Earlier this month, President Trump convened a press conference where he surrounded himself with an assorted group of Black celebrities, Black athletes, a few Black conservative policy makers and other relatively well known Black individuals who lean politically right. This, in and of itself, was nothing out of the ordinary. After all, February is Black History Month. Moreover, one would fully expect Donald Trump, (like his more recent predecessors), to demonstrate some degree of acknowledgment to the significant accomplishments of Black Americans. OK, so far, so good.
What drew amusement from certain segments of the media was the manner in which the president behaved. Flanked by former reality television star and a communication director for the Trump administration, Omaraosa Manigualt Stallworth; current housing and urban development (HUD) nominee Ben Carson; longtime conservative strategist Armstrong Williams; Trump campaign surrogate, Paris Dennard and others, the president gave his take on the significance of Black History Month.
Trump referred to reknown 19th century abolitionist, author, scholar and intellectual Frederick Douglass as a man who has “done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.” This comment, understandably, raised some hackles and resulted in more than a few sides. Nonetheless, the president did not stop there. In fact, he was just getting started. He then moved on to focus his attention on Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, describing the “big impact” both women made.
To be sure, no one would dispute the fact that Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks are historical giants in the Black community and are viewed as semi-immortal in the minds of people of all races and ethnicities. The heroic and defiant stances they took , particularly at a time when exhibiting such behavior for Black people often resulted in violence, severe repercussions and even possible death are to be acknowledged, commended and celebrated.
President Trump in his awkward and ill-informed efforts to salute the accomplishments of Black Americans actually managed to marginalize and obscure the important contributions that were made by these individuals and their contemporaries. Rather than properly salute such accomplishments, he trivialized them. This was very unfortunate. Eventually, Trump moved on to present day issues as he briefly discussed his plans for tackling the problems facing America’s inner cities and other policies that he intended to implement in an effort to help the larger Black community. In short, the press conference became a showcase about Donald Trump himself.
The fact is that if one had to critique President Trump for his knowledge in Black history, the likely grade would be a “C” for effort and an “F” for actual comprehension. Combine the two grades and you get a final grade of “D” and that was graded on a curve. He clearly demonstrated his diminutive knowledge or interest of Black history, and by that extension, Black people.
To be honest and fair, Trump’s deplorably deficient knowledge of Black history and the contributions made by people of African descent is probably no worse than the majority of White Americans. In fact, the majority of Whites have little, if any, interest in Black or other non-White history. Sad to say, the same holds true for some fellow people of color for that matter.
That being said, such a dim result demonstrates the crucial need for Black history to be taught not just in public and private schools, but rather such information needs to be exposed in every area of American and international society. The facts are that:
• Black history has too often been minimized by the larger society
• Many positive contributions of Black people have failed to be acknowledged
• The current racial climate calls for more discussion of Black history
• Black history is an integral part of the fabric American history
Black history is a history of a people that epitomizes dignity, faith and a deep commitment to humanity. It is a history of a people (the same can be said of other ethnic groups) that deserves to be saluted permanently, not relegated solely to one month of the year. This fact in and of itself is patronizing and insulting. Black history is a potent entity that epitomizes and symbolizes power, strength and resiliency. It deserves the nation’s full and undivided attention.