Editor’s Note: Comedian Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.
There’s no disputing that Donald Trump’s pattern of attacking well-known African-Americans as having “low IQs” or being of low intelligence is parroting the white nationalist view that blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites. The only question is whether Trump was intentionally espousing the views of white supremacists.
Well, given Trump’s history, there’s only one reasonable conclusion: Trump knows exactly what he’s saying.
Just take a look at Trump’s history of ridiculing the intelligence of prominent black Americans. In March, Trump first began his baseless claim that frequent Trump critic, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters from California, has a “very low IQ.” He was doubling down on his insult in July when he said, “I mean, honestly, she’s somewhere in the mid-60s, I believe that.” Apparently, to Trump, repeatedly smearing a black critic as having a low IQ is an effective way of delegitimizing her to his political base.
And on Friday, Trump escalated this line of attack on well-known African-Americans. This time, the leader of the nation took to Twitter to mock the intelligence of both NBA great LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” (The “Mike” in the tweet was NBA legend Michael Jordan, who issued a statement in response standing with LeBron James.) Despite Trump’s twitter attack, Melania Trump praised the NBA superstar’s charity work less than a day later.
But Trump’s practice of demeaning the intelligence of black Americans pre-dates his time in the White House. In 2011, he publicly claimed, with zero evidence, that then-President Barack Obama had been a “terrible student” and questioned how he could have been accepted at Columbia University or Harvard Law, both schools from which Obama graduated.
Trump then suggested that Obama release his school records to prove that he was intelligent enough to get into these Ivy League schools.
The claim that blacks have “low IQs” is taken right from the white nationalist playbook. For decades, bigots have used what’s been dubbed “race science” to support the assertion that whites have inherently higher IQs than blacks.
Charles Murray, who the Southern Poverty Law Center has rebuked for “using racist pseudoscience and misleading statistics to argue that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor,” co-wrote a book in 1994 where he claimed that poor people, especially blacks, are inherently less intelligent than white or Asian people. Murray has also claimed that people with low IQs are more often found in nonwhite communities.
Over time this “scientific racism” slowly crept into more mainstream right-wing thought. For example, in 2012 a long-time contributor to the National Review, John Derbyshire, penned an article for the right-wing outlet Taki’s magazine arguing that blacks inherently have lower IQs than whites.
In the article, Derbyshire stated that intelligent black Americans are “something of a luxury good, like antique furniture or corporate jets.” Derbyshire was fired from The National Review after that article was published.
And today we’re seeing this same view espoused by a younger generation of white nationalists known as the alt-right. For example, an August 2017 academic paper studied the mentality of alt-right activists by having both alt-right individuals and a control group respond to questions such as “What are your thoughts when people claim the alt-right is racist?” In response to this prompt, one alt-right activist stated, “Is it racist to not want your community flooded with 3,000 low IQ blacks from the Congo?”
If that sentiment sounds familiar it’s because Trump reportedly made a similar comment months later in January 2018 that he didn’t want immigrants from “Sh**thole” countries like Haiti but would prefer more from European nations like Norway.
Clearly, Trump shares some of the same bigoted sentiments as these alt-right racists. After all, this is the same Trump whose real estate company was sued by the federal government in the 1970’s for refusing to rent to black people. At the time, Trump held a press conference slamming the Department of Justice for, as he put it, trying to force his company “to rent to welfare recipients”, claiming that renting to black people would cause a “massive fleeing from the city of not only our tenants, but communities as a whole.”
Then, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump refused to denounce the endorsement of former Klan leader David Duke when first asked to do so point blank by CNN’s Jake Tapper. (He later did after a media firestorm erupted.) And just a year ago, after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that saw a white nationalist kill Heather Heyer, Trump claimed that there were “very fine people” within that group of white supremacist marchers.
In the time of Trump, the stakes demand that we must speak plainly and passionately when it comes to fighting bigotry. So let’s be blunt, Trump’s baseless attacks on the intelligence of black Americans is grounded in white supremacy. And any failure to call it that is a dangerous attempt to sugarcoat Trump’s vile racism.