ABC reported on Monday that the theme of Tuesday’s Trump Tower meetings would be “African-American issues.” Retired NFL players Jim Brown and Ray Lewis were mentioned as guests.
Tuesday morning, Kanye showed up too. What do these individuals have in common, besides being black celebrities? They have all reacted to the recent resurgence of high-profile civil rights protests by urging black Americans not to worry so much about civil rights.
Here’s Jim Brown on Fox Sports on Dec. 6:
I could talk for ten hours on police brutality through the years, historically, against African-American people—but then, there are other people who have had problems with the police. The problem that I’m looking at, Jason, is young black men terrorizing their own community. My thought of all of this, how it should be cleared up, is to have the community take pride in itself, clean it up, be the cleanest community in the world. Fathers do the right things with their kids and their wives.
Ray Lewis in a Facebook video posted on April 2:
I’m trying to figure out if black lives really matter … we’re not rioting in the streets over black-on-black crime. I’m trying to figure out in my mind why no one is paying attention to black men killing black men. Why do we always find ourselves as the victims, and now we have the separation once again that we’re being victimized because of one bad white cop, two bad white cops, three bad white cops, killing a young black brother. But every day we have black-on-black crime, killing each other. I know black lives matter, because I’m a black man, but man, stop killing each other. Man, we got to put these guns down in Chicago. Baltimore, Miami, man it ain’t that hard. You got to be OK with earning a living.
Kanye at a concert on Nov. 18:
Specifically to black people, stop focusing on racism. This world is racist, OK? Let’s stop being distracted to focus on that as much.
Obviously there is nothing inherently wrong with a black person being concerned about crime or the importance of strong communities; what’s troubling here is that so many white politicians (including some who are very close to Trump) have a history of citing black-on-black crime as a bad-faith distraction from the failures of the American government to treat black citizens with the rights and respect they’re entitled to by the Constitution. Interacting only with black people who want to prioritize the discussion of personal responsibility over problems like police brutality and segregation—a group that also includes Ben Carson, Trump’s only black Cabinet nominee—means ignoring the most pressing “African-American issues” that a president might actually have the power to deal with. (Trump, for his part, has said that Black Lives Matter protesters are “disgraceful” and “looking for trouble.”)
In any case, Kellyanne Conway was happy.
For a discussion of the interplay between public policy, community norms, and personal habits that is roughly a billion times more sophisticated and well-intentioned than anything that ever has or will take place at Trump Tower, please read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ riveting account of his conversations with President Obama about race, respectability politics, and American optimism in the Atlantic.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: Kanye writes on Twitter that he and Trump discussed issues such as “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago” and that “it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change.”