Recently, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, met with representatives of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) during Black History Month. He signed an executive order designed to give the HBCUs more clout. Before he could put pen to paper, however, the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, made an interesting statement about the HBCUs. She stated, “HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice. They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”
Apparently, it flew wide over the new Secretary of Education’s head that the creation of the HBCUs wasn’t just a matter of “school choice.” They were forced to create themselves because of a lack of access to other colleges and universities. This lack of understanding on the part of the highest education officer in the land is disturbing and appalling. It shows how out of touch she and others of her ilk are when it comes to Black Americans.
Another gaffe by a member of the Trump cabinet is even more unbelievable. The pioneering and celebrated African American neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, made an incredible statement in his first address to his staff as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). He said, “America is a ‘land of dreams and opportunities’ that has drawn millions of people from overseas throughout its history. There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
This is absurd coming from the lips of a Black American. The slaves weren’t immigrants: they came here as property. They did not consent to slavery! What hopes and dreams did they have as slaves? To be free? To be back home in the land from whence they were snatched? Maybe Dr. Carson did not think through his address before he gave it. Later, after being apprised of the flack that his “immigrant” statement created, he backtracked somewhat, but by that time it was too late. It’s sad, but Donald Trump really knew how to pick his acolytes; they seem to be clueless!
The message that these two situations sends is that Donald Trump and others connected with his administration seem to have no understanding of the true plight of Black people in America. From Donald Trump thinking that Frederick Douglass is a contemporary figure to these current embarrassing missteps, they seem to think that Black people had a choice in what happened to them centuries ago when they were forcibly brought to America. They did not come here voluntarily; they didn’t start the HBCUs because they wanted to have “choice.”
Ultimately, it is scary that the highest executives in the land are so out of touch with the actual condition of a significant segment of the American population: African Americans. And since this is the case, how can they ever hope to address problems that confront the Black community? How do you start from behind point zero?
The Trump administration has a lot of catching up to do if it really wants to help the Black community address its problems. After all, you cannot work from a position of ignorance if you want to be effective.
If the administration is serious about the wellbeing of its African American constituents, it will have to do far better than it is doing now. But then, if President Trump sticks to his plan of “Making America great again,” the Black community should take their cues from that statement. Any backward move in America finds African Americans behind the eight-ball, all the way from Jim Crow back to slavery! Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware! A luta continua.