Paul R. Lehman, African American celebrities meeting with President elect Trump–a perspective

January 22, 2017 at 4:02 am | Posted in African American, American history, birther, Constitutional rights, Criticism, Disrespect, European American, freedom of speech, Media and Race, meetings with the President-elect, Oklahoma, politicians, President, protest | 1 Comment
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Once President Trump won the nomination and set up his office in Trump Tower, he had numerous individuals coming to pay him a visit. Among some of these visitors were a number of popular African Americans. Because of the baggage that President Trump brought with him from his campaign that was seen as ethnically biased against African Americans, many people questioned the reasons for African Americans going to Trump Tower. Regardless of their reasons for visiting with then President-elect Trump, the photo opportunity after the meetings of these African Americans with Trump sent a message that he was using them to show the country and the world that he was not biased. The problem with that interpretation is that these African American individuals represented only themselves, not the national community of people of color.

Some years ago, a European American politician in Oklahoma was asked why he did not come into the African American community to campaign for votes. He answered that he had met with all the important African Americans in the community and paid them off for the community’s vote. So, there was no need to try to win the votes of individuals when he already had the community vote in his pocket. In other words, all this politician had to do was to meet with a few popular African American and pay them to publicly support his campaign. So, although we are not questioning the rights and integrity of the individual African Americans who visited with Trump nor their reasons for the visit, we do not want the lasting impression from their visits to be that they were making a deal with him on behalf of the African American people. The African American citizens have not given their voting power or influence to any popular African American individual nor can they because African Americans and people of color do not represent a monolith.

When America saw various African Americans of note having their pictures taken with President-elect Trump and saying words in praise of him, that occasion gave many of them an opportunity to pause and think about what they saw. Why, after a campaign that was filled with disparaging and negative things about people of color, not to mention the “birther” campaign that was conducted for several years, would a prominent African American want to be photographed with Trump? Regardless of their reasons, meeting with and being photographed with the President-elect was their right and privilege. However, the implications associated with such meetings bring to awareness some conundrums—did the President-elect cut any deals or make any promises with these individuals? If so, what were they, who did they impact, how will they be implemented, and when? One certainty we know from experience—deals and promises made with individuals acting as individuals are not binding to the people these individuals seemingly represent.

In addition, the photo opportunities of the African Americans with the President-elect Trump gave the viewers the suggestion that some type of negotiations might have taken place. Whether deals or promises were part of the conversations, only the parties involved know what transpired because the people were not privy to them. Again, the problem that needs to be resolved is whether the individual African Americans were representing themselves, or were they speaking on behalf of a group of people. If they were at their meetings as individuals only, then no problem exists. However, if they gave the impression that they were speaking on the behalf a group of people, then they should have said so. No single individual can know and communicate the needs and wants of every community in America specifically; that is why organizations of concerned and active people exist. The meetings with individuals create a problem of perception, not one of individual rights and privileges.

One problem with individuals meeting with Trump and having the meeting seen as an individual representing the African American community is when organized national and community organizations request meeting with Trump to discuss some concerns, his response could be that he had already discussed those concerns with one or two individuals earlier. Evidently, the organizations did not get the memo about the meetings. The fact that the photo opportunities with the African Americans and the President-elect Trump serve as evidence that he met with them could be used as proof of his concern for some of the challenges in the various communities, and then suggest that anyone with a concern seek out these African Americans for answers to their questions.

Some people might suggest in defense of these individual Africans Americans if they are not representing an organization, that Martin Luther King, Jr. met individually with leaders, so that proves the acceptance of this type of activity. No so! King always spoke as a representative of a group of concerned citizens, and he was seldom alone at such meetings. Throughout history the media has taken the opportunity, on occasion, to create spoke persons for the African American community by simply showing them again, and again responding to questions asked by the media. Booker T. Washington became a national leading figure for the African American community when the media took a quote from a speech he delivered at the 1895 Atlanta Cotton Exposition focusing on “separate but equal” status for African Americans and broadcast it nationwide. Because of that nationwide coverage, Washington became the most influential African American of his day. So, we know what exposure to the media can do for individuals.

The American public has been conditioned to think incorrectly that one person can speak for all people of color. So, when an individual of color is shown by the media making a statement or responding to a question, the public could easily view that individual as representing an entire group. Unfortunately, that perception is what comes to mind when an African American celebrity is shown in a photo opportunity with President Trump. If such meetings between Trump and African American celebrities involve problems and concerns facing African Americans and other people of color and deals are made, the strength of the groups and organizations whose purpose is to address these problems with the President or his representatives is greatly weakened.

All individual have a right to meet and speak with anyone they choose, especially if that person is the President of the United States. However, all individual do not have the right to speak for a group of people they do not officially represent or to give that impression to the public. These individuals certainly have the right to speak on any topic they choose as long as they represent only themselves.

 

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