A new memoir from reality TV star turned Trump White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman has triggered a nationwide conversation about the n-word. Unfortunately, it’s just not the one we need to have.
Manigault-Newman’s allegations are simple: There are recordings of the current president, then a reality television star, using the n-word and saying other terrible things. During her masterfully coordinated book tour, she’s released more details, including snippets of controversial recordings she made of Trump campaign aides designed to lend credence to her claim that the administration is worried about the possibility of the tape. Which she has heard. And maybe has in her possession. Of the president saying the n-word, the atomic bomb of words.
It has certainly lent drama to the moment.
While Trump is clearly unhappy with the book and its allegations, it seems unlikely that voters who cast their ballots for a person who was caught on tape admitting to serial sexual assault –“when you’re a star, they let you do it” – would be put off by such a revelation. But what is particularly bizarre is the idea that using the n-word is evidence of anything that we shouldn’t already know.
For one thing, Trump and race is not a new conversation. Trump the private citizen has been called out numerous times in the past. One oft-cited piece of evidence: The 1973 federal lawsuit against Trump Management Company alleging that black people and Puerto Ricans were systematically denied housing at Trump properties. (They settled and signed a consent decree which promised to de-segregate their properties, though the government later accused them of violating their agreement.)
But The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer offers a list of more recent words and deeds that are evidence enough:
Trump began his campaign denigrating Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, he vowed to ban Muslims from the country, and he invoked stereotypes of black crime to paint a picture of a harrowing dystopia from which only he could rescue Americans. Since becoming president, his administration neglected Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Americans and thousands of deaths; it has sought to portray immigrants as criminals in order to justify the revocation of legal status for hundreds of thousands of black and Latino immigrants; it issued a travel ban aimed at Muslim countries; and it has rolled back civil-rights enforcement, encouraged police abuses, and sought to weaken the voting power of minority communities. Trump rode to the White House promising to use the power of the state against religious and ethnic minorities, and he has kept that promise. Even if, as Trump says, the word nigger isn’t in his vocabulary, it wouldn’t change everything else he has done.
And so while we wait for a recording that will do nothing except generate advertising revenue for media outlets, it is worth thinking about why white people feel compelled to call someone a “nigger” in the first place.
Why, for example, did a white Ohio contractor feel it was necessary to angrily follow a black motorist home after a perceived traffic slight, only to say to him, “I just want to let you know what a nigger you’re being.”
The white man Jeffrey Whitman, was captured on video last month sitting in his van outside of Charles Lovett’s home, who coolly filmed and posted the incident. After a brief back and forth, Whitman explains what he meant. “You’re a rude nigger…you cut me off in my lane,” he says. “You cut me off because you feel entitled because you get everything for free.”
You take from me. You are less than me. You always will be. You have been informed.
Whitman, publicly shamed, is now having trouble finding work.
But it’s hard to imagine the same outcome for a public figure who has made racist rhetoric central to his appeal. For one thing, if the allegations are true, he already got away with it without consequence. That says more about The Apprentice producers than any n-word dropping star.
But as we think about the mental gymnastics it takes for a white person to call a black one the n-word, I inevitably return to James Baldwin, whose words continue to resonate today.
“What white people have to do,” Baldwin said, “is try to find out in their hearts why it was necessary for them to have a nigger in the first place. Because I am not a nigger. I’m a man. If I’m not the nigger here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.”
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The Woke Leader
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