Donald Trump’s Cowardly Brand of Racism, Explained

The Key to Understanding Racism is How Insidious It Is

US President Donald Trump attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (not shown) at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

At a glance, there’s nothing outwardly shocking about this specific President of the United States telling an Asian-American reporter to “go to China” if she wants an answer to a perfectly reasonable question about why he views the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a competition. The fact that it’s not shocking says more about the fragile state of our union than it does about Trump himself; Trump is a racist, and that much has been clear from the outset of his campaign and beyond that.

No, perhaps the most telling example of how racism really thrives in the White House and in the country is that immediately upon saying the racist thing, Trump quickly tries to move past CBS News’ Weija Jiang, Jiang very firmly asked the question why, exactly, he had specifically told her to “go ask China”.

“I’m not saying it specifically to anybody. I’m saying it to anybody that asks a nasty question.”

Trump is not only a racist; he’s a cowardly racist. He’s insidiously racist. He’s not willing to stand behind the racist things he says and does, and instead deflects and hides and says he wasn’t specifically telling the Asian woman to ask China a question about American policy.

That, ladies and gents, is a grand example of just how racism plays out in America.

It’s easy to hate overt racism. People in Ku Klux Klan uniforms, a white person explicitly using a racial slur, being a Neo-Nazi (and getting righteously punched in the face, which will never get old); these are the types of racism that are easy to stand against a rail against.

What white people sometimes don’t realize is that the majority of racism isn’t overt. Racism in America is insidious. It’s carried out in hushed voices. It’s your grandpa quietly muttering something about “illegals” crossing the border. It’s your friend cracking a joke about how Asians are good at math. It’s the dozens of black men who are shot and killed when white men feel threatened and “stand their ground”. It’s the racism you can’t see and isn’t directly in front of you that is the most dangerous and the most oppressive.

Insidious racism is what keeps cowards like Trump in power. Trump’s stance as a racist shouldn’t be in question; he took out a full page ad demanding execution for the Central Park 5 and refused to apologize when they were exonerated; he fueled the baseless accusations that Obama wasn’t born in America; he gets in a spat with a prominent woman of color at least once at month during his endless series of press conferences; he pals around and employs known white nationalist like Stephen Miller.

But Trump is a coward, and so he’s always couched his blatantly racist rhetoric under the veil of plausible deniability. “No, Asian reporter, I am not specifically tell you that you, specifically, an Asian person, should go to China, I’m saying anyone, even not Asian people, should go to China to ask a question about why I, the American President, am treating the coronavirus pandemic like a competition. Not because you’re Asian, but because you asked a nasty question.”

Trump doesn’t have the balls nor the brains to stand behind racism. He understands, like many prejudiced white folks understand, that it is bad to be outwardly racist. Back in the halycon days when I had Twitter and loads of free time to argue with Conservatives (thank God those days are over), a white person once told me that a white person being called a racist stung almost as much as a black person being called the n-word.

Now, first of all…no, no it does not. But I can understand why white people would feel that way. White people have come to understand that racism is bad, and being branded a racist is bad. But they don’t seem to understand why racism is bad. On a surface level they understand what “equality” is, but they’ve been repeatedly told that it’s up to people of color to ensure that equality comes to pass, and that they are innocent bystanders in the march of progress. It’s up to people of color to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they don’t have bootstraps, and don’t really have boots either.

Andbutso, it becomes far easier to simply insist that nothing is really racism. Your grandpa isn’t racist when he mutters about illegal immigrants; he’s “economically insecure”. Your joke about Asian people being good at math isn’t racist, you’re just giving them credit for being studious and hard-working (by the way, even imparting good qualities on other races can be racist). That black child wasn’t killed by racists; they would’ve let him go if he had just stopped running. The President isn’t telling an Asian woman to go to China because she’s Asian, he’s just telling her that because he “had a meltdown” and wanted to deflect the question.

