The Root: When Is It OK to Meet With Trump? Advice for Steve Harvey and Other Black Celebrities

Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States, and therefore people are going to have to talk with him.

Some of those people will be black and disagree with Trump, some of those people will be black and agree with everything Trump says and some of those people will be black and just doing their jobs.

Since Donald Trump is going to be in office for the next 4 to 8 years it’s a pretty good time to get a handle on the right and the wrong way for black public figures and celebrities to interact with a president who’s viewed as a physical and existential threat by most African Americans. In the last 48 hours comedian/show host/suburban-Hotep Steve Harvey and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis have given us a crash course.

For the record, Donald Trump’s rhetoric throughout his campaign was implicitly, and at times explicitly, racist and anti-black. His supporters hold more racist attitudes than your average American or Republican. He selected a white terrorist sympathizer as his chief adviser and he nominated a lifelong opponent of civil rights as Attorney General. If one is choosing to meet with Trump these are publicly known, undisputed facts, and you will be associated with them one way or another.

On Friday, Harvey met with the president-elect at Trump Tower to discuss ‘mentoring’ programs and black inner-city issues. That same day during an NBC interview, Congressman John Lewis said he would not be attending Trump’s inauguration because he thought PEOTUS was illegitimate. Social media has been blowing up both men ever since for vastly different reasons.

First, there is nothing inherently wrong with Steve Harvey meeting with President-elect Trump to discuss issues of urban black poverty. There were poor black people before the Obama Administration and during the administration and there will be poor black people during the Trump administration. If you want to help poor black people, as Harvey claims, then certainly one of the avenues that can be explored is sitting with the president-elect and discussing initiatives.

No one should fault Harvey for meeting with Trump about an issue of importance (or any other celebrity for that matter). I get the disgust. And D.L. Hughley’s admonition to F#$K Trump as a staff, label and an organization is not entirely without merit.
However, what I fault Steve Harvey for is failing to publicly acknowledge the difference between his personal conversation with Trump and Trump’s rhetoric—not just since the election, not just during the election, but for his 40-plus years of public life. I fault Steve Harvey for allowing himself to be used as photo-op deodorant for the stink of racism and white nationalism that permeates this incoming administration. I fault Steve Harvey for trying to cover up his own craven attempt to curry favor with Trump by name dropping Obama. I fault Steve Harvey for centering himself in a conversation about black poverty instead of promoting those with deeper commitment expertise and resumes. Is it really so difficult to say, “I appreciate the call, Mr. President Trump, but I’m already active in this area, let me bring along these unknown underappreciated men and women doing the dirty work on the ground who could use your federal support.”
Of course the typical counter to this would be, “How do you know Steve Harvey isn’t doing that exact thing?” and “How can you engage the new administration if you won’t even meet with them?” Which is where Congressman John Lewis comes in. Less than 24 hours after Harvey did his black ‘walk of shame’ from Trump Tower in New York, the president-elect was tweeting insults at the civil rights icon. Clearly angered that Lewis was not attending the inauguration and calling his presidency into question, Trump attacked Lewis and his 5th congressional district in Atlanta as “falling apart” and “full of crime,” which are not only lies but blatantly racist attacks on a perceived ‘black’ district.

Debating Trump vs. Lewis is pointless. As one tweet pointed out:

 

However, Lewis demonstrates a principled, practical approach to Donald Trump and the failure on the part of Steve Harvey. No matter how nice the Trump Tower meeting was, the next morning Trump did something racist and vulgar. Now, Steve Harvey, who praised Trump as a “sincere” person on Facebook that he’d sit with “anytime” at best looks like a fool and at worse might be confused with another Steve.

Lewis is a member of Congress. If Trump and the GOP propose legislation that benefits African Americans, John Lewis will fight for it and vote for it and be at the Rose Garden signing ceremony. What he’s not about to do, is show up the inauguration, which is in large part a celebration of the new administration. (Lewis doesn’t have to attend a ‘peaceful transfer of power.’ C-SPAN from the comfort of his home is fine.)

Unlike Steve Harvey, Congressman John Lewis voices his complaints, refuses to be a part of Trump’s public relations message and will get down to the business of doing needed work in the black community even if he sees Trump as illegitimate. Meanwhile Steve Harvey is going to Think Like an Opportunist and Act Like a Community Leader.

Steve Harvey will not be the last or even the most craven attempt by a black celebrity to curry favor with Donald Trump under the guise of ‘coming together’ or ‘helping the community.’ However the proximity of his action to John Lewis’ should give us a good template for the right and the wrong way to engage. It’s going to be a long 4 to 8 years. We need to focus on who’s doing the right thing the right way, and spend less time on the wrong person doing whatever gets them closest to power.
This article first appeared online at The Root.
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