I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that racism is going on here!

When viewed from over here in Europe, American politics sometimes appear a bit weird. Last week it was weirder than usual. President Trump flip-flopped on his condemnation of white supremacists and racists, and there was a huge outcry about how he finally failed to take a strong verbal stand against racism. That left me very much confused! I had been under the impression that as a candidate Trump had run on a platform of pretty open racism and hate of foreigners, especially Mexicans and Muslims. I had been under the impression that a large part of the American electorate, somewhere between 30% and 50%, believed that foreigners were to be blamed for many American problems, and that an anti-foreigner “America first” policy would improve things. In short, I thought that once you stripped off the veneer of political correctness, the policies of xenophobia and racism were pretty much American mainstream. So how come everybody is so outraged if a president says what we all know that he is thinking?

What is so weird about political correctness is that people are okay with *actions* that directly target a specific race or religion, like building a wall towards Mexico, or a Muslim travel ban. But *speech* which contains racial or religious or gender discrimination is unacceptable? I can’t help but wonder whether it wouldn’t be a lot saner to do it the other way around: Have an open discussion about the fears and prejudices people have towards other races, religions, genders, or sexual orientations, but refrain from actually persecuting people for having a different race, religion, or sexual orientation. There is strong scientific evidence that a certain degree of xenophobia is something hard-wired into the parts of our brains from an earlier evolutionary period, and overcoming xenophobia means teaching the newer parts of the brain to override those outdated instincts. Prohibiting people from talking about those instinctive feelings isn’t really helpful in that respect, because it doesn’t make those feelings go away.