There they were in the Oval Office; the Presidents of America’s “Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” These distinguished ladies and gentlemen went to the White House on a promise to discuss their historical role and future survival as distinct institutions of higher learning. Yet, what came of the meeting was a photo op for President Trump, a news story concerning inappropriate behavior on the part of a presidential surrogate, and an almost plagiarized Executive Order which moved efforts to assist HBCUs from the Department of Education to the White House. After it was all said and done, one of the Presidents commented that they had been had. All I know is that when I first saw the photograph in the newspaper my heart sank. I am an M.A. and Ph.D. graduate of Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University. I was taught very well at my institution. I was taught the books and life lessons. I was taught how to recognize “it” when I see “it.” That photo op in the paper was definitely “it.”
Dr. King, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” was writing to southern White clergy who had criticized King and the Civil Rights Movement. King addressed the White clergy because he believed that some in a group were people of “genuine good will.” As a consequence, perhaps reason could lead them to a more enlightened stance concerning the plight of Blacks in society at the time and the necessity for a movement. President Trump is not a person of genuine good will. He has a set agenda and the real interests of Black Americans in particular and people of color in general, are not on the agenda in ways that Black Americans and those HCBU Presidents might hope.
Let us go back to the campaign for a moment. As time drew nearer to the election, Trump began talking about prescriptions for what ails Black America. The essential problem, aside from his solutions, was that he was giving these speeches in front of essentially all-White audiences. In describing Black issues, the focus was totally on urban crime and poverty. There was no talk of systemic racism. There was no talk of relief for the Black middle class. There was no talk of bringing Black people into his administration in any significant way. When Bill Clinton was vying for the presidency, he stated that he wanted a Cabinet that looked like America. When he won office, one of his first actions as President was to nominate Ron Brown for Secretary of Commerce. As a matter of fact, Ron Brown was given his pick of Cabinet positions. He chose Commerce. This was highly significant at the time given the fact that Housing and Urban Development had been the place to park Black Cabinet appointees in previous administrations since Lyndon Johnson. It should be noted that the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created during the presidency of Lyndon Johnson. Aside from appointing the first African American to the Supreme Court in the person of Thurgood Marshall, Johnson also appointed the first African American to a presidential Cabinet position. There, historically, one can understand why Robert Weaver was Secretary of HUD in the Johnson Administration. Can someone please tell me why the only Black person in Trump’s Cabinet is once again HUD Secretary? Donald Trump’s Cabinet is a reflection of his knowledge base from which he does not want to expand; is not willing to expand; and beyond which is incapable of expanding. Placing Dr. Ben Carson at HUD is a throwback to an earlier time and gives ample evidence that Trump only sees Blacks through filtered stereotypical lenses. Moreover, a Black history photo op at the National African American Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is not enough to negate the truth.
Candidate Trump only wanted to court enough Black people to peel away a sliver of Black support from Hillary Clinton. “What do you have to lose?” he asked. Trump did not truly want to be seen with Black people given the fact that he did not want to alienate his true base of support. In 2012 Mitt Romney received about seven percent of the Black vote. In 2016 Trump received about eight percent of the Black vote. I am truly worried about that eight percent. Ironically, the person who said President George W. Bush does not care about Black people was also caught in a Black photo op with Trump after the election. Steve Harvey was also caught in a Black photo op with Trump. Of all people who should know better, Martin Luther King, III was also caught in a Black photo op with President-elect Trump. Sadly, Don King and Omarosa Manigault have been there all along. If Trump were truly serious about addressing Black concerns he would not run from the Congressional Black Caucus. As a matter of fact, as revealed in a press conference, he did not even know about the Congressional Black Caucus. Moreover, if he were concerned about Black issues, he would meet directly with the NAACP and other real representatives of the Black community. President Obama addressed the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP. Candidate Obama and President Obama went to Selma to show support for voting rights. Even former President Bush went to Selma. Bush signed the Voting Rights Extension Law. Where was Trump? Where is Trump? His Justice Department has opted out of bringing a lawsuit against Texas’s discriminatory voter I.D. law. Given these set of facts and circumstances, one cannot blame Congressman John Lewis for saying that he would not invite Trump to Selma in 2017.
President Trump is not a person of genuine good will. Therefore, my only conclusion is to beware of the Trump and his Black photo op. It is not important as to what is going on in front of the camera. It is extremely important what is going on out of the reach of the camera. Moreover, how can one support a White politician whose sole reason for existence is to erase and assault as much of the legacy of the first Black President as possible?