The best response to racism is to call it out, loudly and by name. That’s especially true now, amid an election-fueled surge in hate crimes and hateful public remarks, on social media and elsewhere. The good news is that even as odious and dismaying commentary spreads, it has triggered a forceful response, including, crucially, from President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers.
Politicians cannot be expected to repudiate every insufferable remark by allies and supporters. Still, Trump, who insists he is the “least racist person on Earth,” is well advised to demonstrate that his distaste for political correctness is not license for hate speech. It was therefore welcome to hear his transition team denounce as “absolutely reprehensible” the latest obnoxious racist rant from Trump backer Carl Paladino, erstwhile Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York and now a school board member in Buffalo. Paladino, long prone to raw and racist taunts, had publicly expressed the wish that President Barack Obama would die of mad cow disease and that first lady Michelle Obama would “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe,” where she would cohabitate with a gorilla in a cave.
It was similarly heartening that officials in West Virginia ensured the dismissal of the head of a state-funded nonprofit agency after she referred to Ms. Obama, in a Facebook post, as an “ape in heels.”
In those instances, as in countless others, the authors issued mealy-mouthed (or almost equally offensive) apologies, protested that they themselves had been victimized by the ensuing vilification and insisted that racism wasn’t their intent. No surprise there; the most detestable racists are often so steeped in their own bigotry, and the affirmation of like-minded bigots, that they can scarcely recognize their own hatred, or give it a name.
Polls in one early-primary state, South Carolina, showed Trump’s voters were more likely than those of his rivals to embrace white supremacy and the Confederate battle flag, wish the South had won the Civil War, and reject the Emancipation Proclamation. White supremacists in the alt-right movement were cheered by Trump’s decision to name Stephen Bannon, former chief of right-wing Breitbart News, as his senior White House strategist. But to say that racists rallied to Trump’s banner during the election is not to call Trump supporters generally racist.
Calling out racists such as Paladino is a good way for the incoming team to show that it does not welcome the support of people with odious views.