One of the less brutal reviews of Ivanka Trump’s book Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, penned by The New York Times’ Jennifer Senior, described it as “a strawberry milkshake of inspirational quotes.”
Indeed, Trump does begin each chapter with a snippet of wisdom from a woman she, presumably, admires. Each is scrawled in darling, lopsided letters on a pink notecard, resembling a throw pillow more than a page in an actual book. Beneath every quote, Trump honors the intelligence and resilience of the featured writer with the thoughtful commentary #ITWISEWORDS.
This recipe ― which NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben accurately described as possessing “the aesthetic of a Pinterest board” more than a career guide ― is vapid and irritating enough. But some of the quotations Trump elects to include, particularly one from Toni Morrison, reveal the staggering extent of Trump’s privilege, entitlement and ignorance.
The quote above comes from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel Beloved, which, inspired by a true story, brings to light the odious ways slavery ripped apart black families through the lens of a mother trying to save her children from its horrors, and the ghastly lengths she endured to do so.
The story follows a mother and escaped slave named Sethe who, upon being discovered by her master, attempts to kill her children to prevent them from being subjected to the barbarity of life on a plantation. Sethe succeeds only in killing her 2-year-old daughter by cutting her neck with a saw. The daughter’s ghost returns to haunt Sethe’s home years later, which is where the story begins.
“Bit by bit ... she had reclaimed herself,” Trump quotes Morrison as saying. “Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
While Morrison’s words reference the experience of liberation after being the literal property of another human being, Trump updates the phrase to address the modern dilemma of spending too much time on one’s phone.
“Are you a slave to your time or the master of it?” Trump asks, seriously using the words slave and master, while quoting Toni Morrison, to talk about time management. “Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to be reactive and get caught up in returning calls, attending meetings, answering e-mails...”
This is not the only moment in the book Trump appropriates the words of others with no consideration or respect for those words’ context and weight. She quotes poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou while discussing negotiating for a raise.
So far, at least one woman quoted in Trump’s book has spoken out with some skepticism about her citation: legendary primatologist Jane Goodall. Her quote, as featured by Trump, reads: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
In an interview with CNN, Goodall said she “sincerely” hopes Trump “will take the full import of my words to heart. She is in a position to do much good or terrible harm.”
Unfortunately, because of the tasteless manner in which Trump has sprinkled the words of others throughout her book like glorified palate cleansers, stripping them of their original context and urgency, it doesn’t seem like she has taken any of the messages to heart.