Instead of saying “African Americans” or “black people,” Donald Trump said “the blacks,” which reveals his racism.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
While criticizing Trump’s words, writers omitted Trump’s positive relations with minorities. For decades Trump cultivated friendships with African Americans. He sued the city of Palm Beach for excluding African Americans and Jews from social clubs. He created the first high-end social club in Palm Beach that welcomed black persons as members. He supported Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition to pressure corporations to hire and promote black and minority employees. Trump supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He praised minorities working in his real estate projects. In 1999, he wanted to run for President with an African American woman as his running-mate. He made campaign contributions to political candidates who are African Americans and minorities. He made more contributions to an African American than to any white candidate. He also donated to charities affiliated with prominent African Americans.
Back in 2011, Donald Trump was mulling over the possibility of running for President, once again. He was interviewed by a radio station in upstate New York, Talk 1300 AM. The host, Fred Dicker, read poll results showing that President Obama still had very strong support from black voters: 95% of African Americans approved of Obama’s performance. Then, Trump conjectured that it was because of his race. As evidence, he referred to the 2008 presidential primaries, saying: “Look at Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton did so much for the black population, so much and got very few votes.”
Trump said: “you’ll hear a political reporter go on and say it had nothing to do with race. But how come she had such a tiny piece of the vote? And you know, it’s a very sad thing.” It meant that a non-black Republican candidate might have a low probability of swaying black voters away from Obama in the 2012 elections.
That same day, CNN picked up the story. But instead of analyzing whether indeed black voters approved of Obama because of his race, the “CNN Political Unit” published an article titled: Trump says he has good relationship with ‘the blacks’. Indeed, Trump had said: “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks.” Without overtly stating it, CNN implied that there was something wrong in Trump’s words. Also, CNN did not spend even one sentence stating whether indeed Trump had great relationships with black people over the years.
Similarly, other media picked up this story: Trump had said “the blacks.” For example, the story was echoed in the Observer, and The Atlantic. And NBC News griped that Trump “boasted of his relationship with the black community in a particularly, well, blunt way.”
Years later, in 2015 and 2016, Trump’s occasional use of the expression “the blacks” was presented as evidence of his deep racism by various media outlets, including Gawker, BET, and The Washington Post. A commentary in The Chicago Tribune said that Trump’s racist expressions were “sad and disturbing.”
What the writers in these articles didn’t do was discuss whether indeed it was ever true that Trump had a good relationship with African Americans. Since they chose to entirely omit such evidence, we should review it.
In 1984, Reverend Jesse Jackson became the first African American to run a nationwide primary campaign for the Presidency of the United States. He ran again in 1988.
At the time, many rich white people disdained the black man running for President. Yet among those who legitimized Jackson’s efforts was Donald Trump. Looking back, Jesse Jackson said that Trump “created for many people a comfort zone when I ran for the Presidency, in ’84 and ’88. And [although] many others thought it was something laughable or something to avoid, he came to our business meeting here in New York, because he has this sense of the curious and a will to risk to make things better. So aside from all of his style and his pizazz, he is a serious person who is an effective builder of building for the builder people.”
In 1988, Trump paid a record-breaking $11 million to host a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks at the Atlantic City Convention Hall. Before the start of the fight, the ring announcer’s voice boomed through the packed audience to present: “A very good friend of Mr. Trump and the man who is going to turn this country around, the Reverend Jesse Jackson!” The crowd roared with support. Jackson was Trump’s guest and the two sat together at the center of front row. Later that night they had dinner together, and attended a party together along with Don King, Malcolm Forbes, Oprah Winfrey, and others. (photos)
Meanwhile, in 1985, Donald Trump had bought the historic estate of Mar-a-Lago: a 128-room mansion on twenty acres in Palm Beach, Florida. He then began the long process of remodeling the property.
At the time, exclusive social clubs in Palm Beach were known for their “anti-Semitic policies.” As reported in the May 1991 issue of New York Magazine, the social clubs at Palm Beach “not only do not allow Jews and blacks to become members, they do not let members bring them as guests.” Accordingly, a town council election was “charged with undercurrents of anti-Semitism,” leading to a sharpening of the debate over the social clubs’ anti-Semitic policies. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) demanded that the mayor of Palm Beach resign from the Sailfish Club because it discriminated.
