That said, I think that the frequency of knee-jerk, reactionary accusations of racism against people for equivocal remarks causes society to be far too sensitive and even unable to recognize true racism when it manifests. (In other words, if everything is racist, then nothing is racist.) It diminishes attempts to address indisputable and/or egregious displays of racism, thus undermining the very goal it means to achieve.
Yes, I have in mind Donald Trump’s calling Haiti and African nations “sh*tholes.” To be sure, I am NOT excusing that remark. Should he have said it? Absolutely not. Was it Presidential? No.
Was it a racist remark though? I’m not so sure–certainly not sure enough that I think it should dominate headlines as such. Trump is a tactless man with a small vocabulary, and the preponderance of the evidence indicates that he communicates this way on a broad range of topics, including on many that are not even tangentially related to race. Furthermore, he did not proactively bring up Haiti or African nations, and he probably wasn’t talking only about them (Central America also apparently was an intended target). His remarks were in response to their being mentioned both in the immigration bill and orally in the meeting.
In order for that to be a racist idea, it would need to be discriminatory and wrong. It isn’t though. There is a reason that Americans aren’t beating down the doors of Africa in an attempt to move there.
It is invariably true that Haiti and a large number of African nations have problems that would lead many good, accepting, open-minded people to think–perhaps in different words–what Trump said. Race and tribal warfare. Religious violence. Rape as a weapon. Infanticide. Economic and kinetic warfare against populations by their own governments. Apartheid (until appallingly recently). Extremely high unemployment rates. The use of women and children as instruments of terrorism. Abject poverty. AIDS.
Do these describe all of Africa? No. Do they apply to all African countries? No. One or a combination of them do, however, apply to a too-large number of African countries–disproportionately so. There is much to love about Africa. The picture there is far from universally negative, but it remains true that problems like these are relatively more prevalent there.
This is not to say that there is anything lesser or inadequate about Africans themselves. There isn’t. They are victims of extremely poor governance and of circumstances that frequently are beyond their control. They need our help. Alleged Trump racism isn’t what’s causing these problems though. Extractive, kleptocratic leadership in many African countries is the primary cause of these problems. (For example, can one really look at the Congo and at its horrendous leadership and objectively believe that only racism could possibly cause someone to develop a negative opinion of it?)Additionally, Trump’s remarks were not directed at individual people, nor were they directed at specific demographics. They were quite clearly directed at countries–at geographic political entities. As far as I can tell, this is how Trump conveys that he believes that these are countries with significant problems.
I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr: Trump’s remark probably wasn’t a sign of racism. Rather, it was probably just a sign of “racial ignorance.”