Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Trump’s language, his choice of senior officials in his administration, and his popularity among white nationalists show that he holds racist views.

Trump’s language, his choice of senior officials in his administration, and his popularity among white nationalists show that he holds racist views. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Explaining Trump’s Racism

Racism means a lot more than using slurs or feeling hatred. Yet even in these narrow terms, Trump fits the bill.

Jill Richardson

 by OtherWords

“Is Trump a racist?” I have two answers to that question.

First, most white Americans misunderstand racism solely as intentional beliefs held by individual racists who hate people on the basis of race. For example, at times the media has focused on whether or not they could prove Trump had ever used the N-word, as if that alone would be the measure of whether or not he is a racist.

Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva says that this “misses the fact” that racism is “a part of the social structure of society. Hence, we all participate in it — and we participate in it whether we like it or not, in conscious and unconscious ways, and in passive as well as active ways.” 

This latter definition, the one accepted by sociologists and race scholars, takes a bit of getting used to, particularly if you are a white person who abhors racism.

I try to frame it for my students as follows: This nation was founded by people of European descent who stole land from — and committed a genocidal campaign against — the indigenous people on this continent. Then they enslaved Africans and their descendants for more than 200 years.

Segregation only became fully illegal in 1968. Anyone over the age of 51 was alive while segregation was still legal. We as a nation are still grappling with the legacy of our past, working toward justice for all — and we aren’t there yet.

None of us alive today asked to be born into a racist society — and yet, here we all are. It’s impossible to grow up in that society without participating in the status quo and absorbing at least some prejudices, even if they are only subconscious ones.

In short, learning about race means getting comfortable with the idea that our society itself is effectively racist, even for white folks who don’t actively feel that hatred themselves.

My second answer about whether or not Trump is a racist is: yes. And not just in the “everyone’s a racist” sense of the word.

For example, during the run up to the 2016 election, white nationalists supported Donald Trump because they felt like he would represent their interests and values best. Former Klan leader David Duke openly supported Trump, and still does.

Now, a trove of leaked emails show that Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller is “clearly immersed in white nationalist ideology.”

If Trump appeals to white nationalists and appoints white nationalists to senior positions in his administration, does that mean he holds racist views himself? Probably — but does it even matter? Whatever he privately believes, he’s allowed white nationalists to infiltrate senior levels of government, and they are influencing national policy.

In a more recent talk at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Bonilla-Silva analyzed Trump’s use of language to show how he speaks in terms of “us” and “them,” in which “us” refers to white Americans and “them” refers to people of color.  And he routinely refers to immigrant “infestations,” using language most people reserve for insects and rodents they intend to exterminate. (Yet he’s not against all immigrants: he likes to marry the white ones.)

Although Trump often defends his immigration policies in terms of national security or economic concerns, the facts show that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native born citizens and, as one study put it, “immigration has an overall positive impact on the long-run economic growth in the U.S.”

In short, Trump’s language, his choice of senior officials in his administration, and his popularity among white nationalists show that he holds racist views. It’s those views — and not national security or economic factors — that are behind his policies.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at UW-Madison, where she studies natural resources and the environment.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

UN Chief Urges Global Solidarity on Covid, Climate, and Debt Relief

"The last two years have demonstrated a simple but brutal truth, if we leave anyone behind, in the end, we leave everyone behind," said the secretary-general at the opening of the virtual Davos summit.

Jessica Corbett ·

Sinema's MLK Day Tweet Sparks Online Fury

One group criticized the Democratic senator from Arizona as "the white moderate MLK warned us about."

Andrea Germanos ·

Why Did Democratic AG Kill Flint Water RICO Case?

"Political corruption poisoned Flint and political corruption shielded the wrongdoers from accountability," said one critic following new revelations.

Kenny Stancil ·

Progressives Counter Cherry-Picked Quotes With MLK's True Legacy

Calling out those who have "weaponized" his words "to justify legislated white supremacy," Rep. Ayanna Pressley said King "was a radical dreamer with a bold vision for revolutionary change."

Jessica Corbett ·

'No Celebration Without Legislation': King Family Leads Voting Rights March

"I will not accept empty promises in pursuit of my father's dream," said Martin Luther King III.

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo