There was a moment during Michael Cohen’s testimony about his 10-year employment with President Trump that made my blood boil.
It wasn’t what the former personal attorney for Trump said but what a white congressman implied, which was that in no way would a black person ever work for a known racist.
It was the most asinine assertion during the whole Cohen spectacle — and that’s saying a lot.
Cohen repeatedly testified during a congressional hearing that he heard Trump make racist comments.
“Mr. Trump is a racist,” Cohen said. “He once asked me if I could name a country run by a black person that wasn’t a ‘s---hole.’ This was when Barack Obama was president of the United States.”
Cohen said of Trump: “While we were once driving through a struggling neighborhood in Chicago, he commented that only black people could live that way.”
Then there was this: “He told me that black people would never vote for him because they were too stupid.”
To counter these accusations, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) trotted out Lynne Patton, a black woman who worked for the Trump family and Trump’s presidential campaign and is an official with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Meadows had Patton stand behind him and said she submitted a comment for the record saying Trump is not racist.
“You made some very demanding comments about the president that Ms. Patton doesn’t agree with,” Meadows said during the hearing. “She says, as a daughter of a man born in Birmingham, Alabama, that there is no way she would work for an individual who was racist.”
Then Meadows said: “I’ve talked to the president more than 300 times. I have not heard a racist comment from the president.”
It is ridiculous — during Black History Month, no less — for Meadows to assert that a black person wouldn’t willingly work for a racist.
All you have to do is read case files at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Racists generally don’t broadcast their bias.
Academic research papers have looked at workplace discrimination, finding that racism takes all forms — not just in what we hear people say.
“Current research investigating discrimination within the workplace has revealed the disturbing fact that racial ‘microaggressions’ are frequent, pervasive and cause significant harm to both individuals and organizations,” wrote one researcher for Vanguard University of Southern California in a paper about racism in the workplace. “ ‘Microinsults’ are more covert styles of verbal and nonverbal communication that lack sensitivity toward issues faced by minorities. For example, when an African American employee is promoted within an organization, other employees often believe that the promotion was based upon affirmative action rather than intelligence or competency.”
Blacks have worked for racists throughout American history. Many dare not say so for fear of losing their livelihood — or, worse, their lives. They may even stand up for a known racist to further their career.
It’s entirely possible Patton never heard Trump say a single racist thing. But to showcase her as proof the president never said or did anything racist is absurd.
And would Patton have a reason to overlook racist actions by Trump?
“Patton, who revels in the limelight, has drawn criticism for her quick rise in the administration, culminating in a $160,000-a-year post despite having no housing expertise,” Washington Post reporter Tracy Jan wrote.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) was livid that Meadows used Patton as evidence that Trump isn’t racist.
“To prop up one person from our entire race of black people and say that nullifies that is totally insulting,” Lawrence said during the hearing.
I worked with an editor who never said a racist thing to my face, but she was indeed a racist in how she treated me. My interactions with her still haunt me. It was one of the lowest points in my career. I was an intern at my first newspaper job in Baltimore, and there were many days her disparate treatment of me compared with the white interns sent me to the bathroom in tears.
I didn’t quit my internship. I stayed and endured her racist supervision because I needed the job and I didn’t want to lose my scholarship. I was finally removed from her supervision after many complaints. But no action was taken against her. She continued to be promoted and lauded.
In this same newsroom, I overheard two white journalists questioning whether the black interns deserved to be there. They were talking about a group of us who had won — based on merit — scholarships from the newspaper to attend the University of Maryland. The scholarship included summer jobs as interns.
Those questioning my place at the paper never once said anything racist to my face. The reporters talking about me and the other black interns had whispered their disparaging remarks to each other, unaware that I was sitting on the other side of the partition. In the open, they were pleasant to me.
So I know for a fact that people who smile in your presence might say racist things in private.
Without further proof, we don’t know for sure whether Trump made those remarks. Cohen, after all, is going to prison for lying to Congress. But we know from history and litigation that racists often do their deeds in the dark.
Clarification: An earlier version of this column said that Michael Cohen is going to prison for “being a liar.” President Trump’s former personal attorney pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued when he was securing the GOP nomination in 2016.
