Is Donald Trump a racist?
A surprisingly large number of African American speakers at Trump’s convention this week did their best to refute that perception, even though the crisis that unfolded in Kenosha, Wisconsin, seemed to work against them.
The convention played out over four days under a backdrop of civil disorder sparked by a white police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back.
During the first three days of convention, Trump never said Blake’s name.
As if things were not bad enough, a white 17-year-old, armed with an assault rifle, fatally shot two demonstrators and wounded a third, in the middle of the street, while armed police were on patrol.
The chaos presented an opening for the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, to recount the “Unite the Right Rally,” a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
“They are spewing hate and their veins bulging … and when asked about what happened, Trump says, ‘There are very fine people on both sides,’” Biden told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday morning.
“He views this as a political benefit to him. He’s looking for more violence, not less and is clear about that. What’s he doing except pouring gasoline on the fire,” Biden said.
Thursday evening, a trio of Black voices that included Ben Carson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was among the chorus of African American influencers that highlighted Trump’s accomplishments for Black Americans.
“Many on the other side love to incite division by claiming that President Trump is a racist. They could not be more wrong,” Carson pointed out in his remarks.
“Years ago, Jesse Jackson gave Donald Trump an award for the economic opportunities he created for Black people,” Carson said.
But let’s back up a bit.
Not so long ago, a Black Republican was treated by many in the African American community like a traitor.
Highly accomplished African American Republicans, like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, both of whom served as U.S. secretary of state, were barely celebrated in the Black community.
And God help the Black person that openly supported President Donald Trump in 2016. Singer Chrisette Michele’s career hit the skids after she performed at Trump’s inaugural ball.
But this time around, a string of Black men and women have defended Trump’s record on race, unapologetically.
We saw Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the first African American senator elected from the South since the end of Reconstruction, tout the Republican ticket as the best chance of making the American Dream a reality.
And we saw Clarence Henderson, a civil rights activist who participated in the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, claim Trump has “done more for Black America in four years than Biden has done in 50.”
On Thursday night, Trump doubled-down on his theme of Black inclusion with Ja’Ron Smith, a deputy assistant to the president and the highest-ranking Black official in the Trump administration, and Alice Marie Johnson, a Black beneficiary of a Trump clemency.
To be clear, Trump has also been accused of using pardons in an unpresidential way, in fact, dangling one in front of Paul Manafort, who was convicted as part of a special counsel investigation.
Smith’s background is similar to that of the Black voters Democrats have held sway over for more than 50 years.
He grew up in Cleveland and graduated from a historically Black college.
“I can tell you [Trump] really cares and he takes action. Every issue important to the Black community has been a priority for him — prison reform, building broken families, bringing jobs back to America. Education is a great equalizer, and that is why [Trump] secured money for [historically Black colleges] and is fighting for school choice,” Smith said in his remarks.
Smith was one of [Trump’s] first hires — as director of the Urban Affairs and Revitalization program.
His first project was the “HCBU Initiative,” which increased funding to more than 100 Black colleges and universities.
He also oversaw the First Step Act that he credits with helping 3,000 formerly incarcerated individuals.
Johnson was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense when Kim Kardashian took up her cause. Although a first-time offender, Johnson had served 21 years when Trump granted her clemency in 2018.
“Six months after President Trump granted me a second chance, he signed the First Step Act into law. It was real justice reform ... When President Trump heard about me — about the injustice of my story ... he saw me as a person. He had compassion. And he acted,” Johnson said during her remarks.
Is President Donald Trump a racist?
The Black voices that spoke out on Trump’s behalf this week underscore how complex the topic of race in America continues to be.