Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Black Celebrities Must "Be Fearless and Relentless in Speaking Up" Against Trump (Guest Column)
Cabinet nominees such as Ben Carson at HUD ("like picking Elmer Fudd to run NASA") mean that prominent African-Americans need to advocate for their community: "Hope is not a strategy."
Never before in modern history have we had a president-elect so ill-informed, ill-tempered, irrational and ill-equipped to deal with the major issues that face this country. The counterintuitive election of Donald Trump has left a lot of political pundits from both parties throwing up their hands, saying, "All we can do is hope for the best." But as Mark Wahlberg's character in Deepwater Horizon warns the British Petroleum executives ignoring the oil platform's numerous problems right before it bursts into flames: "Hope is not a strategy." And based on the political appointments and nominations Trump has recently made, people of color have little reason to be hopeful. That's why it's especially important over the next four years that black celebrities step up and take stances to give voice to those in the black community who will not be heard by the incoming administration. Given that the country is in the throes of a civil rights backlash that threatens to undo the progress we've fought so hard to attain, we have to be fearless and relentless in speaking up at every opportunity.
Trump's selection of Jeff Sessions for U.S. Attorney General sends a clear message of where we stand. The guardian of equal justice will be a man who is accused of several acts of racism, including describing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as "un-American." Worse, though, are Trump's transparent attempts to appear diverse. A quick look at two of the black faces that Trump parades on television as proof of the diversity of his entourage is actually evidence of his using black shills to distract us from his paternalistic policies to dismantle civil liberties for people of color, women, the LGBT community, Muslims and immigrants. The selection of Ben Carson as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), with its $47 billion budget, continues Trump's wave of choosing completely unqualified people to head important agencies crucial to addressing serious problems such as racial inequity and poverty. It's like picking Elmer Fudd to run NASA. Carson may be a brilliant surgeon, but he has no understanding of the complexities of government and bureaucracies that make them work. That's not only my opinion, it's Carson's, who in November admitted, through his spokesperson Armstrong Williams, that he wouldn't accept a position in Trump's cabinet because "he has no government experience; he's never run a federal agency." Still unclear is why he felt he wasn't qualified for the cabinet yet was qualified to be president. Or what has changed in the two months since he felt unqualified to make him suddenly feel qualified.
More insidious is Carson's war on Planned Parenthood based on his inaccurate belief that clinics were placed in black neighborhoods to control the black population. "Even today, the plurality of their clinics are in minority communities," he told CNN. However, the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, concluded that 60 percent of clinics are in majority-white neighborhoods. On Jan. 5, Republicans vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, an attempt to lessen women's access to health care and remove their constitutional right to an abortion. This policy will have especially dire consequences in the poor black communities where people can't afford alternatives that the affluent can.
Another African-American Trump appointee, Omarosa Manigault, achieved some level of infamy as the prickly contestant in the first season of Trump's The Apprentice. A Hillary Clinton supporter in 2014, Manigault, whom Trump has chosen as his director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, at least has the qualification of having an M.A. in communications from Howard University and having pursued the PhD. In the late '90s, she worked in the Clinton White House, where, according to People magazine, she was pushed out of four different low-level jobs for her poor performance. She also called CNN correspondent Don Lemon "a queen," a homophobic insult that should set all of our teeth on edge. And yet, Trump believes her to be the best candidate for a position that will focus on issues such as community outreach. This is how Manigault reached out to the community on PBS' Frontline: "Every critic, every detractor will have to bow down to President Trump. It's everyone who's ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe." Bow down? Most powerful man in the universe? This is not a message or attitude that bodes well for having a representative in the White House to fight for a black agenda or the agenda of anyone who is already bowed down by poverty and injustice. The many billionaires and Wall Street mavens that Trump has selected for other White House posts certainly won't be battling for us.
Ben Carson is an accomplished doctor with strong moral values. Unfortunately, his medical experience is useless in his government post and his high moral values are based on his narrow religious beliefs, which he is very comfortable imposing on everyone else. Not unlike the sharia laws in other countries that we are fighting against. Omarosa Manigault is a political opportunist who is more interested in maintaining an enemies list ("Let me just tell you, Mr. Trump has a long memory and we're keeping a list") than fighting injustice.
Hope is not a strategy. And it certainly looks hopeless for those looking to expand civil liberties rather than see them choked off one by one. That is why black celebrities need to keep hope alive by speaking openly and publicly whenever the need arises. But hope is only the vision; the real work needs to be done through voting for candidates committed to a practical strategy of legislation that extends rights to all..
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBAs all-time leading scorer, NYT best-selling author and the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.