06/16/2016 01:39 EDT | Updated 06/16/2016 01:59 EDT

Yes, Mr. Trump -- Saying Racist Things Makes You Racist

Aaron Josefczyk / Reuters
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Pittsburgh, PA June 11, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

Most North Americans think of themselves as tolerant and accepting of persons of diverse backgrounds. But despite this conviction, the expression of racism remains quite pervasive in our society. We're frequently exposed to it in the media (especially social media), in schools, in our place of work and/or at dinner tables and other social gatherings.

A Leger survey conducted in March 2015 for the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation saw some one in three Canadians admitting that often or sometimes they hear racist comments about Black persons, Muslims and/or Aboriginals.

A September 2014 Leger survey reveals that some 62 per cent get upset when they hear a racist remark from a friend or family member. Despite this admission, it's likely that when racist views are expressed by people we know it elicits more indifference than anger.

Some 35 per cent said they had witnessed a racist incident in the previous year. One in three Canadians admit to sometimes making racist remarks, one in four admit laughing at most racist jokes and a similar share agree that "many racial stereotypes are accurate."

Men are far more likely than women to make racist remarks and hold racist views. Yet, relatively few Canadians have been called racist with nine in ten saying that they have never been the object of such an accusation. Perhaps most of us are persuaded that an occasional racist remark doesn't make someone a racist.

Thankfully, for the most part, it would seem that those who harbor racial prejudices do not act upon them. Good sense dictates that such thoughts be suppressed. Demagogues insist that withholding prejudice is frequently done to be politically correct.

For several decades, educators and policy-makers have repeatedly reminded us that racism is unjust and destructive. So while we may be too forgiving of ourselves, our friends and our family members when it comes to the occasional racist remark, we wisely hold our leaders to a higher standard and particularly our elected officials. Even if, regrettably, some of us expect less from ourselves, we expect better from them.

It's never easy to defend politicians that repeatedly utter racist remarks in public. In Canada doing so would likely disqualify someone from holding the highest public office. Currently that does not appear to be the case in the United States.

The presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's remarks about the ability of an American-born, Latino origin Judge to rule objectively on a case involving one of Trump's projects clearly foments prejudice amongst Americans. US Republican House speaker Paul Ryan has stated that "claiming a person can't do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of racism."

Such statements have placed leading Republicans in a situation where they must defend the indefensible. Despite his disavowal of the comments, Ryan added that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day, and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with Trump.

In short, Republicans appear to be able to live with leaders that practice the politics of racism. Ryan made a spurious distinction between Trump's mouth and heart saying that he was not willing to call Trump a racist even he qualified his remarks about the Judge as such (it is worth noting that Trump repeated the remarks about the judge on several occasions).

New York Republican and leading Trump supporter Lee Zeldin contended that even if Trump's statement was racist he didn't make it to imply that he was superior because he is white and the judge is Mexican. In other words, if Trump wasn't evoking racial superiority than he really can't be accused of racism.

Racism shouldn't be dismissed as mere opinion that gets pushed aside because presumably some higher political interest is at stake. In democracies, political leaders must offer the example to others when it comes to the fight against racism for which history has too often demonstrated just how heavy a toll this blight can exact upon societies.

Let's remain hopeful that the vast majority of Americans know this and will ultimately demand much better from their political leaders.

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