said that many of the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are “very nice people.” So none of this is surprising. The man can’t resist saying racist shit even when he’s trying to be polite. Donald Trump’s been saying and doing racist shit for years, and he’s still doing it today. Donald Trump is, has been, and continues to be racist as fuck.
But after Trump’s “shithole” comment white people of “the media” publicly grappled with how to cover Trump’s racism. (Remember when they fell all over themselves to call Trump presidential?) Several outlets and anchors debated repeating “shithole” as if that was the most important thing happening here—and ultimately many outlets, like the New York Times and NPR, acknowledged the importance of not obscuring Trump’s heinous language. But when mainstream media outlets fail to call racism racist, or when white reporters draw a line in the sand to say, “Ok, now I agree, this shit is racist!” they treat the word “racist” as more sensationalist than comments that denigrate or offend an entire race of people, and they don’t allow people of color, the true victims of racism, to be the arbiters of what’s racist and what’s not.
Meanwhile, Trump’s base, which elected him not despite his overt racism but likely because of it, are rejoicing:
Thankfully, some anchors got it right. “But as disturbing as you may think these sentiments are, these comments by the president, they are not actually anything new,” said CNN’s Anderson Cooper, pointing to another Times report in which Trump reportedly said he believed all Nigerians live in huts and Haitians “all have AIDS” only three weeks ago.
Trump’s comments were “racist,” Cooper said. “Not racial, not racially charged, racist. Let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s not dance around it. The sentiment the president expressed today is a racist sentiment.”
CNN’s Don Lemon, to whom Trump once said with a straight face, “I’m the least racist person you have ever met,” went even farther. “How many examples do you need of this?” Lemon asked on Thursday night. “He is a racist.” I never thought I’d say this, but America, please listen to Don Lemon. (And no, white people, before you raise your hand with the question that apparently is still being asked, you still can’t use the N-word).