With an administration dominated by white men, ‘black diversity in the White House is almost oxymoronic at this point,’ says former RNC chair
The departure of the former Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault-Newman from the White House this week has placed the lack of diversity in Donald Trump’s administration under renewed scrutiny.
Manigault-Newman, the highest-ranking black person to work in the West Wing under Trump, abruptly left her post as a special assistant to the president on Wednesday. She subsequently criticized minority representation in the White House in a televised interview, claiming that many of Trump’s senior advisers “had never worked with minorities, [and] didn’t know how to interact with them”.
“As the only African American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people,” Manigault-Newman told ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday.
Manigault-Newman, who rose to prominence in the 2000s while appearing on The Apprentice, the reality television show produced and hosted by Trump, has long held a reputation among critics as a brash personality, hungry for attention – not unlike her former boss.
But her comments about an absence of people of color in the White House tapped into an issue that has clouded Trump’s administration, which produced a cabinet more male and white than any of Trump’s four predecessors.
“There is no comparison. Black diversity in the White House is almost oxymoronic at this point,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and the first African American to hold the post.
“It’s not for a lack of names or people who qualify … This continued pretense that it’s so hard to find [people of color] to do the job is just ridiculous at this point.”
Without Manigault-Newman, Trump appears to have no black senior advisers in public-facing White House roles. Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, is the only black member of Trump’s cabinet. Jerome M Adams, the US surgeon general, is one of the only other black individuals to hold a high-ranking position in Trump’s administration.
More broadly, the minority members of Trump’s cabinet are few and far between: Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, is the only Asian American; Alexander Acosta, the labor secretary, is the only Hispanic; and Nikki Haley, the UN ambassador, is the only Indian American.
There are two other Indian Americans in prominent administration roles: Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
By contrast, 64% of Barack Obama’s first cabinet and cabinet-level officials were women or nonwhite men, according to a New York Times analysis. That figure in George W Bush’s first cabinet was 45%.
In Trump’s cabinet, there are only five women. Furthermore, 80% of nominations for top jobs in the Trump administration have been awarded to men – paving the way for the most male-dominated federal government in nearly a quarter-century.
A similar trend has characterized Trump’s judicial nominees. An analysis by the Associated Press last month revealed that 91% of Trump’s nominees to US federal courts are white, and 81% are male. Three of every four nominees are white men, the review found, with few African Americans and Hispanics under consideration.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, defended Trump on Thursday for having “a really diverse team across the board at the White House”. She could not, however, identify how many senior staffers at the White House were black.
An administration official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told the Guardian there were 24 commissioned officers who were minorities, three of whom were African Americans.
Malik Russell, a spokesman for the NAACP, America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, expressed concern with “the overall way in which this administration has addressed and engaged people of color”.
“Opportunities for individuals of color have and continue to be a rare occurrence and scarce commodity in this administration, which often seems more comfortable in appointing or nominating individuals with clear ties to racist and white supremacist organizations than someone from Latino, Asian or African American communities,” Russell said.
Steele said he was part of a small group of Republicans that provided a list of recommendations “of highly qualified and capable” African American men and women during Trump’s transition period, who were either already serving in the US government or had already served in various capacities.
The group had also made the recommendations under previous Republican administrations, Steele said, but he expressed his view that the list had been “summarily ignored or rejected” under Trump.
Even with Manigault-Newman by his side for the first year of his presidency, Trump has ignited numerous firestorms for his comments on race.
There was his feud with the NFL over predominantly black athletes kneeling during the national anthem – players whom Trump referred to as “sons of bitches”. And there was the president’s assertion in August that “both sides” were to blame for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Such moments called into question Manigault-Newman’s influence after she positioned herself as a liaison between the president and the African American community. Manigault-Newman was no stranger to controversy herself, once irking the Congressional Black Caucus by sending invitations to meet with Trump at the White House that she signed as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault”.
Steele said Trump’s long-held views on race were an “unspoken truth”, and it was unlikely that an increase in African American staff would change the outlook of a 71-year-old man. He also said a move to hire more black men and women at this stage of Trump’s presidency would lack authenticity.
“You just don’t have a revelation all of a sudden that, ‘Oh damn, we forgot black people.’ That’s not how this works.”
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