One occasional visitor described the extraordinary levels of discrimination in Palm Beach: “It’s a theme park of anti-Semitism,” and “Jews go there to be treated like they were in the [nineteen] forties.” For example, Christian members who married Jews were forbidden from bringing their spouses to the clubs. New York Magazine complained: “The towns two most exclusive clubs, the Everglades and the Bath and Tennis Club, remain shameless bastions of anti-Semitism. No one even bothers to deny it.” Likewise, the president of the Beach Club informed a reporter: “According to the Constitution, a private club is permitted to discriminate.”
In 1991, a writer for Vanity Fair asked Donald Trump why he wasn’t a member of the Bath and Tennis Club. Allegedly, he had not been invited to join. But Trump replied: “Utter bullshit!” He referred to them as “phonies!” And he argued: “Do you think if I wanted to be a member they would have turned me down? I wouldn’t join that club, because they don’t take Blacks and Jews.”
Meanwhile, Trump also asserted the rights of African Americans in his hometown of New York City. In 1986, the NAACP had been forced to leave New York. The group had about 500,000 members nationwide. But despite having had their headquarters in New York for 77 years, the NAACP could no longer afford to operate in New York, lacking support from the city government. Mayor Ed Koch had made an insufficient offer of assistance to help the civil rights organization stay in New York, so it moved to Baltimore. Still, they decided to hold their 78th Annual Convention in the New York.
Consequently, Donald Trump took the initiative of helping the NAACP by hosting a pre-convention party and by agreeing to speak at the convention. Trump defended this premiere organization of African Americans, saying: “The NAACP should have a place in the greatest city in the world. But it’s the same old story: Because of this administration, organizations are forced to leave New York…”
At the event itself, the executive director of the NAACP complained that New York City still suffered of “a dark side of hatred, bitterness and intolerance.” Yet Trump, at least, was among the supporters of the NAACP. He was named chairman of the New York Citizens Committee for the NAACP convention.
In 1992, Charlie Rose interviewed Trump. Among various topics, Rose asked him about the elections for Mayor of New York City. Trump took the opportunity only to praise David Dinkins, the first African American Mayor of NYC. Trump said that “Dinkins has really done a great job, in terms of coming back, and I also think he’s a great human being, I think he’s a very fine man. He helped me, but he was tough, he was strong, he was very community-oriented, he was very much for the people,” and was someone “who really lived up to his word.”
Meanwhile, Trump invited celebrities to stay at Mar-a-Lago, as his personal guests, including a famous interracial couple: Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley in 1994 (right before they married)—which attracted paparazzi.
The writer for New York Magazine asked somebody at Palm Beach: “Was Donald Trump ever really popular there?” The answer: “No, not really.” The interviewer: “Why, too vulgar?” And the person replied: “Oh no, not at all. He would have these parties and everyone would come, but then he wouldn’t accept invitations back to their houses.”
At an elegant dinner party, one member of a social club (unattended by Trump), a woman, spoke frankly to the writer from New York Magazine: “Of course we’re prejudiced down here; of course we discriminate.” She explained: “But people get the wrong idea. It’s not that we have anything against all these others [minorities]. We simply want to be with people like ourselves. Our own kind. What’s wrong with that?”
But then, in 1995, Donald Trump opened up Mar-a-Lago as a brand new social club. Promptly, the Palm Beach town council tried to impose restrictions on membership, party attendance, photography, etc. But suddenly, Trump undercut them “with a searing attack, claiming that local officials seemed to accept the established private clubs in town that had excluded Jews and Blacks while imposing tough rules on his inclusive one.”
To scorn them, in the fall of 1996 Trump’s lawyer sent copies of classic movies on discrimination to each member of the Palm Beach town council. The movies were A Gentleman’s Agreement, about a journalist exposing anti-Semitism in New York, and the other one was Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, about a white woman who brings her black fiancé to meet her white parents.
In December 1996, Donald Trump filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Palm Beach, alleging that the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago, partly because Trump’s “Mar-a-Lago was open to Jews and African-Americans.” The lawsuit sought $100 million in damages.
Despite some misgivings, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, was pleased that Trump denounced discriminatory policies at social clubs. Foxman said that Trump had exposed Palm Beach for “its seamier side of discrimination. It has an impact.”
By April 1997, Foxman reported that Jewish residents of Palm Beach had told him that now the clubs were changing, finally starting to admit Jewish patrons. Trump bragged that “Palm Beach is very much changing for the better, and a lot of that is because of Mar-a-Lago.”
