In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, many African-American celebrities and activists were paraded through Trump Tower. Notable figures such as Kanye West, Ray Brown, Jim Lewis, and Martin Luther King III are a few that made headlines. There was controversy over singers such as Jennifer Holliday and Chrisette Michelle singing for the newly elected President. These individuals have expressed their hurt caused by the backlash, since the stated goal of these celebrities was to “heal” the Black community by taking a seat at the table.
What does that even mean?
“A seat at the table” in its most basic definition would be an invitation to influence decisions being made by those with affluence or power on behalf of those who don’t. This assertion has recently been fundamentally rejected by many within the Black community as evidenced by social media (if you think people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s aren’t on social media, you’re kidding yourselves). The disdain, admittedly, can be disrespectfully harsh. But surprising? No. The intent behind the invitation is equally as important as the seat itself.
President Trump’s meeting with Steve Harvey falls into this same category. Steve Harvey is many things but perhaps not the best person to reach out to for Urban Housing and Development. When you have groups like the National Urban League--an organization whose purpose is “dedicated to economic empowerment to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities,” with 88 affiliates in 300 communities and 36 states including the District of Columbia, helping over two million people every year--it would make perfect sense to engage with this group.
Harvey garners close to 10 million viewers weekly through the Family Feud and his talk show, but how, exactly, does that lead to him being a staple of policy conversations on housing and urban development? The logic of the Trump Administration still functions like that of a reality-show producer-choosing viewership or policy-making. Or something like that.
The person appointed to handle issues related to Housing and Urban Development is that agency’s Secretary, Ben Carson, recently stated that slaves were immigrants with hopes and dreams working harder and longer for less. This statement alone negates over 245 years of free labor. This statement disgraces the plight of those who suffered through the Middle Passage to face unforeseen suffering, heartbreak, and loss. And as a Black man, Carson should know how these words about this topic matter. It’s baffling to think that an adept neurosurgeon has devolved could detach himself enough from that reality to provide false equivalencies to pander to his intended audience. But these days, in the Trump Administration, coon is the new Black.
I say that with full confidence for many reasons, but also because of Trump and his Administration’s treatment of Black institutions. Recently, President Trump held a meeting with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) leaders which left many of the leaders feeling short-changed. The now viral picture taken in the Oval Office is more noticeable than the conversations held. The resulting executive order itself laid out nothing of substance regarding funding for these institutions but merely stated that these organizations have the President’s support. Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos completely disregarded HBCU’s histories in a candid and completely inaccurate statement promoting school choice. Symbolic solidarity is nice but those respective institutions cannot take Trump’s words to the bank.
How can one view these actions and statements and still insist on working with and within such a government?
Ignorance is the greatest erasure of Black culture and identity. The Black community has been viewed through a white lens as being monolithic, despite that we are at least as equally decentralized as our White peers, and more a set of cultures and communities than one, single, and uniform. There is nothing wrong with being a Black Conservative or being a Black Liberal. On the contrary, this is part of the diversity of the Black community. The disagreement, however, comes from the idea of sacrificing a broader cultural identity in exchange for assimilation. In this era, certain formalities are no longer accepted by African Americans. The next time another seat at the Presidential table is offered, I hope that the invitee takes a long look at the offer and ascertains if the concessions are worth the invitation.
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