On Friday, NBA player Dwyane Wade’s cousin, 32-year-old Nykea Aldridge, was tragically shot and killed by crossfire in a Chicago shooting. Within hours of her death, surely before her friends and family (including four children) even had the chance to process her death, Donald Trump decided to make the tragedy about himself.
The tweet was heartless, opportunistic, and yet another example of Trump pandering to black voters by insulting them, ignoring the issues they truly care about, and playing into racist ideas about the black community. These are ideas that, in actuality, appeal to a subset of his white, anti-black supporters.
Trump has earned criticism in recent weeks for the way he has been courting African-Americans. The problem, of course, is that so much of the rhetoric Trump has used to appeal to black voters is steeped in stereotypes and generalizations about black people. That’s how a lot of political pandering works, of course ― Hillary Clinton hitting the Nae Nae and posting blogs about how she’s like every Latino’s abuela is a prime example of that.
Clinton’s pandering may be obnoxious to some, but Trump’s is just downright dangerous. He draws on generalizations steeped in racist ideology ― generalizations designed specifically to avoid actually addressing perhaps the most important issues facing black people at the moment: racism and police brutality.
In a speech at a Michigan rally on Aug. 20, Trump tried to entice black people to vote for him by painting a dire, desperate picture of black life that implicated no one but black people themselves. “What do you have to lose?” Trump asked. “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
On Monday, he tweeted the following:
It’s true that community violence, poverty, unemployment, and subpar education are issues that plague members of the black community, although Trump has a tendency to paint broad pictures without getting his numbers right. Inner-city crime, for instance: inner-city crime is not at “record levels.” Trump’s preoccupation with black-on-black violence is telling of his complete ignorance of racism’s lethal impact across the country.
At this point, Trump’s complete avoidance of the topic of police brutality is ridiculous. When he does address it, he addresses it only tangentially, focusing mostly on the shootings of police officers (which are of course important to acknowledge). He completely glosses over the unjust deaths of black men and women as a result of police violence. When he does talk about violence against black people, it’s always in regards to black-on-black crime.
In November 2015, Trump retweeted an image with (false) statistics on so-called black-on-black crime vs. police shootings of black people. The original image has since been deleted, though a screencap taken by The Washington Post reveals a graphic of a dark skinned man with a bandana on his head, pointing a gun, with statistics that claim “97 percent” of black people were killed by black people in 2015, and only “16 percent” of white people were killed by other white people.
It was later revealed that the statistics were completely false ― 82 percent of white people were killed by other white people in 2014, according to the FBI. But the truth of the fake statistics didn’t actually matter ― what mattered to Trump, and to many of those who bring up black-on-black crime is the picture it paints of black people in America. The black lives taken by black lives are inconsequential to Trump. All they serve to do is deflect from a larger conversation of police brutality.
Which brings us back to Trump’s tweet. Two-hundred-and-thirty-nine empty characters inexplicably linking Nykea Aldridge’s death to why black people will vote for him. The tweet, totally dismissing Aldridge’s humanity, is really all about pushing the narrative of black people shooting black people as the only problem within the black community.
Some people have suggested that Trump isn’t actually courting black voters. Surely, he realizes that there’s little chance that he’ll earn a meaningful portion of the black vote. Instead, as Domenico Montanaro argued recently on NPR, he’s reaching out to black people in order to better appeal to “whites with college degrees [who] don’t want to feel like they are voting for somebody who’s seen as a bigot or a racist.”
But there’s something else at play here. Because Trump is also appealing to white voters who may not care if he’s seen as a bigot or racist, in addition to voters who themselves have views that may be considered bigoted or racist. By framing the “black problem” as one that reinforces every stereotype about black people (lazy, violent, uneducated), he’s also letting these kinds of voters know that he has no intention of actually engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement, or the conversation surrounding police brutality.
It’s a win-win for him, but black people lose regardless.