Controversy is swirling around Trump's latest comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the judge presiding over the class action lawsuit against Trump University. In an interview on June 3 with Jake Tapper of CNN, among other statements, Trump declared: "Jake, he's a Mexican." When I heard Trump make this declaration, aside from physically recoiling, I started to analyze his choice of words.
Of the four words in that sentence, I am most fascinated by the use of the word "a". Trump called Judge Curiel "a" Mexican. Why use the article "a"? Regardless of the voracity of this quote, it's important to tease out the purpose of this seemingly innocuous tiny word.
Sorry to drag you back to your grammar days, but the article "a" is defined as an indefinite article because it precedes a noun that is "indefinite or general". When we speak about a noun (person, place, or thing) in the general sense, there is an inherent separateness between the speaker and the noun.
In other words if I say that I am in "a house", then I am speaking very generally - or generically - about the house. The implication is that the house is not personal or familiar to me in any way. In the same way, when Trump calls the Judge "a Mexican" he is separating himself from the Mexican race and the underlying message is that Mexicans are separate and unfamiliar to him.
Why is this lack of familiarity important? A well-accepted analysis of one of the roots of racism points to one group or person being unfamiliar with another. Prejudice, therefore, often arises from a lack of interaction with another race. The lack of interaction leads to a lack of familiarity and understanding. Unfamiliarity then leads to fear. Ultimately, fear of another race's differences is at the core of racism.
To be clear, Trump should never have pointed out the Judge's ethnic background. It is irrelevant. However, the basic statement, "He's Mexican" - without the article - changes the interpretation of the sentence. In this sentence, without the article "a", the word Mexican is no longer a general noun. It becomes merely a descriptive term, an adjective.
Clearly, Trump's use of the article "a" was a subconscious decision. However, it's in our subconscious where racist beliefs often fester. Ultimately, when he states that the Judge is "a Mexican", Trump reveals his true beliefs about Mexicans. Given this choice of words, we can say with confidence that Trump is a racist.