Meanwhile, since the 1980s, an organization that Jesse Jackson founded and still chaired, Operation PUSH, carried out boycotts of businesses to pressure them to provide more job opportunities and housing for black people. In 1996, Jackson merged PUSH with another non-profit organization he had founded. The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition would continue to do activism on social justice and civil rights.
To help, Donald Trump agreed to give office space in The Trump Building at 40 Wall Street, free of charge, so that Jesse Jackson could have a prominent position from which to pressure corporations to hire and promote African Americans. This central location was across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. At the time, Wall Street was occupied mostly by white people, with nearly no African Americans. As reported by the New York Times, “Jackson said his new office would seek to cajole, persuade and pressure American companies to hire and promote more blacks and members of other minorities, name more of them to corporate boards and award more business to companies owned by members of minorities.”
Jackson aimed to expose how the nation’s largest corporations mistreated minorities. At the launching event, attended especially by African American executives, at the World Trade Center in Manhattan, Jackson demanded: “Open up the walls on Wall Street.” The New York Times noted that “Donald J. Trump received an ovation when he announced that he would donate office space to Mr. Jackson’s civil rights group, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, in 40 Wall Street,” which Trump had bought and renovated. The building is a beautiful, historic skyscraper, which was once the tallest building in the world.
Trump said that he and Jackson had become good friends over the years, and that “He’s out there pushing for a lot of good things.” Jesse Jackson said that corporations targeted blacks only for consumption of their products, but that instead “We want to be trading partners.”
Back then, Trump’s generous welcome for Jesse Jackson’s affirmative action push in business was a precious rarity. The New York Times reported that a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute worried that Jackson would “make a lot of companies nervous” by pointing out which companies were not meeting “his standards on affirmative action hiring or racial sensitivity,” adding that “It’s a very intimidating message.” In contrast, Trump thought it was the right message: more blacks and minorities should rise in American corporations.
Starting in February 1997, Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition began to operate from The Trump Building. That month, Jackson was arrested and jailed in Chicago for protesting the treatment of black truckers who had lost their jobs in a $43.7 million parking garage project. He had not been in jail for decades. At his court appearance, Jackson discussed the new civil rights movement: the struggle for economic opportunity. He demanded fairness: “We want to open these markets up to everyone. These patterns of racist, sexist, discrimination must end.”
In May 1997, Jesse Jackson attended the Texaco Inc. annual meeting of shareholders. He spoke about the “toxic atmosphere” that included discrimination against employees who were minorities, and after a lawsuit, that Texaco promoted the very executive who had been accused of discriminating. The New York Times noted that following the Texaco lawsuit, “Jackson opened an office of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition on Wall Street to keep pressure on corporate managements.”
In January 1998, at the New York Stock Exchange and at the top of the World Trade Center, Jesse Jackson hosted a lavish three day forum for the advancement of minorities and women in business. The event included President Bill Clinton, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others. At a panel, Jackson addressed Donald Trump in “this family of friends” and asked for his advice on urban development.
Trump spoke hopefully about a growing “Renaissance” in uptown New York, and Harlem in particular. And he praised Jackson: “I have an honor of having Jesse at 40 Wall Street, we call it The Trump Building at 40.” Trump explained that this building was built with economic incentives from the City. So he recommended that business leaders should ask the City government for “massive” real estate tax abatements for new developments in uptown Manhattan. He insisted that “Harlem needs more help than does 5th Avenue.” He suggested greater business incentives and City investments north of 125th Street. Trump explained that the tax abatement program “is pretty uniform throughout the City, which would seem to put areas that need the help in a great disadvantage.” He insisted that Harlem deserved more tax abatements than other parts of the New York City.
Later, Jesse Jackson thanked Donald Trump: “I do want to express thanks to you, Donald Trump, for being with us tonight. We need your building skills, your gusto, your rent package for people on Wall Street [for Rainbow/PUSH] to represent diversity, and we thank you for coming tonight, let’s give Donald Trump a big hand. A big hand for Donald Trump!”
The following Monday, for the first time ever, the New York Stock Exchange closed to honor the birthday of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson’s mentor. Alan Greenspan declared that “Discrimination is patently immoral, but it is now increasingly being seen as unprofitable.”
