Gage Skidmore/Flickr, CC 2.0
She might be spilling the tea now with her new tell-all book, but the opportunistic former White House aide has knowingly colluded with white supremacists. Why do we have her back?
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The internet damn near broke last week when Donald Trump called a Black woman, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, a “lowlife” and a “dog,” reportedly in response to the upcoming publication of her tell-all, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.
On the morning of August 14, in an apparent attempt to discredit her and her book, Trump tweeted: “When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”
Many Black people—especially women—were deeply offended. I honestly thought something was wrong with me because I was unbothered and shrugged it off.
“But he’s the President of the United States!” folks fumed on social media. “That’s no way for him to talk about a Black woman.” But what do you expect from a bedswerving, klazomaniac, wandought with a long history of degrading women, one who even called a male U.S. senator a “pussy” on live television?
And let us not pretend this is the first time we’ve heard an American president utter, or even do filthy, racist things to Black people. Remember, some of them owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson repeatedly raped and enslaved a Black woman under the guise of a “romantic relationship.” Abraham Lincoln, the so-called “great emancipator,” called Black people “niggers.” So did Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon called Black folks “bastards” who “live like dogs.” Ronald Reagan called Black women “welfare queens.” These statements were made publicly, so we can imagine what they called Black folks privately. Even for those presidents who didn’t use blatant racial slurs, their bigotry was manifested in their deleterious policies.
Trump is loudly and unapologetically anti-Black, not just in his tweets but also with his policies. As Teen Vogue reported in late April, his administration is rolling back nearly five dozen federal environmental regulations (most from Obama’s presidency). These impact Black Americans the most, according to a study by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Black Americans are “exposed to 38 percent more polluted air” than whites, and 75 percent more likely to live in communities that are vulnerable to pollution. Plus his appointment of billionaire Betsy “DeVoid” to Secretary of Education was made deliberately to harm Black and brown people and ensure that public schools continue to feed the school-to-prison pipeline. Trump’s proposals to cut back spending on education are likely to increase the risks for poor and working-class Black students.
We cannot forget that in January, he described many African nations, and Haiti and El Salvador as “shithole countries.” He consistently denigrates women. And during the Obama administration, he spawned the birther movement, challenging President Obama’s U.S. citizenship.
The day after Trump called her a “dog,” Omarosa said on MSNBC that “he has absolutely no respect for women, for African-Americans.” Recall his recent descriptions of CNN anchor Don Lemon as “the dumbest man on television,” questioning the intelligence of both NBA superstar LeBron James, and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and calling NFL players “sons of bitches.” All this to say: I’m not sure why so many people lost their shit over the Omarosa tweet. Like, what do folks expect from him? How are we rationalizing our outrage?
I am not invested in believing that any white male (or many female) politicians will ever genuinely recognize and respect the humanity of Black people. None. And I certainly won’t beg for racists to acknowledge my humanity. That said, I certainly am not more offended by Trump calling Omarosa a “lowlife” and a “dog” than by anything he says about and does to Black people as part of his “Make America White Again” agenda.
But we need to have this conversation because of the reactivity and toll it takes on Black folks. Yes, Donald Trump is a buffoon, a dangerous idiot with a lot of power who sends distracting dog whistles that make too many folks lose sight of the dangerous policy shit he’s creating to further ruin our lives. Last week’s outrage exposed some political ruptures in the Black community and questions about “sisterhood.” The social media chatter also showed how desperately Black people need to start practicing radical self-love. What does that mean? What does that look like? And why is it so essential in these times?
Of course we have very strong, visceral negative reactions to whites and other non-Black people comparing us to animals in any context. It’s easy to see that the term “dog,” when applied to a girl or woman, is a thinly disguised code for “bitch.”
Trump’s tweet struck a deep chord, even among Black Americans who had written Omarosa off as a sellout, a Trump puppet, a Republican Auntie Tom and racial turncoat who had both her Black card and all invites to the cookouts revoked. The president’s tweet unleashed the Black cavalry in a 180-degree turnaround fueled by racial allegiance and loyalty despite her past transgressions.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chair of the African-American Studies department at Princeton University, told the media that there was “something deeply racial” about that comment, part of a long history of whites attacking Black intelligence “as a way of justifying our dehumanization.” There is a 400-year history of references to Black people as dogs or other animals as legitimately triggering. One a visceral level it’s a “he could be/is talking about me, my daughter, mother, sisters, etc.” Trump’s tweet conjured pain in particular for many Black women.