Color of Money question of the week
Have you worked for a racist employer and were scared to come forward? Or have you heard a manager or supervisor say racist things behind closed doors? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Racism at work.”
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What’s your integrity worth?
During a recent taping of his syndicated talk show, Steve Harvey chastised fellow comic Mo’Nique for how she went about voicing her objections over what she felt has been unfair compensation for her work as an actress and comedian. Harvey told Mo’Nique to take the money she was offered to benefit her family.
“When you tell the truth, you have to deal with the repercussions of the truth,” Harvey said. “We black out here. We can’t come out here and do it any kind of way we want to. . . . This is the money game. This ain’t the black man’s game. This ain’t the white man’s game. This is the money game!”
Mo’Nique pushed back, arguing there’s a larger issue of fighting for economic fairness.
Last week I asked: Even though it’s costing her money, is Mo’Nique right to openly protest her pay disparity?
Debra, of the Bronx, wrote: “Mo’Nique was correct to stand up for what she rightfully deserves.”
“Mo’Nique is standing up to a sexist society that says ‘put up and shut up,’” wrote Morgan Randall, of Mount Vernon, Wash.
Patrice Jones, of Clinton, Md, wrote: “Mo’Nique is right to openly protest her pay disparity. People like Steve Harvey telling us to take what is offered and run with it is the real problem. He obviously feels that because you are black, you need to take what you can get. Steve is a black man who seems to be doing well in the industry. If Mo’Nique had more support from people of color in that industry, I strongly believe that it would change things. Power comes in numbers. Rosa Parks proved that with the bus boycott. We have to be more supportive of each other.”
“As a white, middle-class, millennial woman in the professional world, I sincerely appreciate Mo’Nique being ‘difficult’ and raising awareness for the continued situation of unequal pay at all economic levels,” wrote Chelsea. “To my mind, it’s about the principle of the matter rather than the figures themselves. She appears to be in a financial situation that allows her to take a stand and a position to garner attention to it, and I’m grateful to her for both. Her situation resonates with my own struggles of being comfortably compensated compared to the country as a whole, but sorely undervalued in comparison to my male colleagues (of all races). I’ve struggled with the same issues of integrity and knowing your worth. (Am I really less than?) I’ve also raised concerns and been ‘difficult,’ unfortunately to no avail.”
Paul Wiener, of Arizona, wrote: “Entertainer pricing is so variable and so negotiable that it seems difficult to compare pay. I’d be leery of claiming racial bias in a case which may just be star pricing power.”
Judy Dunkley, of Glen Ridge, N.J., wrote: “Not everyone is cut out to be an activist. Most of us live ordinary lives, just trying to feed and clothe our children and keep the wolf from the door. However, it is for that very reason that I think it imperative that those who are in a position to speak truth to power do so. . . . Women are almost universally paid less than men for doing the exact same job. Black women are often paid even less than their white counterparts. This is the current state of affairs in the United States. If a man, any man, can’t get behind helping black women (or women in general) address that, that’s fine. Just stay out of the way of those more actively inclined.”
“I completely agree with Mo’Nique and her fight for pay equality,” wrote Monica Cain, of Bowie, Md. “As a woman working in management, I constantly see the inequities that women are subjected to in the workplace. I remember a situation with me where I managed three areas and asked for an increase in pay because my male counterpart, who managed only one area, received the same compensation as me. As a result, they took one of the areas from me, gave it to him and gave him a [pay] increase. It’s just like a man (Steve Harvey) to tell us women to be quiet and take what we can get. Mo’Nique has integrity and is willing to fight for that. Her efforts may not help her directly, but may help other women who come behind her. I applaud her and hope she keeps up her fight. She will not be bought for less than what she is worth, and that is the fight women have every day.”
But Lorna Gilkey, of Alexandria, Va., says the way in which Mo’Nique is going about this is wrong. But, she said, “her point regarding pay disparity is right and deserves support. Regardless of our socioeconomic level, we should not be lowballed when we provide quality work, and someone has to say enough is enough! I’ve been in that situation myself, the difference being I handled it with grace, kindness and patience. It took awhile, but I triumphed.”
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