Dear President Trump,
I wrote a letter to you the night of your election entitled, “How Donald Trump Can Heal America’s Racial Divide.” I am questioning whether you read that piece, so I again want to offer my help before the Trump train gets too far off the tracks.
I am afraid you would not see racism if it smacked you in the face with a white hood.
Very few white people want to be racists, and we would generally like to believe we are bias-free. Most black folks, alternatively, justify their own racial bias towards all white people based on the actions of a shrinking group. No one is willing to give up the moral high ground to actually expose their real feelings. The public cost of bigotry is simply too high.
Every human being above the ground and below the heavens has learned bias from a very young age. And yet, you can never survive being labeled a racist. We have recovering alcoholics, remediated murderers, and rehabilitated drug dealers. But if you’re white and someone of color calls you a racist in a public forum, your life as you know it is over. What do you say, “I have black friends” or “I used to watch the Cosby Show”? Just ask the New York Knicks’ owner, James Dolan, how he will feel when his eyes meet those of a black man after Draymond Green recently compared him to a slave owner.
In your business dealings and presidential campaign, you get credit for deftly employing an age old combat strategy to perfection: The best defense is a great offense. Last week, I witnessed your latest maneuver.
In a White House press conference, you referred to yourself as “the least racist person.”
Then, a few minutes later, when reporter April Ryan asked if you would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus, you fired back that Ms. Ryan was welcome to arrange a get together. This comment was both racist and sexist, implying that Ms. Ryan personally knew all the members of the CBC and that she should act as the President’s go between with a group of black legislators.
The thing is, I actually believe that you believe that you are “the least racist person.”
As of January 24, 17 of your 20 cabinet members and key White House staff positions confirmed or awaiting confirmation were white—and exactly one was a black person. And that person was given a spot in Housing and Urban Development, despite being a neurosurgeon. Hmmm, I wonder why Dr. Carson was given that seat and not, say, Secretary of State?
You can never survive being labeled a racist. We have recovering alcoholics, remediated murderers, and rehabilitated drug dealers. But if you’re white and someone of color calls you a racist in a public forum, your life as you know it is over. What do you say, “I have black friends” or “I used to watch the Cosby Show”?
President Trump, if you get 95 percent of the black vote in 2020, it will either mean that you will make an historic about-face in your language and policies, or that you will outlaw free elections in America. I am not only rooting for the former, I want to volunteer my help.
Being married to a black woman since 1996, I’ve been the only white guy in my house for over 20 years. My wife and I are both Wharton grads, and her deceased father served for 25 years in the Air Force. We are unabashed patriots. We have three mixed kids between 13 and 17 years old and guardianship of five brothers from Nigeria between the ages of 14 and 25. Ours is a big family with many different shades. But only one white person.
I just read that you will meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. Since I used to be a Legislative Director for Congressman Harold Ford, Sr., from 1989 to 91, my experience tells me that there won’t be a lot of real talk there, but a lot of proclamations and platitudes.
When there are conversations about race in America, everyone usually talks past each other. White people don’t want to be guilty, and people of color don’t want to let white folks off the hook. No one actually talks about what really matters. It is not what we think that counts so much as how we feel, our perception of reality.
President Trump, you can help us get past this divide. But first, you must open yourself up a little bit and really understand why people of color are saying what they are saying. Then, you will also be in a better position to explain the defensiveness that you feel as a successful white man—maybe the most successful white man—in America today.
I would like to help. Here is my invitation to you, President Trump:
A lot people over 70 years of age have a bucket list. Put a dinner with the Bergers on yours. Why don’t you join our family for a meal and double the number of white folks in our house? Pick anytime you like, and you will be our guest.
During the meal, we will talk openly about three very difficult topics that can’t really be addressed in public without fear of lifelong consequences. Our phones will be off, and you will be the only person allowed to post or tweet about the experience. We will try to advance the conversation on Race in America together, with no judgment for how anyone might feel.
Here are the topics:
All 10 “black” people in the house will share when they have encountered or felt discrimination. I use the word “black” instead of African-American, African, or bi-racial for simplicity’s sake. One’s racial identification is really complex these days.
We will not tell them that America is no longer a place where they need to fear discrimination, that those days are in the past. We will not tell them that affirmative action righted all the wrongs of the past, and that they have just as much opportunity and safety as any white person. We will just LISTEN to how they FEEL.
2) YOUR CAMPAIGN AND THE EARLY DAYS OF YOUR PRESIDENCY.
We will also hear how some of your own statements and campaign images made them feel. Not what you meant, but how they interpreted what you said.
For example, at one of your rallies you said, “Look at my African-American over there.” They might have felt slighted with the language of ownership used to describe a black man by a white man, even if you meant, “That’s my main man!”
I’ve been the only white guy in my house for over 20 years. My wife and I are unabashed patriots. We have three mixed kids between 13 and 17 years old and guardianship of five brothers from Nigeria between the ages of 14 and 25. Ours is a big family with many different shades. Why don’t you join us for a Berger family meal and double the number of white folks in our house?
Or how they felt seeing the image of a black man cold-cocked by a white man at a rally, seemingly supported by an angry mob. And their fear that this could actually lead us back to the days of unchecked violence against people of color.
Again, we will not disrespect their feelings and debate facts, but receive their messages with open minds.
3) CONFRONTING YOUR OWN BIAS AS A WHITE MAN.
We will discuss why you feel the need to outwardly say that you are the “least racist person.” What would it mean if you said that, actually, you probably have some biases around race that you need to explore? How would it feel for you to admit that in public?
Most white men are terrified of being branded a racist. There is no way back from this conviction in general society. People of color will hate you, and white people won’t be seen with you.
You do not seem to be afraid of what anyone thinks of you, so you are in a unique position to listen to other people’s feelings and be honest about your own. If you can do that, you can start to heal our nation’s racial divide in a way that’s never been done before.
Mr. Trump, let’s make a brand new “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and start a brand new national conversation. You are welcome anytime.
Seth Berger is head boys basketball coach at The Westtown School. He was Founder/CEO of And1 basketball apparel company. He has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from Wharton.