Eleven years ago when Kanye West stared into a camera and uttered, “George Bush does not care about Black people,” during a fundraiser for those affected by Hurricane Katrina, I went from fan to fanatic. And that wasn’t even the best part, as West continued on an unscripted, nervous and passionate rant that was as much a call to action for Black people as it was a criticism of the Bush administration’s response to the catastrophe. Watching a Black celebrity speak so bluntly and directly about the systemic racism that made poor Black New Orleanians disposable made me cheer.
Back in August 2005, if you had told me that the Kanye who had so passionately said what many of us were thinking, risking his still rising fame and career to defend Black people, would be meeting with President-elect Donald Trump in 2016, I would’ve laughed in your face for a good five minutes. The first two would’ve been at the thought of a reality TV star with no political experience — I mean, we haven’t even heard that he was class treasurer in middle school — would be chosen as Commander-in-Chief. The remaining three minutes of cackling would’ve been at the thought that Ye, Chicago reppin’, Roc-chain-wearing, bragging-about-his-Delta-girlfriend Kanye, would be not only breaking bread with a man endorsed by the Klan but proudly declaring that had he voted he “would’ve voted for Trump.”
My mother has cautioned me time and time again, “Never say what people won’t do because they’ll make a fool of you.” Well, Kanye has surely made a fool of 23-year-old, “Late Registration” on blast me. And not that I ever had any thought that they would be a symbol of resistance to racism, but Jim Brown and Ray Lewis both met with Trump yesterday too, lending credence to my observation that the ascent into celebrity and wealth is too often a simultaneous quest for proximate Whiteness and the descent into pandering to White supremacy.
To be clear, maintaining unapologetic Blackness as your bank account becomes unapologetically greener is a choice. Uncomfortable as it may be to admit, achieving wealth in this country means being around White people because “the typical member of the 1 percent is an old white man,” with nearly 91 percent of the richest Americans being white. Conversely, CNN reports, “To gain membership into this elite group in 2013, it required a household net worth of nearly $7.9 million, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And only 1.7 percent of those who met that mark are Black.”
At 70, carrying a name synonymous with wealth, Donald Trump represents that typical “old White man” who those like West, Lewis and Brown would be surrounded by both in business and socially. One thing I’ve realized is that if you see it enough, anything can be normalized. And being immersed into a world where self-assured White people are convinced that their success is the exclusive result of hard work and talent, rather than at least partially attributable to systemic factors that ensure it’s significantly easier for them to succeed than it is for their Black and brown counterparts, Black people who’ve managed to make the kind of money that platinum albums, world tours and Super bowl rings bring can easily start to forget the sting of structural racism. They can start to believe that Black people just need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps forgetting how many of us don’t even have boots.
Like Ray Lewis, they may even start to “forget Black or White,” believing that since money and fame have bought them a certain level of insulation from the devastating consequences of the systemic racism intrinsically tied to poverty and class that the Black masses face, “Black or white is irrelevant.” Or perhaps, with all their rich white friends who donate to charities and seem like good people, they may lose the power of discernment that living through the brutally violent racism of the 50s taught them and start believing the empty rhetoric of a business man turned politician such as Trump, like Jim Brown did when he “fell in love with him because he really talks about helping African American, black people.” They may even think, as Kanye West does, that having “a direct line of communication with our future President”—the same man who called Black communities hell—is the way to affect change.
The reality is that Trump doesn’t pick Black people like West, Lewis and Brown because he believes they’re fair representatives of the interests of Black people. He picks them because they will parrot White supremacist rhetoric while donning Black skin. They were chosen because they legitimize for the White masses that Trump isn’t racist, just honest. They smile and play the game. They criticize Black Lives Matter and give tough love to Black people. They go against what the Black masses, who are most at the mercy of Trump, say, performing the role of wrangler to Black folks, soothing us and urging us to give Trump, and White supremacy by default, a chance.
Instead of inviting Black activists, who risk their lives and freedoms everyday to speak out about and protest the racism that sees Black people disproportionately killed by police, disproportionately unemployed, disproportionately sentenced and incarcerated, Trump invites those who have proven their commitment to White supremacy, those who have played the game. He taps those who his supporters can point to as proof that some Black people work hard and respect American ideals.
So Trump’s Black “friends” just keep climbing. They keep clawing, and fighting their way into that whiteness. They keep aspiring to hit the moving target of palatable Blackness. They just keep climbing, failing to realize they’ll never reach the top.
LaSha is a writer and blogger who is passionate about Black people. Find her on Twitter @knflkkollective.