ST. LOUIS — Not once, but twice did Donald Trump refer to black voters — for whom he'd do things "that are so great" — as "the African-Americans" during the debate on Sunday.
He do things that had never been done, he said, "including fixing and making our inner cities better for the African-American citizens that are so great.” With jobs, education and safety being a "disaster," Trump declared, "I'm going to help the African-Americans."
That phrasing is nothing new for Trump — who often throws articles before groups of people — but on Sunday night, #TheAfricanAmericans became a thing.
The viral social sentiment echoed a message senior Democrats have been pushing for quite some time, perhaps with less effect. During the legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, black lawmakers excoriated Trump at a press conference. But the message didn't reach social media.
The podcaster and humorist Desus Nice, a central figure in the community widely known as "Black Twitter," said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that the hashtag #TheAfricanAmericans probably went viral "because Trump comes off as a guy who'd still own slaves if it were legal, so hearing 'the African-Americans' as if we were bananas at Whole Foods got us nervous.
"Also, when Trump describes any group of people, he always describes them as if their name was a category on a PornTube site."
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton said during an appearance on The Bill Press Show Monday that the worst thing you can do to black people is stereotype them: “The broad brush of stereotyping is what least appeals to people of color.”
Her colleagues agree.
“Look,” said Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri, who served as a surrogate for Clinton on Sunday night. “The man should never say ‘black’ or ‘African-American’ for the rest of his life. This man ran a full-page ad in the New York Times demanding capital punishment for young African-Americans who were innocent and who he still today is demanding that they be punished even though there's a man who confessed for having raped and killed a woman in Central Park. It's just the most amazing thing that he has not apologized for that.”
Those watching the debate saw Donald Trump’s reference to “the African-Americans” as being referred to as “other"; Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was at the debate here Sunday, likes to say black people "are not debtors to America, but creditors." Trump's comments had seemed to suggest the reverse was true.
Trump’s historically low support with black voters — he sometimes polls at literally zero points — has been attributed to a variety of factors: his reductive stereotyping of black communities; his harsh rhetoric toward minorities, including Muslims; his long campaign to question the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate; his slogan, which suggests a return to an earlier era of American history; his support for policies like stop-and-frisk, which was found to discriminate against black and Latino men; his continued belief that the Central Park Five, who were exonerated, are guilty; and his uneasy relationship with faith communities.
“African-Americans are not going to follow Donald Trump,” said Cleaver. “He can go to black churches all he wants. That's just not going to do it. That's like saying, ‘African-Americans are dumb, so I'll just go to their church and all of a sudden they're just going to fall out and vote for me.'"
During the debate, two black men seemed to represent a kind of national dubiousness about Trump's sincerity about helping black people. Images of both in the audience at the town hall — of James Carter, who asked a question, and another man whose name is not known — made the rounds on the internet.
Their visage became avatars for the anger and the incredulousness of Trump’s attempts at outreach, that he understands black Americans, let alone cares for them.
"I don't think he's ever had any contact with, or any empathy for, African-Americans,” said Cleaver. “Maybe except for people who work for him and bow down to him. But he gets 3% of the African-American population, he ought to have a celebration. That ought to be one of the biggest days of his life. Because my goal is to knock it down to 1%.”
Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Darren Sands at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.