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How To Talk To Black People In Eight Easy Lessons

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How To Talk To Black People In Eight Easy Lessons

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Today’s column is presented as a public service.

It is for serious politicians both Democratic and Republican — and also for Donald Trump. The urgent need for this service has been painfully obvious for many years and never more so than today. So, let’s get right to it. This is: How to Talk to Black People in Eight Easy Lessons.

1. Go where we are.

You’d think that pretty obvious. Then you remember Trump purporting to speak to black people whilst addressing audiences whose aggregate melanin wouldn’t fill a Dixie cup.

2. Don’t act as if going where we are requires machetes and a supply line.

“Some have said that I’m either brave or crazy to be here,” Republican Sen. Rand Paul once told a black audience. He said this at Howard University, which is about 15 minutes from the White House. They have cell service there and everything.

3. Stop confusing the NAACP with the Nation of Islam.

Donald Trump recently snubbed an invitation to address the venerable civil rights group. Bob Dole once did, too, claiming they were trying to “set me up.” Right. Because the NAACP has such a long history of incendiary rhetoric. As one of its founders, the great scholar W.E.B. DuBois, never really said, “I’m ’bout to bust a cap on these honkies if they don’t give me my freedom.”

4. Don’t use Ebonics unless you are fluent.

I still have nightmares about Hillary Clinton crying out, “I don’t feel no ways tired” in that black church in Selma. Stick to Ivorybonics. Most of us are bilingual.

5. Don’t make a CP time joke unless you are a CP.

When candidate Obama sauntered onstage about 15 minutes after the start time of a black journalists’ event and quipped, “I want to apologize for being a little bit late — but you guys keep on asking whether I’m black enough,” it was cool and funny. When Bill de Blasio joked in a scripted exchange with Hillary Clinton about running on “CP Time” — “cautious politician time” — it was, well, not.

6. Don’t make a slavery joke, period.

Joe Biden once warned a black audience that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains.” Can you imagine him warning a Jewish crowd how the GOP is “going to put y’all back in the gas chambers”? Can you imagine how offensive that would be?

7. Don’t talk to the black people in your head.

This is what Donald Trump was doing when he told black people they lived in the suburbs of hell and had nothing to lose by voting for him. He was speaking, not to black people, but to black people as he imagines them to be, based on lurid media imagery and zero actual experience. In this, he was much like Bill O’Reilly, in whose world black folks all have tattoos on their foreheads.

8. Know what you don’t know.

“I’m here to learn,” said Trump at a black church in Detroit a few days ago. It was a powerful expression of humility — or would have been, had it been said by someone who wasn’t an OG of the birther movement, a serial re-tweeter of supremacist filth and the star of David Duke’s bromantic fantasies. Still, he had the right idea. Politicians too often purport to lecture us about us without having the faintest idea who we even are.

The truth is, How to Talk to Black People isn’t all that difficult.

The candidate who wants African-American support should pretend black folks are experts on our own issues and experiences — because we are. He should learn those issues, tap that experience, formulate some thoughtful ideas in response. Then he should do what he would for anyone else:

Ask for our vote. Tell us what he’d do if he got it.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a church service, in Detroit, Michigan, September 3, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. A. D. Reed September 10, 2016

    I love this column!

    I’m a 63-year-old white southerner who has worked in the black community for almost 25 years, and even I sometimes almost go too far. My best friend is a very pale African American woman of 72, and we’ve laughingly compared skin color for years, as mine gets darker in the summer than hers (and I’m a blue-eyed Irish-Russian).

    Last spring at a board meeting that included her daughter — who is a dark, dark chocolate color — my friend and I compared our arms before the meeting started. It was spring, so I still had my winter pale, and we pretend-argued about whether she or I was darker. I said, “well, you wait, I’ll be dark soon, and you’ll still be cafe-au-lait.” Her daughter, also a close friend, was totally shocked, as were two other white people on the board.

    A month or so later, the daughter looked at me and said, “You’ll never be more than paper-sack.” (For those who don’t know, that’s another of the many, many distinct shades of skin tone described in the black community, and of which the white community is generally ignorant.)

    (Leonard, if you read this, it’s from A.ndy Reed in Asheville, who hosted you with Mrs. Oralene Simmons–my pale friend–when you were the keynote speaker at the MLK Breakfast six or seven years ago.)

    1. plc97477 September 11, 2016

      I love everything Mr. Pitts writes. I always go straight to his article.

  2. AgLander September 10, 2016

    Trump hit a home run in Detroit while Clinton is merely on the run (and coughing)…….Trump wins big on Nov. 8th.

    1. Myrabwiggins September 11, 2016

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      1. NYBamBam February 14, 2017

        I find it interesting that these spam posts always seem to follow Iamhelpy’s troll-like responses. Hmmmmmmm

        making a few extra bucks, kid?

