This year's Black History Month Theme meets the reality of the Age of Trump.
It is Black History Month again. You remember. It is when TV networks suddenly pop up with Black History tidbits mouthed by stars of their shows, PBS breaks out documentaries, and actors get work showing up at elementary school assemblies portraying Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, or some other safe and approved hero. All in all it’s a good thing, but not uncontroversial. African-Americans are meant to feel uplifted and honored. Whites, hopefully, get their eyes opened to both some harsh realities and have some stereotypes shattered.
Typically the President issues a Proclamation, makes a speech, or invites iconic Black figures to the White House for special events. Under President Barack Obama—remember him?—there was perhaps understandably a whole series of events every year including concerts and reunions with surviving Civil Rights Movement veterans. In his last year in office last year he and Michelle had a touching moment with a 100 year old plus proud woman voter.
This year Donald Trump posted one of those Tweets that was obviously written by his staff—no spelling errors, mystifying ramblings, self-pity, or attacks on his real or perceived enemies and it was posted mid-afternoon Saturday, not in a middle-of-the-night Tweet storm.
National African American History Month is an occasion to rediscover the enduring stories of African Americans and the gifts of freedom, purpose, and opportunity they have bestowed on future generations…
To say the least, nobody was fooled by the charade.
The Resident also issued the obligatory Black History Month Proclamation written by someone on staff who once cracked at text book or at least Googled Black History Month 2020.
… The theme of this year’s observance, “African Americans and the Vote,” coincides with the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which gave African American men the right to vote. This Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, prohibits the government from denying or abridging a citizen’s right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Today, this guarantee is enforced primarily throughout the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an enduring legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement.
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the first African American to serve in the Congress. In 1870, Hiram Revels, a Mississippi Republican, served a 1-year term in the Senate, where he fought for justice and racial equality. During his lifetime, Senator Revels served as a military chaplain, a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a college administrator. But it was Revels’ tenure in the Congress that truly distinguished him as a trailblazer. He made history serving our Nation in a building that had been constructed by slave laborers just a decade earlier.
My Administration has made great strides in expanding opportunity for people of all backgrounds. Over the past 2 years, the poverty and unemployment rates for African Americans have reached historic lows. Through the transformative Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, more than 8,700 distressed communities battling economic hardship have been designated Opportunity Zones, creating a path for struggling communities to unlock investment resources and create much needed jobs and community amenities. I also signed into law the historic First Step Act, which rolled back unjust provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which disproportionately harmed African American communities. The First Step Act provides inmates with opportunities for job training, education, and mentorship. We want every person leaving prison to have the tools they need to take advantage of a second chance to transform their lives and pursue the American dream after incarceration. Additionally, last December, I was proud to sign into law the groundbreaking FUTURE Act, which ensures full support for historically black colleges and universities over the next 10 years.
Note how even in this official document the Cheeto-in-Charge can’t resist tooting his own horn while ignoring the systematic attacks on Black voting rights by his administration and its allies in state governments who are doing everything in their power to purge Black voters, throw up daunting obstacles to registration, making it difficult and expensive to obtain required identification, closing registration offices in or near Black communities, and shortchanging black polling places with adequate voting machines and supplies creating long and discouraging lines.
Discouraging Black voters with hours long lines by manipulating polling sites and short changing them on voting machines and supplies is a tool in the voter suppression kit.
Those kinds of actions helped shave black votes in 2016 and may have contributed to his victories in some states. Despite several successful court ruling against those policies, Republicans are boldly ramping up new efforts for this year’s election and are confident that Trump appointed Supreme Court justices will reverse decades of precedent and approve all or most of the new laws and regulations.
It’s all about stealing the election in plain sight and is probably as a heinous an attack on democracy as the House Impeachment charges.
Trump looked a little overwhelmed and frightened when Kanye West visited him in the Oval Office.
Although Trump could not be much bothered to make gestures to Black History Month on Saturday—he dared not make another shoddy three minute pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Memorial on the Mall or a visit to the Smithsonian’s Black History Museum. He did not even bother for an Oval Office photo op with designated administration token Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, fellow megalomaniac Kanye West, or any of the handful of Black athletes and celebrities that have been photographed in MAGA caps.
But on Sunday his presidential campaign did air two commercials during the Super Bowl intended to show him as not racist and a friend to Blacks. One touted the release from prison of Alice Jackson, the middle aged non-violent drug offender whose cause was touted to the President by West’s celebrity wife, Kim Kardashian and claimed that he was supporting “reuniting families” by his signing the First Step Act which passed Congress with bi-partisan support to expedite the release of drug offenders caught up in the draconian war on crime Federal minimum sentence guidelines.
The ad was offensive on two counts. First, Trump can hardly be said to be a champion of family unification when his signature war on immigrants continues to tear children from their families and holds them in concentration camp conditions. Secondly his Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr is actively fighting release of inmates under the First Step Act. It isn’t a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, but a typical Trumpian shell game.
By the way, the commercial was conveniently bracketed on either side by Fox TV ads to prevent it from bumping into any contrary messages.
And, of course, there was the not-so-subtle irony of Trump airing ads during the NFL’s big event after trash talking the League for allowing their players to take a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police murders of Black citizens. If rich white team owners had their feathers ruffled over the criticism, Colin Kaepernick and other Black players were at risk of physical violence at the hands of those stirred up by Trump’s racist vitriol.
Drawing on centuries of struggle Black Americans know how to fight back.
Of course African Americans do not want or need Donald Trump’s approval or pat on the head. They know who their enemy is. And they can draw from the powerful lessons of Black history for inspiration in resisting this current manifestation of American racism and attempts to restore Jim Crow.