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Do not be afraid to use the ‘R’ word says Mitch Benn as the world reacts to Trump

Mitch Benn asks how much longer before the POTUS is called the "R" word. Picture: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images - Credit: AFP/Getty Images

How much more can Donald Trump say before the US labels him a racist? MITCH BENN investigates

So, the American people, the western media and the human race in general have spent the last few days reeling from the shock revelation that the man who opened his Presidential run by announcing that ‘Mexicans are rapists’; who then made banning brown-skinned Muslims from the USA and building a massive wall along its southern border to keep yet more brown-skinned people out of the USA the cornerstone pledges of his campaign; who said a judge couldn’t possibly try him impartially because his parents were Mexican; who appointed a man once deemed too racially insensitive to serve as a federal judge to the post of attorney general; who issued a Holocaust Day statement which didn’t mention Jews; who refused to condemn neo-Nazis even after they’d murdered an anti-Nazi protester; who said that Nazi marchers and anti-Nazi protesters were morally equivalent; who called Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’ and Colin Kaepernick a ‘son of a bitch’; who built his political career on an eight-year effort to spread the lie that Barack Obama was not the legitimate president but a Kenyan usurper; who before his political career had to be forced by court order to rent properties to black families and who led a campaign calling for the execution of five black youths accused of rape and continued to do so even after they’d been exonerated, might – just might – be a bit of a racist.

The only surprise about Shitholegate (as I suppose we may as well call it) is that anyone is surprised. The only encouraging thing about Shitholegate is that a linguistic corner appears to have been turned, and that journalists and commentators who have been dancing a veritable terminological Lambada around the issue for months in order to avoid dropping the ‘R’ bomb are just coming right out with it. This. Is. Racism.

Not only is more or less every reputable US news outlet (ie. every one except Fox) now content to describe Donald Trump’s words in the Oval Office last week as racist, many of them are now daring to apply that adjective to the president himself and, in the immortal words of Michael Ironside, it’s about goddamn time.

The distinction between ‘a racist’ and ‘a person who says and does racist things’ is an entirely spurious one. A theme I keep returning to in these columns is that it’s not our beliefs or our feelings which define us, but our actions.

If someone’s words and deeds single people out for suffering or indignity based purely on their ethnicity, then whether this person is doing so for reasons of political expediency and demagoguery, or because of some deep-seated racial animus is utterly irrelevant.

If you say and do racist things, or enable or reward others who say and do racist things, you are a racist. Sorry. As is often the case nowadays, this Big Deal American News Story has been mirrored by an altogether smaller deal but nonetheless interesting British news story. Henry Bolton, who, it may surprise you to learn, has been the leader of UKIP since October (you’d be forgiven for thinking it was still Nigel Farage, as both Farage himself and the BBC appear to be under the same misapprehension) has been forced to disassociate himself from remarks made by his girlfriend Jo Marney (and, it would appear, from the lady herself) after Facebook messages came to light in which Marney said Prince Harry’s intended, Meghan Markle, would ‘taint the Royal Family with her seed’.

Now, one might insist that a political leader can’t be held responsible for the casually racist private messages of a romantic partner; one might even claim that it’s possible to be romantically involved with someone and not know what sort of casually racist views they hold. One could also, as some have, point out that Marney has been making what could charitably be described as ‘racially insensitive’ remarks on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere for some time but it is only now she has taken a shot at a prince of the realm’s girlfriend that the Mail On Sunday (for ’twas they) feel the need to kick up a stink about it.

But something I can’t help but ponder is this: this doesn’t happen to other fringe parties, does it? Certainly not since the demise of the unlamented BNP. You don’t get prominent members of the Green Party (or their partners) letting slip missives including sentences like: ‘This is Britain, not Africa’ (as Marney did), do you? They might make the odd dim-witted comment about vaccination or homeopathy, but they don’t turn round saying they wouldn’t have sex with ‘a negro’ (as Marney did). Why does this sort of thing keep happening to UKIP? Why do you think?

UKIP is not, in essence or constitution, a racist party. It is however, a party dedicated to whipping up and exploiting nationalist sentiment, principally by the means of demonising a ‘foreign’ entity (the EU) and accusing it of undermining our national integrity by flooding the country with (foreign) immigrants. UKIP survives by exacerbating fear and suspicion of foreign political bodies and indeed foreign human bodies, as personified by the (fictional) deluge of immigrants depicted on the ‘BREAKING POINT’ poster and elsewhere in its literature and iconography.

The distinction between ‘fear and distrust of foreign entities and foreigners’, and ‘racism’ is, at best, academic. UKIP may not be ‘a racist party’ but it is a party which has always and will always appeal to, and indeed depend on, racists. We need to stop being surprised when they let their guard down.

We’re always being told that we shouldn’t bandy the word ‘racist’ about, that applying it where it’s not justified weakens the term and diminishes actual racism. But we need to be willing to take that chance; not using the word ‘racism’ where it was patently, manifestly, glaringly justified is how we got into this mess.

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