The following year, in 1999, Jesse Jackson again headed a major conference for the advancement of minorities in business. And he praised Donald Trump: “When we opened this Wall Street Project and we talked about it, he gave us a space at 40 Wall Street, which was to make a statement about our having a presence there. And beyond that in terms of reaching out and being inclusive he’s done that too. … Last, he was a part of our workshop, of our panel workshop on what are the challenges and opportunities. And so this, a year later, Donald Trump [will speak] for a few minutes: Challenges and Opportunities to Embrace the Under-Served Communities.” The audience applauded.
Trump spoke about his new construction projects: 18 new residential buildings with 10 million square feet, and, the tallest residential building in the world: a 90 story tower across from the United Nations, and the award-winning Trump International Hotel. Then he emphasized: “I will tell you, a large percentage of the people, and especially in construction, that are building these great [construction] jobs, are black and minorities. And I’m very proud of it. We have close to 25%, and I think the number is going up, and they do a great job. There are no better builders than we have in New York, and big percentage of that is black and minority folks.”
Trump recalled that Jesse Jackson repeatedly said that “the wall on Wall must fall,” so that minorities could enter Wall Street. Trump was impressed and agreed: “I thought it was a great expression.” Thus Trump supported Jackson’s efforts and said that Jackson was a great negotiator: “he’s a terrific guy, we love him, and I’m here for him.”
Later that year, in 1999, Donald Trump was forming an exploratory committee to consider running in the Reform Party for the nomination of President of the United States. Their previous candidate for President had been the wealthy businessman Ross Perot, in 1992 and 1996. Perot had earned a significant number of votes, making the party viable.
So, in another CNN interview with Larry King, in 1999, Trump explained: “I’m a registered Republican, I’m a pretty conservative guy, I’m somewhat liberal on social issues, especially health care.” Yet he was now considering joining the Reform Party, in order to compete for the nomination.
Larry King asked Trump who would be his choice for Vice President. Trump smiled and replied: “Oprah, I love Oprah. Oprah would always be my first choice.” He added: “she’s really a great woman, she is a terrific woman, she’s somebody that’s very special.” And he insisted: “If she’d do it, she’d be fantastic, I mean she’s popular, she’s brilliant, she’s a wonderful woman. I mean, if she’d ever do it.”
King seemed incredulous that that Trump would choose Oprah. Yet Trump insisted, and repeatedly praised her. Trump’s proposal that an African American woman would be his top choice for Vice President does not match the caricature his critics invented fifteen years later: that he sympathizes with the KKK.
However, in early 2000, Trump abruptly abandoned his consideration of running for President; he explained that it was because David Duke, “a bigot, a racist, a problem” had suddenly joined the Reform Party, so Trump decided to immediately leave the party in protest, as did others such as the Jesse Ventura, the Governor of Minnesota.
Trump issued a statement in the New York Times: “The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani,” he said in his statement. “This is not company I wish to keep.”
Also in 2000, Trump published a book titled The America We Deserve. In it, he briefly mentioned that an employee whom he had fired, John O’Donnell had said that Trump made “disparaging remarks about Blacks and Jews.” O’Donnell had claimed to quote Trump saying that he hates “Black guys counting my money,” because “laziness is a trait in blacks.” Now again Trump defended himself: “This was a malicious attempt to smear me. Anyone who really knows me knows that I hate intolerance and bigotry.”
Trump said that his work in promoting sporting events had won him (black) friends such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Puffy Combs, Sammy Sosa, and others. He said “I’ve had the chance to learn firsthand about the diversity of American culture, and it has left me with little appetite for those who hate or preach intolerance. One of our next president’s most important goals must be to induce a greater sense of tolerance for diversity.”
In fact, Donald Trump had many other famous African Americans among his friends, including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Jesse Jackson, Don King, Mike Tyson, Herschel Walker, Russell Simmons, Dennis Rodman, Tiger Woods, Shawne Merriman, Terrell Owens, and Shaquille O’Neal.
In the same book, Trump argued: “The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should be in the business of protecting African Americans, Hispanics, Gays, and other minorities against obvious discrimination.” Trump also argued that it is racist to say “that poor urban parents aren’t capable of making good educational choices for their children.” He said that urban parents probably worry about their kids more than parents in Beverly Hills worry about theirs.
Trump also said that the American Dream should be unencumbered by “racism, discrimination against women, or discrimination against people based on sexual orientation.”
He also praised the African American Congressman J.C. Watts: “I admire J.C. for his passion and principle,” whereas other people dismissed Watts for being a Republican.
