By Ellen McGirt
February 17, 2017

Consider the sad case of April Ryan and Jake Turx, two journalists who showed up for work and became unwitting object lessons of white fragility in action.

During the course of a bizarre press conference yesterday, President Donald Trump laudably attempted to answer a question from April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks. Her concern, relevant to her audience, was whether the president planned to include the CBC, which stand for the Congressional Black Caucus, in his planning for an urban agenda. He first seemed unaware of what the initials stood for, and then it got worse. “Tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours? Set up a meeting.”

The exchange came after Trump said, unprompted, that he “was the least racist person.” (Ryan, a journalist, declined to do the job of a White House staffer.) Twitter weighed in definitively: No, Mr. President, all black people don’t know each other.

Things went similarly awry for Jake Turx, a first-time White House correspondent for a publication new to the press corps, Ami Magazine, a Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish weekly. His question, as reported by the New York Times, was carefully crafted with a respectful lead-in:

“Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand you have Jewish grandchildren, you are their zayde,” which is Yiddish for “grandfather” and often a word of great affection.

He then went on to ask about the uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government was planning to address it. “There’s been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks,” he began.

Before long, Mr. Trump interrupted him, saying it was not a fair question and demanded Turx sit down. The president became visibly angry, saying the question was very insulting. “I find it repulsive. I hate the question because people that know me…” said Trump, citing Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s endorsement of his “friend of Israel” bona fides. “No. 1: I’m the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life,” he said.

Turx’s editor, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, watched from the Ami Magazine headquarters. “It was a very disheartening moment for us, to watch [Turx] being berated,” he told The New York Times.

It was indeed.

There are too many political elements happening within the Trump administration for your faithful correspondent to unpack, so I’ll leave that to the pundits. And in regard to Mr. Turx, I have no idea what the president actually thought he was being asked. But as we reflect on the cringeworthy spectacle that was the press conference, it’s worth considering how many times we’ve done the same thing – ask the one person we know of some kind of color to network on our behalf, or erupt into an incoherent ball of emotion at the merest non-suggestion that we may have a blind spot about bigotry. White fragility, particularly in a person of power, can be a hell of a barrier to progress. Props to Ryan and Turx for handling the president with poise. It’s a President’s Day lesson that everybody needs but that nobody wants.


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