Archive | December, 2015

Even clearer

14 Dec

While partisan jockeying is inextricable from the declarations of who and what is racist in my last post and this one, I’d like to focus on what we can learn from the headlines, no matter who says what.

As The Huff Post reports:

In oral arguments over the case Fisher v. the University of Texas Wednesday, [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia suggested African-American students would do better at “slower-track schools” than UT. He added that black students come from “lesser schools, where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”

“I don’t think it stands to reason that it’s a good thing for the University of Texas to admit as many blacks as possible,” Scalia said (

Here is Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s response to Scalia: “These ideas that he pronounced yesterday are racist in application, if not intent.”

I had to stop and take a moment when I read this. Harry just disrupted the all too familiar script of public opinion, which takes something that someone said or did and (intentionally or not) turns it into a question of character, when, in fact, it’s really a question of what got said or done.

Reid went on to say that he couldn’t speak to Scalia’s intent, clearly making the point that whatever the intent, Scalia’s stated opinion has a real and racist impact.

And (note to the BuzzFeed staff) to further that point, the issue isn’t whether or not Scalia is a racist: it’s a matter of the ruling, not the person or their character.

Because it is

9 Dec

The writers at BuzzFeed operate under an Editorial Standards and Ethics Guide, which states that “Reporters and editors should refrain from commenting in a partisan way about candidates or policy issues.” So they asked their Editor in Chief Ben Smith whether calling Donald Trump “a liar and a racist” violates that policy (

This is Smith’s response:

The goals of this policy (which is stricter with BuzzFeed News staff) are twofold: To preserve our readers’ confidence that we can be fair; and to not needlessly undermine the work of reporters on the beat. And in that context, Trump is operating far outside the political campaigns to which those guidelines usually apply.

It is, for instance, entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign. BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts.

While I question why it matters how conventionally or not Trump is running his campaign, I appreciate Smith’s clarity on this point: “racist” isn’t an opinion. It’s a fact.

Racism is the perpetuation of systemic social biases through individual and collective language, actions and permission, whether by default or conscious choice, that advantages a racial identity and culture as the norm or ideal. While anyone can discriminate against another person based on any racial identity (i.e. Asian people can treat white people as less-than), racism has normative cultural and institutional power behind it.

So it’s not unkind, baseless or (necessarily) partisan to call it racist when Trump advocates for banning all Muslims (including US citizens) from entering the US ( It’s accurate.

And I just wish we would apply this discernment when we react to declarations like this suggested ban or the call to build a wall at the US-Mexico border. Instead of decrying these statements as “offensive” (which they apparently aren’t, to more than a few of our fellow citizens), we should focus on what they actually are: infeasible, negligent regarding the etiology of our national issues and crises, contrary to our professed national values  (although consistent with too many historical precedents like the Chinese Exclusion Act, the creation of reservations for Native Americans, Jim Crow laws and the internment of Japanese Americans) and racist. To call profiling, containing and excluding people “racist” isn’t political correctness. And we can’t afford to indulge the perception that it is.

A white man writing about a white man swinging an axe

9 Dec

One of my favorite colleagues (also educator, academic, activist, blogger, good lump of carbon on the planet, and more, not necessarily in that order) has posted a historical and personal perspective on the ongoing truth that while all lives matter, there is a persistent, real and fatal inequality in how those lives are cherished and preserved. I urge you to read and share forward “A White Man Swinging an Axe” (
And thanks, Chris.