During Black History Month, few black New Yorkers think White House is reaching out
“He breaks my heart. My feelings are hurt,” said 38-year-old Carolynne McCoy. “Trump is separating people. That’s not what the U.S. stands for.”
“Donald Trump doesn’t like black people, Trump doesn’t care for black people,” the sales associate from East New York, in outer Brooklyn, continued. “He doesn’t care for Black History Month. And I certainly don’t believe that he believes in Black Lives Matter.”
“I see people being more aggressive. It’s our national leader being racist, so what’s to stop the average man from being that way?” McCoy asked.
“I try to avoid conflict, confrontation, but I feel a tense situation on the subway,” she described the mood on public transportation in New York City. “[Normally] it’s like, you stay in your lane, I stay in mine. Now people feel like they can rear their ugly heads more.”
In Trump’s hometown, African-Americans remember the legacy of discrimination that has long tainted the Trump real estate empire, and were shocked by the uptick in overtly racist incidents in the month following Election Day. Even so, many want to keep an open mind about the prospects of his administration, while retaining realistic expectations for the next four years.
Yet they’ve been unnerved by speeches ostensibly about black issues — to predominantly white audiences — with a superficial, patronizing tone used to address poverty and crime. Moreover, a dizzying sequence of executive orders has caused increasing fear among minority populations across the board.
And during yesterday’s press conference, amid countless other verbal assaults that enraged liberal-minded Americans, the president asked an African-American journalist to set up his appointment with the Congressional Black Caucus. A subsequent Twitter exchange shed light on the fact that Trump had as yet ignored — perhaps unsurprisingly — the CBC’s previous attempt to convene such a meeting.
With Ben Carson the only African-American in the cabinet and a mere handful of black advisors around the periphery of Trump’s political circle, the new commander-in-chief has made scant efforts to foster much diversity.
In his remarks at the start of Black History Month, Trump set off a firestorm of controversy for suggesting that abolitionist icon Frederick Douglass was still around. “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice,” he said.
This week, a black member of Trump’s transition team argued to a room full of executives that the new cabinet was actually as diverse as Barack Obama’s first.
Besides consistently gloating about the size of his electoral victory, the president himself has been thanking black people for staying home in the November 8 election. For the record, 88 percent of African-Americans who went to the polls picked Hillary Clinton, five points lower than the percentage who pulled the lever for Obama in 2012.
‘What he puts into action’
One Queens stay-at-home mother is a former community liaison willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, for now.
Thirty-three-year-old Charlie-Monroe Brown, said, “Everyone is their own individual. I’m interested in seeing what he’s about. I don’t know him. I want to see what he puts into action.”
“Black History Month is important, but not the same as it was before. Trump is about what’s important to him,” she summarized. “But you can’t say, ‘He doesn’t care about black people’.”
On the one hand, many African-Americans see the political prescriptions for policies that they don’t particularly like. However, beyond the specifics of health care, education, and immigration, there are symbolic matters that may bother voters even more.
“Trump has no sincere regard for Black History Month,” said Baraka Smith, 47, a Brooklyn resident and firefighter. “It’s pretty obvious he doesn’t take it seriously, with the whole thing implying that Frederick Douglass was still alive.”
“It started off as Negro History Week to dispel the racist myth that Africans haven’t contributed to civilization. That’s the stated purpose, not a pop culture celebration.”
“Donald Trump wants to make America like it’s the 1940’s again, with second-class citizens,” he said, before articulating his stance on what many activists see as the continuation of the civil rights struggle in the contemporary era — a fault line that could at any point be inflamed due to the proliferation of angry rhetoric on both sides.
“A lot of people are equating Black Lives Matter with a terrorist organization,” Smith said of many Trump supporters. “From what I understand, it’s not anti-police, but about holding them accountable. You can’t go around murdering people.”
Christian and Iko, two 17-year-old high school students who attend Summit Academy in Red Hook, but reside in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, said that their government class addressed the notion of checks and balances on the executive branch. It is within this context that their teacher explained limitations on implementing the Republican leader’s agenda.
“It shouldn’t affect us [negatively] just to have a white president, but it’s good that he hasn’t done much — compared to what he said he was going to do,” said Christian. “I think most people don’t care outside of school. They brush it to the side.”
McCoy, the sales associate who works at Atlantic Terminal, concluded that her concern at the local level was “more a politics thing than an ethnic thing. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
She reduced the main problem to “economic racism, [which] blocks me from getting what I want, from moving forward in life. It’s about money, control, power.”