The Atlantic

When Using Racist, Define Your Terms

Some reject the notion that they should apply the word consistently, without regard to whether the usage will upset their audience.
Source: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

A long-running debate about when to use the word racist resurfaced this month, prompted by mass grappling with how to cover Donald Trump’s recent attacks on four House Democrats. Trump’s short political career includes denying that Barack Obama was born in the United States, calling for a ban on Muslim travel here, characterizing masses of Mexican immigrants as rapists, and asserting that a judge was unfit to hear a case because of his Mexican heritage.

Then he told four congresswomen of color that they should “go back” to where they’re from even though three of them were born in the United States and all four were chosen by their fellow Americans to represent them in the legislature.

Are some or all of those comments racist?

That inquiry often generates more heat than, even if we narrow the pool from Americans generally to subscribers or NPR listeners or CBS viewers. On the subject of racism, Merriam-Webster warns, “Quoting from a dictionary is unlikely to either mollify or persuade the person with whom one is arguing.”

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