Little by little, racism becomes less a thing that negatively impacts those affected by it (see: black people being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and people of color suffering far more from shut downs that white people) and a more a thing that people of color claim exists when in reality, only people wearing hoods and burning torches is racism. (Wearing polos and carrying tiki torches from The Home Depot isn’t racism, because there were no hoods.)

Even the Confederate flag has been twisted into something it’s not. Let us make it clear; the Confederacy came into existence only as a result of southern landowners not wanting to end slavery. Confederates used the Bible as a justification for slavery. They insisted that blacks simply weren’t as intelligent. They ruled blacks had no legal standing in court. In post-Civil War Reconstruction, they burnt down black centers of commerce and instituted Jim Crow laws that explicitly neutered the rights of freed black people. The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism, period.

But to hear certain white people, the Civil War wasn’t about slaves at all; it was about “states rights”. It was economic insecurity. It was about standing up to the federal government. The Confederate flag isn’t about racism, it’s about freedom from tyranny. Or something.

Like I said; racism is insidious. Trump’s particular brand of racism is especially so, posed not as a doddering old simpleton rattling off the dumbest most racist shit that pops into his senile ass mind, but him simply suggesting that “many people are questioning if Obama was born here” or “a lot of people think that illegals are crossing our borders and raping our women” or “a bunch of folks know the coronavirus is a Chinese virus that originated in China”. It makes it harder for (white) people to pick it apart and say it’s racist, because it could be racist, but maybe many people are saying <insert racist thing Trump said here>. And if the majority of (white) people think something isn’t racist, it can’t really be racist, can it?

If you want proof of just how normalized racism is, how insidious it is, how thoroughly baked into the system it is, then look no further than the fact that right now, Donald Trump saying an overtly racist (and sexist, for that matter) thing to a woman of color isn’t a headline on every news channel and on every newspaper in the country, and he hasn’t been the least bit rebuked by his GOP colleagues. In America, the President of the United States saying something racist isn’t a disqualfier that should result in his removal from office.

It’s just another Monday.

About KC Complains A Lot 135 Articles
KC Complains A Lot is another refugee from Deadspin. He enjoys writing and not caving to pressure from herbs.


  1. …I saw that debacle & figured if nobody beat me to it I’d stick the Guardian coverage or whatever I could find in the DOT tomorrow but thanks for this…safe to say I wouldn’t have found the time to say anything as well-considered on the subject in something like that

    …I’ve lost count of the times I’ve said this to myself but it was definitely another of those moments when I was tempted to try & rewind the footage because I couldn’t believe I’d just heard what I thought I heard…much less the full-on petulance he descended into once he broke out the “nasty” for a hail mary & then just pulled the rip cord on the whole thing like he hadn’t just tried & failed to demand a question he’d like from people whose job is about the other kind right there on camera…again

  2. I agree with you 100% but to think that anyone with an (R) after their name would not agree with and enjoy his racism is laughable. Trump is so mentally ill I honestly don’t think he believes he is a racist. It is so built into his DNA that it is a reflex.

    • …it’s what he & his daddy dearest did when they were landlords & could get away with it…& since it’s about the only lens through which he can parse reality he basically thinks that when he won the election it was basically a real estate deal where he put his money down & got to “own” the White House…& the rest of the US is basically just the grounds as far as he’s concerned so that’s about how he sees the whole country at this point?

  3. They know that he’s a racist and what he said was racist. He knows it. Everybody knows it. The dirty little secret that Trump has brought into the open is that a helluva lotta wypipo are at least a little bit racist, and are largely indifferent at best to the effect racism has on POC. Racists are Trump’s base.

  4. I feel like his fans think they are really smart by walking the line of plausible deniability. “I like him because he says the racist things I want to say!” and “He never said that racist thing, see?” because he’s wormy and wishy-washy.

    They think they’re real smart.

    I think a lot of white people believe being called a racist stings the same as the n-word because they truly don’t have another point of comparison. They cannot understand the difference between consequences of actions and consequences of being born the wrong color and who is the person in control of either of those situations.

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