What is a Racist?


Its unclear what anyone means when they call Donald Trump a racist. If we accept the definitions provided by Google’s dictionary; it would imply that he has either taken some action against someone because of their ethnic type or that, while he has not acted on it, he regards belonging to some ethnic types as sufficient grounds for disliking someone. Although I searched, I have not been able to find any evidence to support a claim that Trump is guilty on either charge. What I have seen repeatedly is reference to some comments made about America’s immigration policy. The reference is often accompanied by the assertion that Trump “hates Mexicans”.

My initial concern is that ‘Mexican’ might not count as an ethnic type. I understand that there are several distinctions to be made between the groups of people who inhabited the lower peninsula of North America prior the modern United Mexican States. In addition, whatever ethnic distinctions there are to be made between the people of this region, those titles do not respect national boundaries.

Lets say we were to expand the meaning of “racist” to include a dislike of or actions against people based on nationality. Trump has never declared a loathing or even a grievance against an entire subset of people. In fact, you would be hard pressed to identify a demographic for which he has not declared he is in a mutual, loving relationship.

What trump actually said was:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The story that I pulled this quote from challenges the validity of his comment. They cite some research which supposedly demonstrates that there is no higher rate of criminal activity among immigrants than among native born citizens. Criticizing his comment in this way acknowledges, though not explicitly, an important point: Trump’s focus is not on pigmentation or nation of origin in and of itself. Instead, even if he is incorrect, he is attempting to utilize identity type as an indicator of something else.

For the sake of argument, lets imagine that Trump’s comment was something more like “We should not allow any Mexicans to enter the United States.” Could we say, based on this comment, that Trump believed that Mexicans where inherently inferior? Well, it is hard to know what is meant by “inherently” in this context since nationality is not necessarily a permanent condition.

Let’s stop talking about Trump in particular and just focus on the issue of ambiguous language. For the sake of example, lets look at a hypothetical policy. The policy is : no red haired people can cross a checkpoint. Does this policy count as racist? If your first instinct is to say ‘yes’ because it involved distinctions in pigmentation, think a little further. Is it the case that policy makers have a belief about the inherent inferiority of red haired people? It might be, but I think it’s too early to judge.

Now I will introduce some more information for you to consider. The policy makers are in charge of physical security in a walled city where the inhabitants all have black hair. In most of the neighboring lands, red hair occurs in roughly 5% of the population. In addition, the city suffers occasional attacks from a nation to the west. In this hostile nation, roughly 80% of the population has red hair. Equipped with this knowledge, the city guards cannot be certain that no people with black hair pose a threat. However, they can deduce that any person with red hair is not native to their city and that they are more likely to be (though not certainly) hostile.

Notice that the guards of the city are attempting to use statistics to improve their defensive strategies. This does not necessarily reflect a belief that pigmentation is responsible for hostility or inferiority.

So, are the guards racist?




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