Editor’s Note: Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications and the co-host of the podcast “They Call Us Bruce.” He co-wrote Jackie Chan’s best-selling autobiography, “I Am Jackie Chan,” and is the editor of three graphic novels: “Secret Identities,” “Shattered” and the forthcoming “New Frontiers.” The opinions expressed here are his own.
Around the world, news organizations were struggling under the burden of translating the “colorful vernacular” that the American President had reportedly used to describe certain nations during Thursday afternoon’s meeting about immigration reform.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency referred to President Donald Trump as referring to “countries where birds don’t lay eggs,” China’s news organizations followed its flagshipPeople’s Daily lead by framing his words as “countries that suck.” Iran’s state news service and Japanese daily Sankei said Trump compared those nations to a “toilet hole.”
It’s one thing for Trump’s words to be obscured because of translation barriers. It’s another for American media to euphemistically soften the President’s repulsive term for the nations of Africa – that is to say, countries with predominantly black populations: “Shithole[s].”
(I’m proud that the great majority of CNN’s anchors and correspondents – including Jim Acosta, Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Phil Mudd, Jake Tapper and Brian Stelter – did not do so.)
Shitholes are where you dump fecal matter to bury its stink and remove it from your safe, clean and comfortable home.
If Trump is calling countries with black populations shitholes, it’s because he sees them as cesspools of human excrement, the dark waste of the world – a point made even uglier by his use of Norway, where over 90% of the population is white and three out of four people fit the Aryan blond and blue eyed ideal, as his example of a nation from which America should seek new immigrants.
On Friday, Trump denied that he made the comment. Those that were present did not lend credit to his denial: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) maintains that Trump used that language to describe African nations. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that “following comments by the President, I said my piece directly to him.”
There is no logical interpretation of Trump’s words other than as an assertion of white supremacist purpose, in which he explicitly states what has been the implied core mission of Trumpism all along: To Make America White Again. (As I noted on Twitter in reaction to this: “If there were a Doomsday Clock for Trump blurting out the N-word in public, it would currently show two minutes to midnight.”)
All of this is why it’s important for news audiences to hear another word in association with Trump: “Racist.”
Trump’s extensive history – from his continued condemnation of the wrongly convicted Central Park Five, to his business’ record of housing discrimination and his involvement in the birther movement that tried to delegitimize our first black president – represents a pattern of facts that clearly illuminate his racist views and beliefs.
And his racism isn’t just cosmetic.
It has deeply shaped his presidency’s positioning, personnel and policies. From the rhetoric he has used to refer to non-white people (“rapists,” “bad hombres” and “thugs”; “AIDS sufferers” who “live in huts”) to his defense of neo-Nazis; to his travel ban that courts have found to be tailored to target Muslims and non-white refugees; his ending of DACA, whose recipients are overwhelmingly Hispanic; his lack of concern for non-white American citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands; and his ongoing assertion that he will build “the wall” dividing America from its largely non-white neighbor, Mexico, and that Mexico will – someday! – pay for it.
But let’s not place all of the blame for Trump on Trump.
A host of enablers have allowed the ugly face of Trump’s racism to hide behind a populist mask, beginning with the Republican Party, which chose to make a luciferian bargain to advance their anti-choice, anti-gay and pro-business interests by boarding his corrosively populist bandwagon, and continuing with the media, both the right-wing platforms that have doggedly defended him and the mainstream ones that have, in John Avlon’s words,”sugarcoated” Trump’s toxic bigotry to date.
Now the news institutions that have celebrated their commitment to “truth” and to bringing light to the “darkness” are saying what millions of people of color have known all along, and in the case of newspersons like Jemele Hill, been punished for declaring publicly: Trump is a white supremacist and a racist.
Get our free weekly newsletter
It is in a sense both too late – the best time to be shouting this through a bullhorn would’ve been last November, when Trump was running for President on a platform of barely masked racism and won, in no small part because the media refused to call him what he is, a man who has consistently espoused racist opinions throughout his life – and right on time, given that the 2018 elections are staring us in the face.
In the 300 days before booths open, voters need to know and hear from every individual and institution that still loves this nation that Trump is a racist, and the party that gave us Trump needs to be chased out of office for a generation.
As plainly as Trump does, say the words.