The Way Trump Talks About Minorities Is Deeply Problematic, & Not Just For The Obvious
President Donald Trump isn't always known for his measured and thoughtful rhetoric. The president is famous for his off-the-cuff remarks on any number of topics, but the way he has spoken about ethnic and racial minorities has often been troubling. One of the unofficial roles of the president is to create unity among the diverse population of the United States, but the way Trump talks about minorities is deeply problematic, and not necessarily for the most obvious reason.
The president is no stranger to criticism over the way he talks. Throughout his campaign and presidency, Trump has drawn controversy for any number of comments that critics called "racist," including when he allegedly referred to several African or predominantly black countries as "sh*tholes," though he later denied using the specific language. He has also repeatedly referred to Muslims and immigrants as "criminals," "terrorists, "rapists." During the announcement of his presidential campaign on June 16, 2015 Trump claimed that Mexican immigrants are "rapists" bringing "problems" with them, particularly drugs and crime, although he later clarified that he thought "some are good people." The White House did not previously respond to Elite Daily's request for comment on the remarks.
According to experts, Trump's language could significantly impact members of ethnic or racial minorities by strengthening stereotypes associated with them. "He's speaking to the audience, tapping into what they believe," Reginald Oh, a professor of Racial Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law specializing in race and gender studies, tells Elite Daily in an interview.
According to Oh, divisive and combative language can create boundaries between individuals and resentment towards minority groups. "When we think about stereotypes and discrimination, we don't necessarily think of it as linguistic or language-based, but it really is," Oh says. And it's not always as obvious as it seems.
For example, Trump has commonly used words like "the" and "them" while discussing minority groups, which experts say can create "distance" between the speaker and the subject. While speaking to FOX News host Howard Kurtz in January 2016, Trump claimed that "the African Americans" will love him more than President Barack Obama due to him increasing employment. "Look, the African-Americans love me because they know I am going to bring back jobs," Trump said at the time. But by using phrases such as "the Muslims," "the Mexicans," or "the African-Americans," Trump immediately alienates groups by identifying their ethnicity and race, creating social in-groups and out-groups. Elite Daily reached out to the White House for comment on the president's language, but did not immediately hear back.
"It's a subtle 'us' against 'them,'" Anne Mattina, Professor of Communication at Stonehill College who specializes in communications and politics, tells Elite Daily in an interview. "We put that article in front of them to distinguish them from 'us,' and [Trump] uses that article, he does it specifically, to say they are not us."
"It creates social distance," Oh explains. "When you refer to 'the blacks,' it's objectifying and creates distance between Trump supporters and those groups." This can be deeply problematic when it comes to building community and unifying the country. "Once you have distance, you have less empathy," Oh explains.
Not only do terms such as "the" and "them" create distance between the speaker and the person or group they're talking about, but Oh adds that it eliminates unique characteristics between individuals of social and ethnic groups, placing them in a box and generalizing them as a whole group rather than individual people. In short, it reduces groups to a stereotype.
"The more abstract ways people talk about things, the more dangerous the language is," Oh says. "When Trump says 'they' or 'them,' that's so abstract. Who is he actually referring to? It's easy to think that he's referring to everyone [in that group]."
Even Trump's supposed praise of cultural or ethnic minority groups can be problematic. In March 2018, the White House hosted a Greek Independence Day Celebration, where Trump praised the Greek community. "I love the Greeks, oh do I love them," Trump said. "Don't forget, I come from New York, that's all I see is Greeks."
Oh points out that while Trump's language could be seen as praise to some, it's indicative of the overall pattern in which he addresses members of groups — which is still generalizing, and therefore not supportive of individual people.
"It's not in any real way connected to people as people, it's these objective generalized terms," Oh says. "It's not really praising them, he's in some way mocking or ridiculing a group. It's very patronizing. It ties into these unspecified pronouns where he describes real people."
While Trump's language has subtly been discriminatory at times, he's also made openly controversial remarks. In May 2018, a video surfaced of Trump discussing MS-13, an international gang based in Los Angeles, California, in which he called members "animals." He said,
We're taking people out of the country — you wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals.
Trump's words, which were at one point inaccurately described as referring to asylum seekers, drew criticism.
"He uses a lot of dehumanizing language, especially when referring to immigrants," Oh states. "He's really adept at using that language to dehumanize groups, meaning treating people less than human or sub-human." Oh also states that dehumanizing remarks help spearhead anti-immigration rhetoric, which strengthens related policies.
Mattina points out that this language creates even more boundaries between social groups by instilling a sense of fear towards minority groups and encouraging divisive language or acts of violence aimed at them. "We have certainly seen an increase in targeted violence," Mattina says. "The Mosque shootings. The Jewish temple in Pittsburgh. We've seen this absolute, 'You are different, therefore, you deserve this treatment.'" The White House did not previously respond to Elite Daily's request for comment regarding suggestions that Trump's rhetoric had influenced hate crimes in the country.
Violence based on bias is a growing problem in the United States. In November 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released their most recent hate crime report, which found that there was a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2017 compared to 2016. In addition, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that over 58 percent of hate crimes committed in 2017 were racially motivated and 22 percent were religiously motivated.
Bias and discrimination are complicated things, but the way we talk can play a huge role in addressing it. It's up to everyone to do your part, listen closely, and think about what's being said — and how.