If there’s one thing that is obvious when we observe Donald Trump and his horde of meth-addled, uneducated supporters: it’s that they are perfectly willing to dish out the hate but can’t handle criticism. They’re perfectly fine calling black people “monkeys,” Mexicans “rapists,” and Muslims “terrorists,” but when you make a simple observation — “you’re kind of acting like a bigot,” for instance — they fly into a rage. “Liberals are supposed to be tolerant” is a phrase often heard when someone points out that a Trump fan is a racist or offers any criticisms of their horrifically bigoted viewpoints. In short, they can’t handle criticism.
Sure, we could recognize that the problem is that racists can’t handle being called racists — or we could do what New York Magazine suggests and tiptoe around bigots for fear of offending them:
Like Science of Us has argued before, just about the worst way to get someone to open up enough to think critically about their views is to call them something they find offensive. (Cut to: basket of deplorables.) Racistin particular holds a charged and ambiguous space. Benjamin Bergen, author of What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves, says that the word is emotionally fraught like a conventional swear word, but it’s not quite the same thing: If you were to ask a representative sample of Americans if it should be bleeped on television and radio, they’d say no — even those offended by it.
“What’s it’s most close to is a slur, but it’s not like chink or nigger or wetback,” he says. “These are terms that are problematic as sequences of sounds or letters — racist is not that.” It functions a bit like a slur in that it’s a way for one group to label another, but it’s not like the word captures a demographic group representative of everyone who has ever been called racist in American history.. “You wouldn’t say that Malcolm X and David Duke belong to a natural category of people,” he says. “And it’s not a group that’s been marginalized over the course of history or much in the present. It’s not like people are suppressed because they are racists. I think it’s most like a derogatory term, like idiot or deplorable.”
While it is important to listen to opposing viewpoints, Trump supporters don’t express typical opposing viewpoints. For instance, if I were to say “African-Americans deserve to be treated just like you and me,” a Trump supporter might explain that taking steps to ensure equality makes them feel discriminated against or simply say (like a guy who emailed me last week) that “n*ggers would be treated better if they weren’t so feral.” These are not arguments, and should not be treated as such.
When MSNBC host Joy Reid saw the article posted on Twitter with the words “If you want someone to listen to you, don’t offend them, even if you think their views are deplorable” next to it, she couldn’t resist pointedly letting them know that they are f*cking idiots:
“Now are you specifically referring to a person wearing a confederate flag hat?” she asked, adding, “Because that usually means they wished the South won…”
Let’s be clear about something: not calling a racist a racist isn’t going to make them stop being a racist, no matter how much you smile and nod as they spew slurs and explain the many, many ways they think black people are damaging the country. By not calling them on it, by accepting their words as in any way legitimate you are doing nothing but feeding it. Will pointing out that they are a racist stop them from feeling the way they do? Probably not — but expressing those feelings in public will at least become a very uncomfortable experience for them.
The most important thing to remember — especially over the next four years — is that this behavior should not be normalized. When someone tells you to sugarcoat things because some precious little snowflake of a racist can’t handle being called out for being an awful person, just smile and explain that they shouldn’t say racist things if they don’t want to be called on it.
Featured image via screengrab