Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Black Pastors And Trump


A group of African-American faith leaders who met with President Trump this past week are being roundly criticized by their communities. Only 13 percent of black Americans approve of Trump's job performance, with many viewing him as racist. The meeting was about prison reform. And many of the pastors say they were there to move the issue forward. We're joined now by Eugene Scott. He is the identity politics reporter for The Washington Post. And he joins me now in our studios in D.C. Welcome to the program.

EUGENE SCOTT: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's begin with who was at this meeting with the president. Who are they? And are they well-known?

SCOTT: Some of them are pretty well-known and have been around since Trump's campaign. One in particular is Paula White, who is viewed as a de facto head of Trump's evangelical advisory board, which is a loose coalition. Also on that list is Darrell Scott. He's been a surrogate for the president since the campaign and has been very visible. But there are also some new faces, like John Gray, who, in addition to pastoring a church in South Carolina, is seen frequently on Oprah Winfrey's network giving life advice and has also made a name for himself in the Christian comedy circles. And so it's a pretty broad group of people. But all of these individuals have some contact with black evangelicals, which is a group that has not backed Trump as much as white evangelicals have.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right. So one of the pastors, Darrell Scott - he said this is probably going to be the most pro-black president that we've had in our lifetime. A comment like that was expected from Darrell Scott. But what else did we hear from those pastors?

SCOTT: Well, from John Gray, one of the newer faces - we saw him later, the next day, appear on CNN and tell Don Lemon that he actually views Trump as one of the more divisive leaders of our time right now when it comes to issues related to race and religion. That's not something he shared in the room. In the room, he was very silent. He eventually said he went to listen, not to speak. And so when he was silent, I think people who followed him interpreted it as an endorsement because there were other people in there who were endorsers, such as Alveda King, one of the nieces of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who has campaigned for Trump. She was very affirming of him.

But what we also haven't heard was what these pastors believe Trump would do related to prison reform, which was the purpose of the meeting. And so I think what we're seeing right now is them deal with the backlash and the response to their appearance meeting with a president that has been the topic of such criticism for how he's handled race issues in America.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about the backlash. I mean, what has been the response?

SCOTT: On social media, many people, be they voters, as well as people in positions of prominence, have, quite frankly, attacked many of the pastors at these meetings as individuals who just want access to power but aren't genuinely interested in making changes in their community and using their role at the White House or on advisory councils or just in the conversation to actually improve issues. There have been just great frustrations that many people who were at the meeting sat silently, opposed to carrying the issues and concerns that black Christians and black voters have articulated repeatedly since Trump got into the White House to the president at that moment to his face.

The motives and the commitment and investment that these pastors have in black communities has been questioned deeply by many who have responded to the meeting, to the degree that we have seen some come out and try to defend why they attended in the first place and what they were hoping to accomplish.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what the Trump administration would say is that they have helped black America because - its record unemployment levels for African-Americans and other economic benefits that his administration has given. I just wonder if this meeting moves the needle at all.

SCOTT: The reality is that Trump has not done anything to help black Americans feel as if he really has their best interests at heart. He regularly points to the historically low unemployment rate for black Americans but fails to give context and acknowledge that that was a rate that was dropping significantly beginning during the Obama administration and has not provided clear examples of what he has done to keep this rate going down to rates that would be comparable to white Americans. He does not talk about the public safety issues that many black Americans feel exist when it comes to police brutality. In fact, he attacks NFL players who protest police brutality.

He said nothing about the educational challenges that black Americans face in terms of higher education, as well as just getting them into a K-12 12 situation that will prepare them for careers. So there are many issues beyond jobs that black Americans are concerned about that Trump hasn't spoken to at all. And it'll be very difficult for him to increase the amount of support from black Americans between now and November if he doesn't address those.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Eugene Scott, identity politics reporter for The Washington Post. Thank you very much.

SCOTT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.