Donald Trump isn't known for having an ironclad grip on reality (see: the birther movement), but even he should have known better than to declare, as he did on Tuesday, that African -mericans are worse off today than they've ever been, thanks to President Obama. "We're going to make our country safe again. We're going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they've ever been in before," he said. "Ever, ever, ever."
It was a statement that attempted to scrub the country's legacy of racism against black people — its vestiges seen in the systemic violence against black people by the police — and it received an appropriately biting response from the commander-in-chief himself. In an interview on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts, President Obama's response to Trump was:
You know, I think even most 8-year-olds will tell you that whole slavery thing wasn't very good for black people. Jim Crow wasn't very good for black people.
But Trump's claim is in line with his pitch to black voters that they have nothing to lose by voting for him.
"Look at how much African-American communities have suffered under Democratic control," Trump told a rally in Michigan in August. "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose by trying something new like Trump?"
Not only was Trump's pitch baffling and staggeringly offensive, it also fails to take into account the progress in black communities in the past decades. Yes, racism still exists: black people still earn less than other racial groups, they are still disproportionately targeted by the police, they still face major social obstacles that others don't. But African Americans have made considerable economic and social progress, despite working within a system that disfavors them.
Obama's response to Trump on GMA was similar to the one he gave while addressing the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation the week before.
"[Trump] says we got nothing left to lose, so we might as well support somebody who has fought against civil rights, and fought against equality, and who has shown no regard for working people for most of his life. Well, we do have challenges, but we're not stupid. We know the progress we've made, despite the forces of opposition, despite the forces of discrimination, despite the politics of backlash. And we intend to keep fighting against those forces," Obama told the audience.
Acknowledging the strides that American society has made — and all the work that is still to come — is part of painting a future of optimism. It is a contrast to the apocalyptic vision that thrives on fear — of immigrants, of refugees, of an upending of the problematic status quo — and only by recognizing this country's dark, deep history of violent racism can there be continued progress.
Cover image via Shutterstock.com