Jemele Hill, ESPN Undermine Their Credibility — and Cause of African-Americans
Our increasingly toxic culture wars in America took another bad turn when ESPN’s Jemele Hill called President Donald Trump “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” Hill greatly devalues the meaning of the term. Thus, ironically, she undermines the cause of African-Americans.
Given the opportunity to temper her remarks, Hill apologized to ESPN, but not the President, saying her comments convey her “personal beliefs.” ESPN accepted her apology. Her tweets violated the network’s standard against “inflammatory or personal” social commentary, but the network did not discipline her.
Understanding Hill’s Anger
While almost 14 years older than Hill, I also grew up in Detroit. I share her concerns for the black community, including for the unjust actions of some policemen in the deaths of black men.
WHITE SUPREMACIST: A person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.
I also understand that Hill is likely upset by Trump’s initial response to the racial clash in Charlottesville, Va., in which he criticized protesters on each side, and by his comment a few days later that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protest.” Having lived in Montgomery, Ala., “The Cradle of the Confederacy,” in 1986, and then in Birmingham from 2007 to 2015, I think I understand what the president meant by the latter remark, although he could’ve made his point better.
I’ve met many Alabamians who believe that issues like states’ rights and taxation were greater than slavery in precipitating the Civil War. They oppose the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Charlottesville on those historical grounds. They don’t share the hatred of the Virginia protesters who are Klansman or neo-Nazis. While I don’t share my friends’ views on Lee and the Civil War, I also know they’re not racists who desire the subjugation of blacks.
White Supremacists and Bigots
Donald Trump isn’t a white supremacist. The problem with Hill’s calling him one is that she conflates the lesser offense of bigotry with those who desire to legally oppress — or worse — blacks and other minorities.
Adolf Hitler was a white supremacist of the worst sort. The variously named leaders of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) were and are white supremacists. Governor George Wallace of Alabama, when he proclaimed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever,” to rousing cheers in his infamous inaugural address in 1963, made clear that he was a white supremacist.
In short, “white supremacy” means racism and the political will to enforce it. The old George Wallace espoused and advanced that in his policies. Donald Trump is not and won’t. And unlike the old Wallace, Trump has repeatedly condemned the KKK before and after his election. To equate a politician like Wallace with a politician like Trump needlessly inflames a discussion of real problems.
You can take issue with issue with Trump’s immigration policies and criticize him for discrimination in some past business practices, as well as bigoted remarks he has made toward other groups like Hispanics and Muslims. But don’t defame him with the term “white supremacist.”
In addition, a white supremacist never would’ve been given an award in 1986 for promoting legitimate diversity and brotherhood. Even Snopes has grudgingly but commendably acknowledged this. And a white supremacist surely would not have had a photo-op with Muhammad Ali and civil rights icon Rosa Park. Trump did.
Converting in Heart
I remember meeting George Wallace in 1986, wheelchair-bound because of an attempt on his life in 1972. He had been converted in heart and was back in office as governor. He’d been elected in significant part because of black support in the 1982 election.
Wallace changed, in part because of the persistent goodwill of his one-time opponents. If an avowed white supremacist like him could change, Donald Trump can also change for the better. He’s more likely to change if constructive criticism replaces reprehensible rhetoric.
Thomas J. Nash is a Research Associate at Ave Maria Radio. He formerly served as a Theology Advisor at EWTN. He is also a contributing blogger at the National Catholic Register and a contributing apologist for Catholic Answers. Nash is the author of What Did Jesus Do?: The Biblical Roots of the Catholic Church (Incarnate Word Media) and The Biblical Roots of the Mass (Sophia Institute Press).