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 (http://gawker.com/buzzfeed-editor-in-chief-assuages-staffs-fears-over-cal-1747018268).

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 (http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/index.html). 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.

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