“Today and every day of my presidency I pledge to do everything I can to continue that promise of freedom for African-Americans and for every American…We’re going to bring this country together.”– President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump has offered grand gestures, questionable policies, and a litany of promises to skeptical African Americans.
He promised to rid inner cities of crime. He promised to invest in education for black public school students and historically black colleges. He promised to rebuild boarded-up urban neighborhoods. He promised to heal a racially polarized America.
When Trump toured The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. last month, he pledged to confront racism and create a bridge of unity for what he called a “divided country.”
But 100 days into Trump’s chaotic presidency, there are few signs – at least publicly - that Trump is focused on racial healing or any of the pre-election commitments to the nation’s citizens of color.
"President Trump's promises to African-Americans were nothing more than vapid campaign promises,” Neil Foote, a journalism professor at North Texas University and Editor of PoliticsInColor.com, told NBCBLK.
Consider Trump’s position on criminal justice: Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to stall a federal review of police departments where racial profiling, excessive use of force and racially discriminatory police practices have been exposed.
During the Obama Administration, the Justice Department began 25 investigations into police departments and sheriff's offices and resolved civil rights lawsuits filed against police departments in more than 15 cities.
Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Sessions has a legal obligation to investigate troubled police departments.
“He can’t just cherry pick the cases he wants to investigate,” Ifill told NBCBLK.
Ifill said the Trump administration threatens progress to criminal justice reform, education, health care and a myriad of social programs that are on Trump’s chopping block.
“Our first priority is voting rights,” Ifill said. “Voting ensures that African Americans fully participate in the political process—and not just during presidential elections.”
But Katrina Pierson, a spokeswoman for America First, a conservative organization that supports Trump’s legislative agenda urged black folks to give Trump a chance.
Pierson said Trump will help improve the quality of life for African Americans through education, jobs, health care – and building the border wall to crack down on crime, drugs and human trafficking.
“Illegal immigration impacts the black community,” Pierson said. “When illegal immigrants settle in the United States, they don’t settle in gated communities, they settle in black communities and poor communities. You can’t have an honest discussion about illegal immigration without talking about the cost of illegal immigration, financially, socially and culturally.”
Civil rights organizations take issue with Pierson and her conservative views. They believe Trump’s policies are detrimental to the prosperity of African Americans and they are distrustful of black conservatives.
Marc Morial, president of The National Urban League, said Trump wants to cut social programs that benefit black Americans instead of making good on his campaign promise to rebuild urban communities.
“We will resist any effort to cut funding for human programs,” Morial told NBCBLK. “This is not good public policy to gut these programs and shift funding to the military. We will resist cuts to community development programs, housing programs, workforce programs. These are job killers and dream killers.”
Morial said he believes there is a great opportunity to create a bipartisan jobs initiative.
“People – blacks, whites, Latinos – are all dealing with wage stagnation and a jobs initiative could unite America,” he said. “It’s a challenge for urban America. It’s a challenge for rural America.”
This week the Congressional Black Caucus released a report, What Did Trump Do? The First 100 Days #StayWoke List, to make sure African Americans stay informed about the Trump administration policies that impact citizens of color.
“In general, “stay woke” or “stay awake” means to stay focused on what is really being said and done to and around you, especially as it relates to police brutality and other elements of African-Americans’ years-long struggle to fully achieve the American Dream,” Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, said in the report.
Highlights from the CBC report pull out key budget cuts that would:
- "... cut the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) budget by $6 billion. HUD is responsible for providing housing assistance to extremely low-income families and the homeless, and reinvesting in America's cities and counties."
- "... eliminate programs that help limit children's exposure to lead paint. According to the CDC, African-American children are three times more likely to have elevated blood-lead levels."
- "... eliminate the Minority Business Development Agency, which funds a nationwide network of business centers to help minority-owned business stay competitive and create jobs."
The Congressional Black Caucus has also underscored how racially polarized America has become since Trump won the White House. While Trump promises a new order for black America, hate groups have risen across the nation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that more than 400 incidents of harassment or intimidation against blacks, Jews, gays and Muslims occurred in the early days of Trump’s presidency.
Many civil rights activists are also concerned about Trump’s attempts to roll back education initiatives designed to assist students of color.
Trump has pledged to make education a priority for black Americans but Besty DeVos, his Secretary of Education, has been criticized for her steadfast support for privatizing public schools.
