If our leaders won’t call racism what it is, how are we expected to fight it?

By failing to confront the words of racist leaders directly, they help normalize it for everyone else

It's time for Trudeau to confront Trump on his racist speech. Photo: /Rolling Stone

By: Kate Olivares, Peak Associate

In the latest addition to his racist repertoire, Donald Trump recently told four U.S. congresswomen of colour to go back to their country. It’s nauseating and despicable, but I want to address the strange hesitation from powerful figures to call this racist president, well, racist. 

Most political figures bend over backwards to express outrage without using this word, or exclusively limit the label to the actions rather than the person committing them. Some examples include Nancy Pelosi, Theresa May, and our own prime minister. As Trudeau continues his quest to be the Wokest™ world leader, he nobly professed that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” while notably refusing to critique President Trump. 

I suspect that this partly stems from fear of making a racism accusation. Such an accusation is serious and powerful, which is exactly why they must be made. However, somewhere along the line, it has become more insulting to call someone racist than it is to actually commit a racist act.  

To call out or not to call out racism may seem like a futile debate to have, but political rhetoric bears serious ramifications. Failing to condemn the leader of the free world for telling congresswomen of colour to go back to their imagined countries of origin allows for such acts to become normalized. When leaders give washed-out responses to blatantly racist speech, they change the realm of acceptability, and are thus complicit in exclusion and violence towards racialized minorities. On the other hand, denunciations of racist acts by world leaders will slowly break down such systems, facilitate difficult yet crucial conversations, and foster inclusivity. 

The more we push our elected leaders to represent our morals, denounce racism, and actively defend diversity, the better off we will be.