Danielle McLaughlin: Black History Month – a mirror on our latest incarnation

US President Donald Trump and former The Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault. Did President Trump bestow more praise ...

US President Donald Trump and former The Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault. Did President Trump bestow more praise on Omarosa at the start of Black History Month than he did on black civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr?

OPINION: Tribute to the hardships endured by African Americans provides an opportunity to consider the progress of the US and all its people. 

This week marks the beginning of Black History Month in the US; a month where the country pays tribute to the descendants of slaves who lived in oppression, who worked tirelessly to achieve equality under law, and whose contributions and achievements helped make this country what it uniquely is.

It started with banality and a bungle. Most certainly not a bang.  President Trump opened his remarks at a White House event to mark the occasion by promising that he'd get over 51 per cent of the vote in the next election. 

He mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., but in the context of a "fake news" story about the alleged removal of a MLK bust from the Oval Office. He lied about the extent of his electoral support from the African American community (He won just 8 per cent of the black vote). And he closed his remarks with a reference to television oddball and would-be villainess (and now White House aide), Omarosa.

She sat next to him for the remarks, which culminated with the following: "Omarosa's actually a very nice person. Nobody knows that.  I don't want to destroy her reputation but she's a very good person, and she's been helpful right from the beginning of the campaign, and I appreciate it.  I really do.  Very special."

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The President actually spent more time regaling Omarosa than Martin Luther King.

Dr. King is, of course, an American hero and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was a martyr in the long struggle for civil rights, giving his life for the idea that one day, his children would live in a nation where they would be judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character. On justice for one being justice for all, he wrote that America was "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny", that "whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly", and that "anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

Omarosa was a famed contestant in The Apprentice.  She was a conscientious anti-hero. Her single-monikered character (like Sauron or Voldemort) was self-centred, cold, and villainous. She paid her dues selling gratuitous conflict to make good reality TV. 

I asked Ereka Vetrini, a family friend and The Apprentice Season 1 competitor to weigh in.  She noted the "eerie similarities" between Trump and Omarosa: "They are both bullies that think they can create their own reality and have little regard for truth, people or anything that doesn't benefit them directly.  Winning is paramount and they will take down anything or anyone who stands in their way." 

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Omarosa was in fact a three-time loser on the show.  I suppose she'd say from her seat at the table this week that in fact, she won.

Black History Month is a useful lens through which to view America's progress to its current incarnation, and to ask the question which is the real America?  Is it a nation, strong in its diversity, that has welcomed all colours, creeds, and beliefs into its fold and understands the necessary mutuality of justice?  Or is it a nation that is at its heart nativist and isolationist, a country of "me" over "we," where the acceptance of outsiders is begrudging and cynical?

It's indelibly a little bit of both.  But today, it feels like the latter. Our current President rose to power on the dark, deep roar of border walls, Muslim bans, and the notion that inner-city blacks had literally nothing to lose by voting for him. Even as we celebrate the crooning of Louis Armstrong, the dazzling poetry of Maya Angelou, the guts of Rosa Parks and the fierceness of Beyoncé, the shadow of the new regime, anti-immigrant and anti-"other," looms large.

We're a few days in.  Perhaps as Black History Month unfolds, it will take a turn towards hope. Perhaps the shadow will lift. I take solace in the words of the Fredrick Douglass – a former slave and abolitionist: If there is no struggle, there is no progress. 

Follow Danielle on Twitter: @MsDMcLaughlin 

 - Sunday Star Times


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