    2. I Am Helpy September 11, 2016

      Hahahahaha yeah that fantasy will definitely happen. Sorry, but your Nazi dictatorship won’t actually replace America – you’ll have to continue whacking off to the Turner Diaries like all the other failures.

  3. bojimbo26 September 11, 2016

    Simples : Talk TO anybody , not DOWN to them .

    1. FireBaron September 11, 2016

      Teflon Donnie never talks to anyone. He talks AT them.

      1. charleo1 September 11, 2016

        But Donald loves the African Americans. Believe me, he says, “Love me some bunch of Black folks!” He has said it more than once! Didn’t he take the opportunity to point out his very own African American at one of his White Supremacist Rallies? What is it you Lefties, and Liberals want him to do? Rent them his apartments in White neighborhoods?

    2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth September 11, 2016

      Rather than talk To anybody, or At anybody, the ideal thing to do is to talk With anybody, regardless of social status.
      I know what you meant though.

  4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth September 11, 2016

    What Leonard is saying is just basic Human Communication 101.

    Since Donald has lived a sheltered life, and has had very little contact with black people except as a real estate agent rejecting their applications for housing in the NYC area, these observations point out how difficult the easy can be for the likes of him.
    Donald’s inability to connect with ordinary black folks aside from hat-in-hand types of black people is compounded by his blind-spot of not seeing all people, black people included, as being members of the same human family.

    As a result, Donald, many policemen, and most of his followers are always compelled to view blacks as separate entities, always ready to attack, and unworthy of basic respect. These are hardly the sensibilities that anyone pretending to want to lead a nation in the 21st century should have, whether they be liberal, conservative, or otherwise.

  5. charleo1 September 11, 2016

    Knowledge connotes respect. Demonstrating not a complete understanding, as that might well be an impossibility. But an effort put forth out of a desire to become more fluent.

  6. itsfun September 11, 2016

    How about just being honest and truthful with each other? I see no need to make talking to each other a racial issue.

    1. I Am Helpy September 11, 2016

      Of course you want to pretend racism doesn’t exist; it gives you a free pass.

      1. itsfun September 11, 2016

        Where did I say that? You are just making up stories again.

        1. I Am Helpy September 11, 2016

          Sorry you can’t read; not my problem.

        2. NYBamBam February 14, 2017

          Iamhelpy is a moron child, a miscreant who got loose from Reddit and hasn’t had a coherent thought of his own in 42,000 posts.

          1. itsfun February 14, 2017

            I finally just blocked him, so I don’t even see his lies and made up stories.

  7. Blueberry Hill September 11, 2016

    It is easy. They are PEOPLE. Talk to them like you would anyone else, whether white, purple, or green or of any color. They are as human as the rest of us.


  8. Joan September 11, 2016

    This article reminds me of another I read recently. A school principal was able to significantly reduce truancy and missed school by providing washers/ dryers and detergent in the school. Those items were donated when asked for. The principal found by TALKING to students and families what a deterant lack of clean clothing was to student sucess. If you are not engaging in meaningful dialogue about our problems – then you are PART of the problem.

  9. Jon September 11, 2016

    I don’t understand why Trump needs lessons. He has black friends who are working with him on his campaign and who act as surrogates for him. I know he has proven throughout his life that he is a racist yet he draws black people to aid him in achieving the ultimate racist’s dream. He did look very uncomfortable at church in Detroit but I couldn’t figure out if being in a church or being in a church with black parishioners was making him uneasy. The fact that he continues encouraging racist rants makes me think that he was uncomfortable beg in a church.

    1. wjca September 11, 2016

      Trump has black friends? Really?

      I’m not sure Trump has friends period — black, white, or any other kind. Supporters? Yes. Folks who feed his ego to get something from him? Yeah, that too. But friends? Not so much.

      1. Jon September 11, 2016

        Do you feel they are as phony as he is? Do you think they are insincere or are being sarcastic when they praise him or attack Hillary in public? Are all of them nothing more than liars like him? I know they look foolish in their efforts to make him appear human while demonizing Hillary. Have they lost all self-respect? Don’t they have any scruples at all? I assume the answers are yes, yes, yes, yes, no.

        1. wjca September 11, 2016

          I would say that they are absolutely sincere when they attack Clinton. If that requires them to praise Trump, that praise is neither insincere nor sarcastic nor (quite) lying — anything that they say is just a means to what they see as a greater end. Scruples? Nope, can’t afford them when the cause is on the line.

          Note that this doesn’t cover all Trump supporters. There are also the ones who are in it for career or other personal advantage (or so they hope; given Trump’s track record, they may well be disappointed even if he wins). Plus the ones who could care less about the election as such. They just want to lash out, and Trump’s campaign is a convenient vehicle.

        2. JPHALL September 11, 2016

          Ask Rubio or Christie that question!

          1. Jon September 12, 2016

            I think there is no chance that either of those guys would tell the truth.

  10. Shaymamma8 September 11, 2016

    Well said Mr Pitts!!


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