Of course this is true. And that, combined with Trump’s devotion to setting off outrage in those groups he considers beneath him, is something we regularly experience these days.
Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted: “How dare the president call @Omarosa or any Black woman a dog! RT if you agree that is going way too far!”
The Women’s March leaders released a statement that said, in response to what they called Trump’s “toxic targeting” of Black women: “Women are not dogs. We are not B***hes. We are people.”
Others maintain that while these comments were out of line, they are consistent with Trump’s general attitudes, and not specific to Omarosa.
There are even those theorizing that Omarosa might be brilliantly executing a devious plan to bring down the evil empire with her secret recordings, and that her previous words and actions against people of color were just part of her stealth strategy.
Certainly, some of the arguments are valid. But for the most part, laying out all of that discourse to cover Omarosa potentially silences any other nuanced responses. It’s hard to parse Trump’s shitty behavior and talk about the person Omarosa has revealed herself to be in the same conversation amid this discourse.
Recall the title of her best-selling 2008 “formula for success” book—The Bitch Switch: Knowing How to Turn It On and Off. I believe it makes some of this outrage a bit difficult to justify when she’s referred to herself as such (though admittedly this is about context—it’s one thing for her to call herself a bitch and quite another for a white supremacist man to call her a dog).
But I believe this whole ordeal exposes the political fault lines within Black communities. Some see Omarosa as a pariah. Before the tweet, I saw lots of “BBQ invites revoked for life.” When the tapes started rolling out, there were folks who said she could still get an invite or that she had earned back her Black card. Once her former boss called her a “dog,” some folks suddenly felt protective of her. But many of these are knee-jerk reactions, and ultimately short-lived.
While Trump hit the right button to activate racial trauma, I think the varied responses to “one of us being attacked” are a bit misguided, because Omarosa really isn’t “one of us.” You know the saying that “hit dogs holler?” But Omarosa didn’t peep, much less holler. She doesn’t appear to chafe at being called a dog the way other Black women do. Maya Angelou taught us to believe what people show us about themselves. And Omarosa has shown that she is a shrewd opportunist and narcissist, much like Trump, who is running a game, playing her part to the hilt and exploiting it to any advantage she can. She isn’t about any sisterhood unless it advances her.
While other folks were busy getting angry, a friend of mine reminded me to think about Zora Neale Hurston’s wise words about racist folks who tried to come for them:
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me,” Hurston famously said. “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
I also recalled Toni Morrison, who once said her father passed on to her the lesson that racists are morally inferior. “The people who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about the psyche. I always knew I had the moral high ground. I thought they were inferior to me. I’m not a victim. I refuse to be one.”
What both Morrison and Hurston offer is an absolute coming to an identity where whiteness is not at all needed to validate Black identity or humanity, and is seen for the game that it is. They both have rejected the fictions of whiteness and have zero investment in it.
Morrison diagnoses racism as a profound neurosis that damages white people as much as it attacks Black people. We need to stop being reactive, and move to more self-loving proactive places like these two literary geniuses who have called on us to live from the healthy stance that they so eloquently articulated. As exemplary foremothers of this practice, Hurston and Morrison are not seeking the white gaze, begging for white approval, or bothered by their slurs.
Let’s follow in Hurston’s and Morrison’s footsteps and be about some radical self-love practices so that when Trump fires off another of his predictably bigoted tweets, we aren’t thrown off our game. We can recognize an insult for what it is, without internalizing it or responding with automated outrage—he doesn’t care about our rage. And that rage only causes emotional and physical stress for us. Recognize that racism is the norm for most white people, whether they’re famous, powerful or high-profile offenders.
Let’s revel in our strength, our resilience, the sense of purpose we gain from our ancestors, and the inspiration of our young people. Let’s remind ourselves and each other of the amazing beauty, brilliance, and indestructible souls that have brought us to this point and will fortify and sustain us against all odds, challenges and attacks.
Expect the worst from the Trumps of the world and stop giving them the power to make us jump to their tune, at their will. They are morally inferior to us. Let’s live our best Black lives on our terms. And let’s understand that the Omarosas of the world aren’t looking to us for support. They’ll sell us out at every opportunity to advance their own agendas, and never lift a voice or a finger to support us when we’re the target of racist attacks. As the saying goes, “All our skinfolk aren’t our kinfolk.” Even when they’re the target of nasty insults.
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