A week has gone by since James Shaw Jr. risked his life in a Tennessee Waffle House by wresting a rifle away from a man who had already killed four people.
Shaw hasn’t heard anything about his heroics from President Donald Trump. Not even a tweet.
But on Wednesday, hours after Kanye West went on social media to praise the president, Trump tweeted a thank you.
“Kanye West has performed a great service to the Black Community,” Trump said in a second tweet. “Big things are happening and eyes are being opened for the first time in Decades - Legacy Stuff! Thank you also to Chance and Dr. Darrell Scott, they really get it (lowest Black & Hispanic unemployment in history).”
The instant backlash against West provokes a long-simmering question: Why can’t African-Americans support Trump without being vilified by other African-Americans?
The enigmatic West, who posted a photo of himself wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat, was immediately skewered across social media by fans, and even colleagues in the industry. Some suggesting that he had fallen into the “sunken place” from the movie “Get Out.”
And if power, respect and worth are measured by social media, West — who boastfully rapped that “I just talked to Jesus” — took a digital beating for professing his love for Trump.
“You don't have to agree with trump but the mob can't make me not love him,” West tweeted. “We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.”
In 2016, when Trump was running for president, he famously asked black voters, “What the hell do you have to lose,” by voting for him.
Two years later, Trump and his supporters point to such factors as record-low unemployment among African-Americans and Hispanics as a justification for their vote.
But African-Americans who have publicly supported Trump or been directly linked to him have suffered tremendous backlash.
Before there was Kanye, there was Chrisette Michelle. Diamond and Silk. Paris Dennard. Katrina Pierson. Omarosa Manigault. Ben Carson.
Even Chance the Rapper, who earlier this week defended West’s political choices and said that not all blacks have to vote Democratic, immediately rejected Trump’s thank you tweet.
“I'd never support anyone who has made a career out of hatred, racism and discrimination," Chance tweeted Friday.
‘People associate Trump with anti-black policies’
Corey D. Fields is an associate professor of sociology at Georgetown University and the author of “Black Elephants in the Room: The Unexpected Politics of African-American Republicans.”
Fields says he doesn’t believe that backlash against blacks who support Republicans is any more intense now than before. It’s just that social media increase the decibel level exponentially.
“It’s certainly possible that people feel the political stakes are higher now, so someone like Kayne throwing support behind Trump is particularly frustrating,” said Fields. “But I think the issue isn’t that black people don’t support free thought. Rather, black people are skeptical of politicians and policies that are perceived as working against the interests of the black community.”
West, in a series of private text messages that he posted between him and John Legend, accused Legend of using fear-based tactics to “manipulate my free thought.”
Fields, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said the free-thinking narrative is a “red herring.”
“It is more about how people are assessing the Trump administration and what the administration is going to do for black people and people of color. People associate Trump with anti-black policies,” Fields said.
“People have considered the implications of Trump’s policies and have deemed them insufficient and hostile, and for somebody to come out in support of that can be problematic. It is not that people don’t support free thinking.”
Can you be a conservative but not a Republican?
At least at the end of slavery, African-Americans widely identified with the Republican Party, which was led by Abraham Lincoln. But over the decades the “Party of Lincoln” lost its appeal.
One of the first major shifts came in the early 1930s, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies brought jobs and work to fight the Great Depression. But even by 1956, Dwight Eisenhower was still able to get 40 percent of the black vote, as the Democratic party was still considered the party of Southern segregation.
Richard Nixon, in 1960, won about a third of the black vote. Eight years later, he would effectively deploy the GOP’s Southern strategy, whereby Nixon convinced white Southern Democrats that their party had abandoned them in its quest for racial equality.
The repercussions of that strategy are still being felt. Fields argues that most black voters see Republican policy as anathema to their beliefs.
“The party is perceived to have dangerous politics,” he said. “And Trump is all of that on steroids. The notion that black people are conservative is not a problem at all. The issue is that conservatism doesn’t translate to Republican partisanship.”
In 2016, when Trump beat Hillary Clinton, he won just 8 percent of the black vote.
“There is room in the GOP for black people,” Fields said. “The issue is what are party leaders are willing to make space for? The black Republican that wants to articulate a pro-black stance doesn’t find a lot of support and platform within the party. This is a question for Republican party leadership.”
Even before this week, Kanye West has had a complicated relationship with presidents.
In 2005, at a post-Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser, West nervously and some say brilliantly said on live television:
I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food. And you know that it's been five days, because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV, because it's too hard to watch. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us... .George Bush doesn't care about black people.
In 2009, Barack Obama, who acknowledged a year earlier that he met with the rapper, called him “a jackass” on a hot mic when talking about West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards.
In his 2010 song, “Power,” West rapped, “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation / Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start the conversation.”
Two years later, Obama doubled down with faint praise of the rapper saying: He is a jackass. But he’s talented.
On Wednesday, as part of his pro-Trump tweet storm West wrote: “Obama was in office for eight years and nothing in Chicago changed.”
Atlanta Radio talk show host Robert Patillo, who describes himself as Independent, told the AJC Friday that until the GOP completely disavows racism and supporters of racism, “there will be a cloud over the party.”
“Even if black folks agree with them on policy, when there are Confederate flags flying at rallies, it is impossible for the message to break through,” said Patillo, who is black.
“The black conservative message too often comes from a place of anger instead of understanding and love.
“Saying, ‘You stupid Negroes are blindly supporting the Democrats for no reason other than you are lazy,’ isn’t a great sales strategy. If there was better messaging and an actual conversation on issues, then you would find more acceptance.”
This weekend, West dropped his latest single, a pseudo debate between him and Atlanta rapper T.I. called “Ye vs. the People.”
"Make America Great Again had a negative reception/ I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction,” West argues in the song that samples the Four Tops’ “7 Rooms of Gloom.”
"What you willin' to lose for the point to be proved?," T.I., representing the people, counters. “This sh- is stubborn, selfish, bullheaded, even for you.”
James Shaw Jr., meanwhile, raised nearly $190,000 to help pay for the funerals of the four Waffle House victims.
Commenting on this article is being moderated by AJC editors.
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