Two weeks ago, DeVos further angered educators and parents by appointing Candice Jackson as the acting head of the department's Office for Civil Rights. Jackson, as a student at Stanford University, once complained of racial discrimination because she is white. She said affirmative action promotes racial discrimination.
Critics of the Trump administration question how Jackson can objectively oversee claims of racial discrimination from African Americans and other people of color.
Tracey Winbush, the Ohio Republican Party Treasurer, said DeVos is simply trying to fix underperforming schools – many of them, she said, are located in low-income black communities. She said most African Americans are being overly critical of the president instead of trying to work with him.
“President Trump is doing his best to reach out to all people and especially African Americans,” Winbush, who is African American, told NBCBLK. “The president is making good on his campaign promise to move the African American community forward and get the black community out of its present situation.”
Winbush said too many African Americans “are hating on Trump because he’s a billionaire.”
“As an African American Republican, I don’t mind that Trump is a billionaire and his cabinet is the wealthiest cabinet in history, they know how to make money and we can learn from them,” Winbush said. “We have been taught to hate success. Trump is trying to reach out to African Americans but they don’t want to talk to him. We’re losing political clout. Are we moving forward or backward?”
Black conservatives insist that black America is moving forward under Trump’s leadership and they are quick to remind critics that the president only took office 100 days ago.
Kelley Eubanks, Managing Partner for KEE Concrete and Construction, Inc., a woman-owned engineering, construction and construction management business, said she became a Trump supporter because she appreciates Trump’s approach to job creation, economic growth, and his focus on acknowledging the financial burdens facing small businesses.
“President Trump is bringing his business acumen to government and I’m encouraged by the Trump administration and what it means for African Americans, especially from the perspective of an African American business owner,” Eubanks told NBCBLK.
Eubanks said she is aware that her point of view is not shared by all black voters, but she still plans to support Trump’s economic agenda.
“I know there are African Americans who do not feel their voices are being heard,” Eubanks said. “The president is creating is a path for job opportunities in inner cities and that’s good for black Americans.”
Still, Trump has a serious credibility problem with many African Americans. The president has only appointed one African American to his Cabinet: Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who Trump asked to help lead the mission to revitalize urban America.
Carson has been criticized by civil rights advocates who say the former neurosurgeon is out of touch with the African American community. As an example, the CBC mentioned Carson in its report about Trump’s first 100 days.
“On March 6, in his first speech to Department of Housing and Urban Development employees, Secretary Carson called slaves “immigrants” even though they came to America involuntarily,” the CBC said.
Trump, meanwhile, recently appointed another African American to a prestigious job in his administration. Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams was selected as the nation’s next Surgeon General, but on an interim basis.
And Trump also asked Omarosa Manigault, the former reality television star, to join his inner circle. Manigault, one of the most high-profile African Americans in the White House, serves as a liaison between Trump and the African American community.
This week, Manigault defended Trump before a not-so-accepting black audience during the annual conference of The National Action Network, headed by Rev. Al Sharpton.
"I am looking forward to partnering with you, continuing to work on behalf of the National Action Network in Los Angeles but more importantly, the President of the United States," Manigault said to groans from spectators.
"Oh I'm ready," Manigault added, when the crowd grumbled after she mentioned Trump's first 100 days. "I know what I came into and I'm not scared."
While black conservatives said Manigualt should get credit for speaking at Sharpton’s politically liberal event, Winbush pointed to Trump’s recent White House meeting with black college presidents as an example of Trump reaching out to African Americans.
But Morehouse College President John Wilson Jr. described the meeting with White House aides as “troubling.”
Wilson and other black college presidents were hoping that Trump would set aside additional funding for historically black colleges. Instead of a substantive meeting, some said, black college presidents were lured into the Oval Office for a hastily arranged photo-op with Trump.
“Showing up and sitting at the table doesn’t always mean you get what you want,” Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorofChange.org, told NBCBLK. “Every invitation isn’t necessarily an invitation that you want.”
“There is a deep threat to civil rights policies and we have to respond differently,” Robinson said. “These folks are dismantling the ideals of American democracy. We can’t wait for meetings at the White House.”
Trump, who received eight percent of the black vote during the presidential election, has tried to convince black Americans that he is a champion for their concerns. [Trump fared a bit better than Mitt Romney, who only garnered six percent of the black vote when he ran for president in 2012.]
Meanwhile, Ifill, from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said Trump is signaling that he plans to oppose progressive civil rights achievements.
“We won’t take these challenges lying down.” she said.