On Wednesday, Howie Carr, a Boston radio show host, warmed up the crowd at a Trump rally in Maine. Carr mocked Elizabeth Warren—a Massachusetts senator who once dubiously claimed Native American heritage—by imitating a war whoop. Trump, who had previously challenged the validity of a Connecticut tribe on the grounds that “they don’t look like Indians,” routinely calls Warren “Pocahontas.” But the whoop was only the second-most obnoxious part of this episode. Today comes word that Trump, while offering encouragement to Carr, invoked anti-black comments made 28 years ago by a sports commentator, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder.
In a Boston Herald column, Carr describes a conversation with Trump that took place on Wednesday, after the rally in Maine. Carr indicates that the conversation was about the war whoop. He says Trump gave him this advice: “Whatever you do, don’t apologize. You never hear me apologize, do you? That’s what killed Jimmy the Greek way back. Remember? He was doing OK ’til he said he was sorry.”
Really? Trump thinks Jimmy the Greek shouldn’t have apologized?
Let’s go back and look at the comments that got Snyder fired from his broadcasting job in 1988. On Jan. 15, Martin Luther King’s birthday, a reporter asked Snyder about the status of blacks in sports. Snyder, on video, gave several answers, including the following:
1) “The black is a better athlete to begin with, because he’s been bred to be that way. Because of his high thighs that go up into his back. And they can jump higher and run faster because of their bigger thighs.”
2) “This goes back all the way to the Civil War, when, during the slave trading, the owner, the slave owner, would breed his big black to his big woman so that he could have a big black kid. That’s where it all started.”
3) “They’ve [blacks] got everything. If they take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there’s not going to be anything left for the white people. I mean, all the players are black. I mean, the only thing that the whites control is the coaching jobs.”
Snyder’s remarks were aired that evening, prompting outrage. He responded with a statement: “I’m truly sorry for my remarks earlier today, and I offer a full, heartfelt apology to all I may have offended.” The next day, he issued another statement: “I am truly sorry for my remarks, and once again I offer my heartfelt apology to all I may have offended.” In an interview, Snyder said of his racial remarks: “What a foolish thing to say. … I thought I was being instructive, when in fact, I was destructive.” But Snyder refused to resign. The next day, CBS fired him.
What exactly is it about these apologies that Trump considers a mistake? When Trump says Snyder “was doing OK” until he apologized, what does Trump mean? What’s “OK,” in Trump’s view, about the things Snyder said about black people?
Even if you have a high tolerance for discussing genetics and race—which I do—Snyder’s remarks crossed several boundaries of acceptable behavior. First, his statements about breeding during the slave trade—creating a supersized population of black people in a few generations—were scientifically and historically preposterous. Second, his use of an archetype, “the black,” ignored the diversity of individuals and projected a bogus, binary racial hierarchy. That kind of crude simplification is a core element of racism. Third, Snyder’s comments about coaching—that “there’s not going to be anything left for white people” if blacks “take over” those jobs—conveyed a mindset of zero-sum racial conflict that has often fueled resistance to integration.
Now Trump says Snyder was “OK” until he apologized for saying these things. That remark by Trump, witnessed and reported by his own warmup speaker, can’t be ignored. In this campaign, Trump has already slurred Muslims, Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, and Seventh Day Adventists. Now he’s saying a man who had slurred blacks shouldn’t have apologized. It’s time to ask Trump why, and in what sense Snyder’s remarks were OK.