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The Trump Effect on Black History Month

It’s somehow hard not to have an uncomfortable feeling about President Trump’s acknowledgement of Black History Month.

Sure, it was appropriate. Every president since Gerald Ford has issued a proclamation doing the same. But it also came at what seemed to be a well-staged event, designed to make Trump look like he was “down.”

On Wednesday, Trump surrounded himself with what seemed to be a council of Black right-wing advocates (I’m not coining the term COBRA, just so you know) in a White House Black History Month listening session. It seemed like more campaigning, bashing CNN and support gathering.

He spoke of Frederick Douglass, almost in the present tense. He joked with his public engagement surrogate Omarosa Manigault. Pledged that Housing and Urban Development designee Dr. Ben Carson would lead his plan to turn around inner cities, which he describes as  full of “carnage.” He even listened as one of the attendees told him that “top gang thugs” are Trump supporters.

Maybe in his mind, this was an answer to the former First Couple’s “fist bump” (a term the media conjured. Before then, Black people always called this the “pound.”)

Later he issued his own proclamation acknowledging what the White House called “National African-American History Month. This actually is not new at all. President Obama did this each year of his tenure in office.

“The contributions African-Americans have made and continue to make are an integral part of our society, and the history of African-Americans exemplifies the resilience and innovative spirit that continue to make our Nation great,” Trump wrote. But I thought we have to “Make America Great Again.” I’m confused. Okay, okay, I’m picking straws.

But there are some things that are glaring — particularly at a Black History month event.

First, if Trump is acknowledging these people, why is there no mention of his predecessor — you know, the first Black man to sit in the office he now occupies?

Second, it’s really hard to get around what he said about Chicago, threatening to “send in the Feds,” as a response to violent crime there. At the event Wednesday he seemed to double down on this, apparently believing that a heavy handed (and perhaps militarized) approach to this would be the solution.

And finally, does he believe that COBRA…I mean only those Blacks who say they support him would be the only problem-solvers? There are thousands of African-Americans with boots on the ground today, working in the community to train people for jobs, intervening in conflicts before they turn violent, providing health care, teaching children. They’ve already made America great. Will the president lend his support to any of them?

Right now, the only thing we know specifically that the president has planned that involved inner cities is a rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure. It’s an ambitious plan that would cost billions (maybe more than $1 trillion) and employ tens of thousands directly — if it happens. Maybe that would alleviate the disproportionate numbers of unemployed African-Americans across the country, it’s a wait and see.

But just looking at those Trump is currently surrounding himself with, it’s hard to imagine that a small group of Black conservatives would be able to create transformative change for 12 percent of the population. It didn’t happen for Reagan or either of the Bushes. So I won’t hold my breath in this case either.

Who knows, maybe by next Black History Month, we’ll know the results of the Trump Effect on our community. But to be honest, we don’t need a Trump Effect. We need to affect Trump.

That would really be Black History.

Madison J. Gray is Managing Editor of and