The recent photo of Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s counselor, kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office has been stirring up a lot of battles, think pieces and memes on and offline. To some, it’s a sign of utter disrespect, while others feel it is much ado about nothing.
Kellyanne Conway checks her phone after taking a photo of President Donald Trump and leaders of black universities, colleges in Oval Office pic.twitter.com/MgVhCoJFuC
— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 28, 2017
But when I saw it, my concern had little to do with the respectability of her actions and more to do with the respectability of the Black men and women in that room. In fact, the one thing that stands out more than anything else in the picture to me more than Conway and even more than the momentary prevalence of melanin in a room controlled by this administration, was the ear-to-ear grin on the face of Donald Trump. I don’t think it’s inauthentic or forced at all. I think it’s the happy realization a narcissistic autocrat gets when they realize they’ve actualized their goal of getting the leaders of a subjugated people to openly embrace them.
So this is on Howard University’s Yard this morning. pic.twitter.com/e8WGA4EPHq
— Italia (@Italia_calino) February 28, 2017
The leaders of HBCUs came from all around the country—during Black History Month—to give Donald Trump the photo-op he wanted. Their institutions may be rewarded in some way thanks to an executive order Trump signed Monday to move the federal initiative on HBCUs into the White House Domestic Policy Council from the Department of Education. But between his cabinet appointments and the rest of his executive orders, it’s already clear that his agenda is to fully carry over the bigotry that encapsulated his campaign to his presidential term.
Trump has constantly used divisive policy to attack America’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised communities. And Black folks have been feeling the brunt of it, despite meetings with everyone from Jim Brown to Steve Harvey. So, with that known, one has to wonder: can Black people be anything other than pawns to Donald Trump?
Before Donald Trump was sworn in and stepped a single foot inside the White House, his campaign trail was a violent ode to anachronistic racism.
— 13TH (@13THFilm) October 12, 2016
Yet, he made sure to enlist the assistance of Black pawns like recreant pastor Darrell Scott, to aid him in appearing as if he’s a friend of the Black community and the Black church, while simultaneously refusing to publicly rebuke the Ku Klux Klan.
Once he won the presidency, as hate crimes rose across the nation against Black people at the hands of White supremacists who celebrated his victory as a massive step forward for overt bigotry, the Black celebrity and Black influencer meetings continued.
No more being MISLED.
No more being HAD.
No more being TOOK. pic.twitter.com/K9FmdrUee0
— AllThingsBeingEqual (@atbenetwork) January 15, 2017
And now as POTUS, his attacks on the Black community have shifted from fists and weapons to policy. He appointed Ben Carson to be the head of HUD, not because they became friends throughout the campaign season, but because Carson views fair housing as “socialism,” a viewpoint that affirms his core supporters’ anti-Blackness. He appointed Betsy DeVos to be the Secretary of Education, a woman whose propagation of “school-choice” and war against public schools have destroyed fair academic opportunities for Black families throughout Michigan. And he appointed Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, despite the fact that in 1986, he was deemed too racist to be a federal judge.
Now, despite these occurrences, it must be mentioned that Donald Trump is not the originator of systemic politicized racism. Prejudices against Black people have a long, storied history in the White House. As this recent in-depth Politico article accurately states, the Black community—particularly HBCUs—have received financial support from presidents such as Roosevelt, Nixon and Reagan. This came as the result of a mutually-beneficial trade: the HBCUs get funding, while the presidents get to appear as advocates of inclusivity. The line of thinking in the Politico piece is that this arrangement and photo-op with Trump is less jarring than it truly should be.
But to believe that is to frame Donald Trump as “normal,” which would be a massive mistake.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.