Michael Cohen revealed Trump doesn’t understand America’s racist pastRoundup
tags: racism, civil rights, Trump, Michael Cohen, housing discrimination
Elizabeth A. Herbin-Triant is assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the author of "Threatening Property: Race, Class, and Campaigns to Legislate Jim Crow Neighborhoods."
Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, President Trump’s erstwhile lawyer Michael Cohen described the president as a “racist” and recounted anti-black statements made by Trump. In one of these statements, made while the two men drove through “a struggling neighborhood in Chicago,” according to Cohen, “[Trump] commented that only black people could live that way.”
Trump has made it clear time and again that he is not a student of history. If he were, he would understand that the primary reason African American “ghettos” exist is that black people have been excluded from other housing by law and custom, not because they don’t desire better. So often our debates about race and racism focus on overt bigotry, not the lurking legal provisions and cultural practices that are often referred to as structural discrimination. But the common practice of housing discrimination — which Trump and his father engaged in for years, according to a 1973 lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice and settled in 1975 — exposes these customs and their pernicious impact. At a moment when it has become clear that the racism so central to the nation’s history is not in fact behind us, the long history of housing discrimination is essential to understanding how we got here.
Trump’s statement suggests that African Americans prefer to live separately from other groups and that they are comfortable living in conditions that other people would consider uninhabitable. While some black people have moved to all-black communities, viewing separatism as the best way to insulate themselves from discrimination, we should view inner-city “ghettos” as products and sites of discrimination, rather than shields from it.