On Tokenism, and Trump’s Jewish Make-Up Photo at the African American Museum

By Michael Shaw

President Donald Trump visits the National African American Museum of History and Culture on Tuesday in light of #BlackHistoryMonth. Here, Trump poses with his daughter Ivanka Trump, Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, in front of the museum’s Ben Carson exhibit. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty via CNNPolitics/Instagram.

I’m shocked but not surprised by this photograph posted on Instagram by that otherwise fake news outlet, CNN. It records how Donald Trump was dispatched to the African-American Museum, script in hand, his liberally self-conscious daughter of the faith literally behind him, as a thoroughly heavy-handed gesture to make up for his screaming deafness lately (Jews died too?; I heard your question!) to anti-Semitism.

So why not take a dog-and-pony-show to the Holocaust Museum?

What with Trump’s dismal standing with African-Americans and even more to make up for, this venue was apparently the perfect “twofer.” (You remember that Trump was scheduled to visit the National African-American Museum of History and Culture for the first time on MLK day, but that photo-op was scotched at the last minute after Trump got into a little boy spat with John Lewis for reducing his crowd count by one at the inauguration.)

The conduct of this photo is horribly revealing. Trump, buddied up with his completely unqualified, but loyal and visually perfect showpiece, the HUD secretary, parks himself in front of a display of that self-same secretary’s doctor’s coat. Unfortunately for civil rights, and American Jews and blacks specifically here, there is no difference in Trump’s mind (apologies to Pavlov) between meaning and gesture, thought and appearance, or between actual and perceived importance. No, it’s all tokenism.

This self-inflicted injury is more stupidly simple than that though. What we have here is the most blasphemous depiction so far of the Trump family’s core nature. In its Grand Canyon-sized blindspot for history, sensitivity, empathy or humility (two thumbs up, yo!), Trump turns this moment and the African-American Museum of History and Culture itself into the same thing it converts every shred of real estate into. That is, a visual background, the latest branding opportunity, and a shrine to Trump’s rampant egotism. As for the very incredible Dr. Ben Carson, what the photo also depicts (as well-documented elsewhere) is that he worships at the same temple.


Originally published by Reading The Pictures, the only site dedicated to the daily review of news and documentary photography. Sign up for the Reading The Pictures Week in Re-View email. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.Originally published at www.readingthepictures.org on February 21, 2017.

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