In 2004, Trump publicly defended Michael Jackson against the accusations that he was a child molester. Jackson lived at Trump Tower on 5th Avenue, and Trump had not seen or heard anything suspicious so he defended his friend. Jackson in turn praised Trump in a song for having earned his wealth with dignity, not through extortion like his accusers.
When Michael Jackson suddenly died in 2009, Trump praised him: “He was an amazing guy, but beyond all else, he was the greatest entertainer I’ve ever known. He had magic. He was a genius. He was also a really good person, and when you got to know him, you realized how smart he was. He was brilliant.”
Trump is widely criticized for not giving many charitable donations. Still, he did give donations to the charitable groups of several African Americans, including: Magic Johnson, Walt Frazier, Nat Moore, Russell Simmons, and Tiger Woods.
Trump also made contributions to political candidates, both Democrats and Republicans. More than to anyone else, Trump made fourteen contributions to Democrat Charles Rangel—an African American.
He also contributed to other African Americans and minorities in politics, including Rubén Díaz Jr. (R), Herman Carl McCall (D), Malcom A. Smith (D), Jeanine Pirro (R), Benjamin Cayetano (D), José Félix Díaz (R), and Nikki Haley (R).
In 2011, Trump complained that Jon Stewart had mocked the African American presidential candidate Herman Cain in a racist way.
Herman Cain himself complained too.
Trump repeated his complaint in an afterword to his book Time to Get Tough. He wrote:
“Nothing irritates me more than a double standard, and yet that’s what we see with liberal media types. Take Jon Stewart. I actually enjoy the guy, but when he did a segment mocking presidential candidate Herman Cain, and used a very racist and degrading tone that was insulting to the African American community, did he get booted off the air like Don Imus? No. Where was the Reverend Jesse Jackson? Where was the Reverend Al Sharpton? Where was Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd to provide hard-hitting journalistic “analysis”? Nowhere. Stewart should have lost his job—at least temporarily. But he didn’t and he won’t because liberals in the media always get a free pass, no matter how bad their behavior.”
From 1996 until 2015, Donald Trump was the co-owner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. Although he did not personally select the winners, it’s worth noting that under his ownership of the pageant, nineteen women were crowned Miss Universe, and four of those (21%) had African ethnicity, namely Wendy Fitzwilliam (Trinidad & Tobago), Mpule Kwelagobe (Botswana), Zuleyka Mendoza (Puerto Rico), and Leila Lopes (Angola) — which can be construed as fostering an environment that celebrates diversity. There were also other winners from multiple countries, including Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, India, Japan, the Dominican Republic, and the Philippines. During the years when Trump owned the pageant, each winner was invited to use an apartment in Trump Place in New York City during her reign.
Donald Trump was the host of the NBC television show The Apprentice for fourteen seasons, from 2004 until 2015. Two of the winners selected by Trump himself were African Americans: Randal Pinkett (season 4) and Arsenio Hall (season 12). According to the US Census, 13% of Americans are African Americans. In Trump’s TV show, 14% of the winners were African Americans.
It’s odd that one should have to state such a thing, but nobody did it during the elections. Instead, critics of Trump listed instances when African American participants in The Apprentice did not win, as alleged evidence of Trump’s racism.
Trump’s TV show also led him to become a close friend of some of the participants, including especially Omarosa Manigault, another African American and former employee of Vice President Al Gore. Trump invited her participate in three seasons of his show—she was the only participant to appear in three separate seasons. In 2010, Trump also collaborated with Omarosa to create a TV dating show called “The Ultimate Merger,” starring Omarosa. Later, during Trump’s campaign for President, he appointed Omarosa as the Director of African American Outreach.
During his campaign events, Donald Trump often had African Americans as guest speakers. Among them were Pastor Mark Burns, Pastor Darrell Scott, and Jamiel Shaw, whose son was brutally murdered by an unauthorized immigrant.
Also, Trump often invited two outspoken African American women, known as Diamond and Silk, to speak at his rallies.
Summing up, we’ve seen that Trump cultivated friendships with prominent African Americans. He welcomed Jews and African Americans in his social club. He sued Palm Beach for excluding African Americans and Jews in other social clubs. He supported Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition to pressure corporations to promote blacks and minorities. He praised minorities in his construction projects. He made campaign contributions to several political candidates who are African Americans and minorities.
None of this shows that Trump was a top advocate for African Americans. But it does not match at all the notion that Trump was a racist, a bigot, and a friend of the Ku Klux Klan.
Alberto A. Martinez is a professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.
Next, Chapter 21: The Myth of Trump and the KKK