As I reflect on the history and accomplishments of my people at the beginning of Black History Month, I can’t help but consider the tone of our country as we strive to, “make America great again.”
When I first heard that slogan during the early stages of President Donald Trump’s campaign, I wasn’t sure what those words meant. Like most people, I believed that America was already great, that we were the most wonderful country on the face of this earth — the great American melting pot that attracted people from all corners of the globe. However, it soon became obvious what a great America should be based on the continued divisive comments made by then candidate Trump: the spike in gun sales, the spike in domestic terrorists attacks and the increase in racist and divisive rhetoric.
As he campaigns for a second term, Mr. Trump seems to be trying to appeal to African American voters. Many were special invited guests to his State of the Union speech last week, including a young African-American girl whom the president announced was getting a scholarship to go to the school of her choice. Mr. Trump also recently announced a Black Voices for Trump initiative, has rolled out funding for HBCUs and supported some prison reform efforts.
I won’t be fooled. Mr. Trump has proven time and again how he feels about African Americans.
The instance that floored me the most was the comment that candidate Trump made at a campaign rally in California: “Oh, look at my African American over here!” Mr. Trump exclaimed, pointing at an African American man, Gregory Cheadle, who was in the crowd. “Look at him! Are you the greatest?” Mr. Cheadle in an instant went from being a curious spectator to Mr. Trump’s pet. I can only imagine the pain and embarrassment felt by Mr. Cheadle. I could not believe that a man who sought to become the “leader of the free world could be so insensitive. In coming months, he constantly referred to African Americans as “the Blacks,” further reducing us to objects rather than human beings.
Candidate Trump was also slow to condemn white supremacist groups and their actions in the aftermath of the tragic white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. "There were good people on both sides,” he said. Wow, Mr. President, I didn’t know that there were any “good” white supremacists. He referred to countries with predominantly black populations as “sh**hole” countries and attacked a group of black and brown female Congresswomen. “They are from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe” he said, adding that they should “go back” to those countries.
As we draw closer and closer to the presidential election, Mr. Trump will undoubtedly attempt to reach out even more to African American voters despite his history of divisive comments and apparent lack of empathy toward the African American community. He will look for a few more of “his African Americans” to strategically place throughout the crowd to give the appearance of a diversified front of support. Or he may resort to “tough talk” to point out all the flaws in African American communities. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed," he once said. "What the hell do you have to lose?”
We have a lot to lose by supporting you and your agenda, Mr. President. What we have to lose is the hope of a unified, diverse nation striving for the "dream” that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about in his inspiring speech. What we have to lose is the premise and ideology of our Pledge of Allegiance, “One nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”
I will wait to see how and if Mr. Trump publicly acknowledges Black History Month or the historical contributions of my people. Unfortunately, such an omission fits his pattern: He acknowledges African Americans when and only when it benefits his agenda.
Amahl A. Foster (email@example.com) is a firefighter who lives in Baltimore.