Melania Trump’s blatant plagiarism of Michelle Obama’s 2008 DNC speech was many things: ridiculous, dishonest, sloppy, illustrative of an incompetent campaign. But, according to the great minds of the liberal Twitterverse and blogosphere, it deserved one more label to go with the others: “racist.”
The argument, such as it is: Because a) Michelle Obama is an African-American woman, and b) Donald Trump has made offensive comments about Muslims and Latinos, it must be the case that c) Melania’s plagiarism amounts to sinister and “obvious” racism; the “appropriation” of the words of a black woman by a non-person of color.
Let’s put aside the fact that the plagiarized words in question were trite platitudes that could have originally sprung from the mind of anyone — and let’s ignore that the offending sentences contained nothing even remotely unique to African-American culture or experience — and focus instead on the bigger problem here: Namely, that accusations such as this make a mockery of real racism.
Institutionalized through slavery, continued by Jim Crow, and reinforced in much of American culture, racism was America’s original sin. Even today, serious problems remain — problems that should under no circumstances be ignored, downplayed, or trivialized. And it is for this reason that labeling a dull example of plagiarism “racist” is so irksome. Plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s words is not inherently racist simply because she is black, just as criticizing her husband’s ideology isn’t automatically bigoted; and to say or to suggest otherwise is to detract from real instances of prejudice, both present and historical. Indeed, during a time in which racial and political tensions are particularly high, it is more important than ever that we are able to separate out the real from the fake.
In its current incarnation, the Left likes to promote the notion that any word or action against African-Americans, Latinos, or other minority groups must be motivated by the ever-looming racism of white people. Sometimes, they are right; there are certainly bigots in America. But at other times, we are seeing little more than an instance of someone who happens to be white embarrassing herself by her own actions. On Monday, the Trump campaign took another person’s words and passed them off as its own. There is enough there to mock and criticize without wandering into the weeds of identity politics.