As part of a retrospective on Fusion about the presidency of Barack Obama, Morgan State political science and communications professor Jason Johnson discussed the President Obama’s legacy on politics, race relations and the economy.
Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States, and therefore people are going to have to talk with him.
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.
Debating Trump vs. Lewis is pointless. As one tweet pointed out:
John Lewis was endorsed by MLK. Donald Trump is endorsed by the KKK.
— Marcus H. Johnson (@smoothkobra) January 14, 2017
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.
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.
On CNN New Day, Morgan State University professor Jason Johnson and Chicago Sun-Times Crime Reporter Frank Main discuss hate crimes charges in the beating of a special needs person while broadcast on Facebook Live.
In the summer of 2007, I spent time in Johannesburg, South Africa, working with government officials and activists to improve local elections. South Africans were generally friendly, but I was struck by how optimistic they were about the future of the country even though apartheid had only ended, like, 15 minutes ago. (1991 to be exact.) I couldn’t understand why they weren’t more enraged and bitter. One night at dinner, I asked one of my colleagues why.
“We’re here in a restaurant that you couldn’t eat at when you were 16 years old because of apartheid. That’s not ancient history. That’s high school. Doesn’t that make you angry still?” I asked. “The last ‘Whites Only’ sign was probably taken down 10 years before I was born—but black Americans are still pissed about racism, past and ongoing.”
She considered my question for a minute, probably thinking of a way to explain a lot of complicated history to an American outsider.
“Well, we got our country back,” she said. “We’re home; it’s our land. You fought and you’re still in a place that doesn’t want you.”
That simple conversation explains a lot about the current social media flap about conservative host Tomi Lahren, The Daily Show host Trevor Noah and radio personality Charlamagne tha God from The Breakfast Club. Sometimes, our legitimate black anger doesn’t let us see what’s going on and blinds us to how blacks in the Diaspora view American race relations.
When Trevor Noah interviewed the Blaze’s Tomi Lahren last week, no one predicted it would create so many trending hot takes. Objectively, Noah’s interview with Lahren was pretty good. Many of his longtime, mostly white, media critics turned away from their Jon Stewart memorial shrines long enough to praise Noah for coming into his own. Many black pundits and Twitterati did drive-by analysis of the interview after it went viral (because let’s be honest, The Daily Show audience doesn’t boast a regular large black viewership). The general consensus was either 1) Noah let Lahren off too easy or 2) he never should’ve given her bigoted views a platform to begin with.
Some of this early criticism by black Twitter wasn’t exactly fair since, unless you’re a fan of his work, judging Trevor Noah’s comedy and progressive chops by his one interview with Tomi Lahren is akin to judging Dave Chappelle by his “Give Trump a chance” monologue on SNL and ignoring anything else he’s done in comedy.
A week later, when Charlamagne tha God, faux woke comedian and professional troll from The Breakfast Club, was caught playing Instagram footsie angling for an interview with Lauren, black Twitter called the Drop Squad. Suddenly Charlamagne, and Noah, were sellouts, seduced by a White She-Devil and unwittingly giving a platform to increasingly bold white supremacists in this post-Trump America.
Trevor Noah, relatively new to this game, is being dragged by Twitter for something he never did.
I am a huge fan of Noah’s brand of political humor and have been ever since I saw the documentary about his life You Laugh but It’s True at a film festival in 2012. Since taking over The Daily Show in 2015, his critics have accused him of, basically, not being Jon Stewart. Trevor Noah doesn’t embody the East Coast white liberal outrage that other Daily Show alums like John Oliver and Samantha Bee have honed with laser-like efficiency. For black folks wanting searing racial political humor, Larry Wilmore was on Comedy Central for a year picking up the slack. Noah didn’t have the burden of being both black and white America’s political comedy catharsis.
All of that is different now with the election of white-nationalist-sympathizing Donald Trump. Black people are legitimately scared. In this age of creeping white nationalism, if a liberal host (especially a black one) has a conservative guest, anything short of a Gladiator-style verbal evisceration, followed by a slow thumbs-down and a tossing of bloody rhetorical entrails to the audience for sport is tantamount to collusion with the enemy. But that’s not Trevor Noah’s style and it doesn’t have to be. He’s more Yakov Smirnoff than Paul Mooney. He’s an outsider more bemused than enraged by our politics.
If there is any criticism I have of Noah in the wake of this fake controversy it’s that he doesn’t spend enough time sharing how his world view differs from the audience’s. His best comedy is when he flips our flawed democracy into typical politics throughout Africa. As a child he lived through apartheid, which was like the Batman of white supremacy; it took the best parts of racism from around the world and perfected it … at the expense of 85 percent of the population for 70 years.
Just because Noah’s comedy is more driven by the philosophy of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee than our Western notions of getting revenge and getting even doesn’t make him soft on bigotry. Trevor Noah’s treating Tomi Lahren nicely after his show is no worse a crime than my South African colleagues tipping a white waiter in a restaurant that used to not serve blacks. Sometimes you show power by not letting bigots dictate your behavior.
Over the next four (likely eight) years, there will be plenty of white-nationalist-sympathizing conservatives out there, and plenty of black media people who will try to suck up to them. Charlamagne tha God is a professional provocateur who thought he’d get some clicks and some good trolling out of dangling a “pretty white girl” in front of his mostly black audience. But even he realized he was playing himself.
Trevor Noah, who perforated Tomi Lahren’s bigotry for 20 minutes shouldn’t be caught in the crossfire of shade bullets aimed at Tha God. He’s bringing good comedy and satire from a perspective that could do us some good in these coming trying times. Perhaps next time, black Twitter should listen to more than his comedy highlights before burying him.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
On News One Now with Roland Martin, The Root Politics Editor Jason Johnson discussed the issues of the day with Lauren Victoria Burke of NBC BLK, Brandon Cooper of the Prince George’s County Maryland Republican Party and author Avis Jones-Deweever.
On the Passing of Gwen Ifill
On President Obama’s Outreach to President-Elect Trump
On reaction to the election, with Kevin Washington of the Association of Black Psychologists
With singer/songwriter Kenny Lattimore