Though there were many protest events in response to Donald Trump’s first State of the Union, members of the Congressional Black Caucus perhaps won their greatest victory by showing up.
Seated together and being seen on national TV wearing kente cloth over a two hour period was perhaps a larger victory than not attending at all. If social media is a guide, the CBC won an auspicious fashion victory in the wake of Trump’s Oval Office comments that Haiti, El Salvador and Africa were “shithole countries.”
Kente cloth has its origin from the Ashanti Empire of Ghana in the late 1600s.
The CBC’s cultural timing could not be better. The world premiere of Marvel’s soon-to-be blockbuster movie Black Panther premiered in Los Angeles on January 29. The red carpet was an African fashion extravaganza to say the least.
Member on the House floor during Trump’s lengthy speech sported kente ties, cloth, pocket squares, and even bowties, included CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Andre Carson (D-Ind.), Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.), Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas), who wore a large kente fabric over his right shoulder like so many other members.
Two other House members who are not in the Black Caucus, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) also wore large kente cloth sashes in solidarity with the CBC.
In a meeting on the day the government shutdown, members of the Congressional Black Caucus decided they needed to have some reaction to Trump’s Oval Office conversation that included calling Africa, Haiti and El Salvador “shithole countries.”
It wasn’t the first time the CBC was dealing with Trump’s racist track record towards people of color. It was the twentieth time. Though several members were dubious about a protest that was symbolic and not substantive, all were united on the idea that there had to be a response of some kind.
The 45th President’s history includes a father who was arrested at a KKK rally in New York, Trump’s company being tagged for housing discrimination at his properties, and the Central Park Five case. More recently, there was Trump’s feigned cluelessness during the 2016 campaign about who David Duke was and his talk of banning Muslims form entering the U.S. and building a wall at the Mexican border.
All of that was followed by predictable public support of Trump by white supremacists and racists such as Duke. It all would carry over into Trump’s lack of outrage after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. last August resulted in murder.
Many in the CBC felt that not showing up or showing up and walking out was the appropriate response to a president with an obvious and consistent track record of vilifying people of color. The presence of African attire perhaps spoke louder than any press statement.
We “will stare racism in the face” by attending the speech,” CBC Chair Richmond
(D-La.) said at a press conference the morning of the State of the Union. What he also said was something that should be an unthinkable statement from a member of Congress toward a modern American president.
“The President has taken every opportunity to divide this country along racial lines. Words matter. President Trump’s racist rhetoric makes the county less safe for people of color by encouraging and emboldening and pandering to those who wish to do harm to others based on the color of their skin,” Richmond asserted.