The Trump White House has long lacked diversity, but the issue has become even more obvious this year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody — just the latest such tragedy involving an unarmed black man — and in the midst of a pandemic taht has disproportionately affected African Americans.
While the President has said he sympathizes with peaceful protesters marching after Floyd’s death, he has a history of stoking racial animus.
Some of Trump’s aides, in an attempt to inspire empathy in the President, have relayed to him their own experiences with racism or passed along accounts from friends. Trump spoke by phone with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, but the housing chief did not join Trump on his walk after Lafayette Square to St. John’s Church, nor did any other African American advisers.
It was the latest in a long string of White House photo-ops that have featured only white faces — an illustration of an administration where the vast majority of senior advisers are white and little attention is paid to diversifying staff.
Trump, who has boasted that he earned more black vote in 2016 than Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did in 2012, has largely maintained that his role in empowering the African American community has been through criminal justice reform and economic policy.
That’s not to say there aren’t other black White House staffers involved in crafting the White House’s message and policies. The Cabinet includes Carson and one of the President’s domestic policy advisers is Ja’Ron Smith. The White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council and the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities is led and staffed by African Americans. And members of his coalition of black supporters, Black Voices for Trump, have frequently been seen at the White House. In Congress, Trump has frequently relied on the GOP’s sole black senator, Tim Scott, to take charge on specific issues the administration perceives as largely affecting people of color.
But those nearest to the President’s ear with influence within the West Wing and those serving as the public representatives of his policies — his Cabinet, his senior policy advisers, and his lawyers — are overwhelmingly white.
When the White House has publicly brought voices into the fold recently for conversations about the relationship between African Americans and the police, the voice the President and Vice President Mike Pence have heard from have largely been political allies, religious leaders and law enforcement representatives. And based on what’s been disclosed to the media, there have not been representatives of civil rights groups, activist groups or representatives from Minnesota, where Floyd died.
Trump met with a group of black supporters on Wednesday, made up of conservative media figures, Smith and Carson, in what the White House billed as “a roundtable discussion with state, federal and local law enforcement officials on police and community relations.”
But in front of the press, the President did not discuss Floyd’s death and, instead, focused on relaying his perceived victories for the African American community, namely, criminal justice reform, opportunity zones and the state of the economy.
The lack of diversity has been apparent across seniority levels of the White House, and it’s been something senior staff have said they’ve attempted to address.
Then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that year that the White House would try to diversify its staff, but declined to say how many African Americans were working at the White House.
“Certainly, as I addressed yesterday, we value diversity not just at the White House but in the entire administration. We are going to continue to try to diversify this staff. We have a large number of diverse staffers from various backgrounds … race, religion, gender,” Sanders said at the time.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.