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“Racially Tinged,” “White Anxiety,” “Racial Stumbles”: Top 10 NYT Euphemisms for Racism
For the paper record, the speaker must be wearing an “I am a racist” t-shirt in order to call something racist.
A New York Times report from late last night on the state of the Virginia governor's race had some prime, vintage New York Times euphemisms when describing racism––or, more specifically, appeals to racism. In a profile of how Glenn Youngkin beat Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe, reporter Trip Gabriel listed off the issues that garnered him large turnout from Republican voters:
“Instead, Mr. Youngkin found his own galvanizing issue in some parents’ frustration with public schools, beginning with Covid-driven closures, and extending to conservatives’ belief that classwork has become overly conscious of racial differences.”
“Overly conscious of racial differences” is an opaque reference to the so-called “Critical Race Theory” talking point––an astroturfed, transparently racist right-wing moral panic that’s an updated, more encompassing variation of previous cries of “reverse racism.” But the New York Times cannot spell this out because thinly coded racist dog whistles aren’t allowed to be described as such. This, to the editors at the Times, would be seen as too editorializing or tabloidy. So, instead the reader is given confusing, sanitized, and incoherent sentences like “belief that classwork has become overly conscious of racial differences” and a sense that "some parents’ frustration with public schools” is an organic expression of populist anger rather than a bullshit panic pushed by a patchwork of well-funded right-wing media.
This, of course, isn’t a new rhetorical tic from the New York Times. Throughout the past few years, as the Republican party has grown more overtly racist, the Times’ Polite, Good Liberal posture has led to some increasingly goofy euphemisms in lieu of simply calling racist things racist. Here are the top 10 strangest, most ungrammatical, and frustrating:
The most popular euphemism for racism used by the New York Times. When you really need to say something is racist but can’t call it such, this is the go-to editorial choice. Trump’s anti-Black and anti-immigrant comments are simply “charged” with the vague concept of race—they are not specifically racist. Even something as transparently racist as the Jim Crow-era persecution of Black boxing champion Jack Johnson in 1913 gets the treatment:
Often the Times uses “race”—the abstract concept—when the word “racism” would be far more apt. The headline “Democrats Recalibrate As Trump Exploits Race” from 2019 is a textbook example. Why not just say, “Trump Exploits Racism” or “Trump Exploits Racist Attitudes”? Trump is not exploiting “race,” a value-neutral socio-politico construct—he’s exploiting a specific and well-defined current of racial hatred, otherwise known as racism.
8. “String of racial episodes” (2019)
In a 2019 Trump profile, the Times referenced a series of racist incidents in the 1980’s and 1990’s—namely the Bernhard Goetz murders and a mob killing of a 23-year-old black man by three white teens in Queens—which were bizarrely referred to as a “string of racial episodes,” as if it was a telethon of Very Special 1990s sitcom episodes that attempted to tackle the subject of race. The article would refer to the subsequent anger caused by these “episodes” as the product of “tribal politics.”
This doozy, also by the aforementioned Trip Gabriel, led to a lot of online mockery, with many commenters wondering if “Racially Tinged” was a new flavor of LaCroix. In a small and rare victory, there was so much pushback to the paper calling Rep. Steven King’s patently racist comments “racially tinged” that the Times later changed the article to use the word “racist”.
“Racial and ethnic issues” in this context just being a series of clearly racist sentiments and statements. The article also includes this honorable mention: “Republican Party [who is] taking their cues from President Trump...embracing messages with explicit appeals to racial anxieties and resentment.” So we also get “racial anxieties and resentment,” which is a much less efficient way of simply calling the messages racist.
Abiding by the Times' apparent style-guide, Peter Baker refuses to call Trump or any of his comments racist in this “analysis,” choosing instead to quote others doing so and using the metaphor of “racial flames” being “fanned.” See, the racism was already there, burning at random, and Trump simply “fanned it” to suit his agenda.
A popular cliche in many outlets, “white anxiety” is an interesting phrase because it removes agency from the subject and instead reduces hatred to a neurosis, one that’s perhaps even justified by its close cousin “economic anxiety.” Of course, a lot of white people don’t vote for explicitly racist candidates, so it’s not a “white” affliction per se, nor is racism always the result of “anxiety” or some type of “fear” but often has a logic and ideology all on of its own. But reducing it to an anxiety makes it less of a choice, and more of a mental condition.
Number (3) and (2) come from the same article, one online, one print. Clearly the editors were struggling mightily to avoid the word racist on this one.
For the online article we got this headline: “Ron DeSantis, a Trump Ally, Struggles in Florida as Racial Flare-Ups Come to Fore.” For print we got (via Jeff Yang) one somehow even worse: “Trump Favorite in Florida Struggles to Rise After Racial Stumbles.” The “Flare Ups” and “Stumbles” in question were DeSantis doing an event with right-wing shock author David Horowitz who the Times says “has made incendiary statements.” The “incendiary” statements in question are decades of racism, from calling President Obama a secret Muslim to nonstop harping about so-called “Black on white crime” to hostility to immigrants. The other “flare ups” and “stumbles” included “far-right extremists” being “among the organizers and attendees of some of the conferences [DeSantis] frequented” and DeSantis refusing to return a campaign contribution from a wealthy donor who called President Obama the n-word. DeSantis then courting and refusing to disavow racists is thus not a “racist campaign,” it is a campaign simply “struggling” with “racial flare-ups,” as if DeSantis caught an STD. Or, worse yet, DeSantis tripped over white supremacy and is the victim of “racial stumbles,” falling down a flight of stairs and, accidentally, into the arms of campaign donors who call Obama racial slurs.
The article headline (the text of which we discussed in No. 6.), gave us the all time worst, most confusing, and power-serving euphemism for racism in the Times. What makes it take the No 1. spot is that it totally removes any agency from any actor while cementing an extremely dishonest “both sides” framing. There’s this cloudy, ill-defined “barbed politics” that exists in the “Trump era” but isn’t necessarily the fault of Trump. There’s just a general sharpness to a vague, unclear sense of recent rhetoric with no specific author, cause, or material origin.