These days, when President-elect Donald Trump says, “Look at my African-American over here,” he’s not referring to the lone black supporter who appears to have lost his way in a sea of white folks at a campaign rally.
No, he is referring to Kanye West, one of very few blacks who have made the pilgrimage to Trump Tower to kiss the ring of the president-elect.
That’s because Kanye, hip-hop celebrity and husband of reality star Kim Kardashian, exemplifies the African-Americans in whom Trump seems most interested. These blacks are nothing like the majority of us — middle-class taxpayers who live and work much as our white counterparts do. Rather, the African-Americans whom Trump values most are rich, disconnected from the larger black community, and most importantly, they don’t vote.
But don’t take my word for it. Trump himself lauded non-voting blacks while addressing a lily-white crowd in Grand Rapids, Mich., during his self-declared victory tour.
“The African-American community was great to us,” Trump said. “They came through, big league. Big league.
“And frankly if they had any doubt, they didn’t vote, and that was almost as good because a lot of people didn’t show up, because they felt good about me.”
Never mind that exit polls suggest the black community did not feel good about Trump, who garnered only 8 percent of the black vote. The fact is Trump is right about the nearly two million black Obama voters who failed to turn out for Clinton. By staying home, they helped to sway the election for Trump.
And who better than Kanye West to push the message that a couple million blacks stayed home out of love for Trump?
Kanye, after all, declared during a November concert in San Jose, Calif., that he did not vote. But if he would have done so, Kanye said to thunderous boos, he “would have voted for Trump.”
In making that declaration, Kanye promptly went from selling out concerts to selling out black people.
Because for those of us who are not Kanye, Trump’s history of being sued by the Justice Dept. for discriminating against blacks is an issue. Trump’s five years of repeating the racist lie that Barack Obama was born in Kenya is an issue. Trump demanding the death penalty for five boys of color falsely accused of raping a white women is an issue. Trump bringing the bigotry of Steve Bannon’s white nationalism to the White House is an issue.
Apparently, those issues don’t matter so much for Kanye because Kanye is one of Trump’s African-Americans.
Not just because Kanye has done his best to disconnect from his black peers, including famed Obama supporters Jay Z and Beyonce, whom he twice dissed publicly during his latest concert tour. Not just because Kanye is a cultural icon who might be able to sway left-leaning hip-hop fans towards Trump.
Kanye is one of Trump’s African-Americans because he is the high profile non-voting black supporter Trump wants us to embrace as the norm.
However, Kanye is far from normal, not just because of the eccentric behavior, but also because he likely believes money and fame insulate him from racism. And though billionaire Oprah Winfrey, whom a clerk refused to show a purse because she was black, might disagree with that assessment, Kanye lives in his own reality. The rest of us live in another.
That’s why I can say with confidence that black voters who stayed home during the presidential election did not do so because they felt good about Donald Trump.
They stayed home because they were disappointed that Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic primary or because they were less enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton than they were about Barack Obama. Some stayed home because the years-long campaign to smear Clinton’s character was effective. Still others stayed home because there was a concerted effort to suppress black votes.
In a number of Republican-run states, voter suppression methods like curtailing early voting, requiring voter ID and moving polling or registration locations affected black voting numbers.
And therein lies my biggest concern.
In saying that non-voting blacks helped him, the man who will soon be president of the United States has lent his support to the kind of voter suppression that a federal appeals panel said targeted blacks with “almost surgical precision.”
That Kanye West would support such a man is no surprise. Kanye, after all, is much like Trump, in that he is living his life like a reality show.
But for those of us who refuse to be like Trump’s African-Americans, the reality is this: A man whose campaign rhetoric has served to normalize racism and bigotry is about to take office.
That’s a reality that none of us should accept.
Solomon Jones is a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Reach