When the Rev. Carl Day posed a question to President Donald Trump during a town hall meeting at the National Constitution Center this week, the North Philly pastor zeroed in on something that African Americans have been asking since we first heard Trump say the words “Make America Great Again.”
If you missed it, here’s how Day phrased it: "When has America been great for Black people in the ghettos of America? Are you aware of how tone-deaf that comes off in the African American community?”
Can the church say amen?
That’s the million-dollar question that I’ve waited four long years to hear Trump address.
I’m so glad that Day — a.k.a. the “Pastor of the Hood” — brought it up, because when you’re talking about the good ol’ days in America, there’s no such thing for African Americans. The suggestion that there even ever was is offensive.
Think about it. When has America been great for people who look like me? America wasn’t “great” during my parents' lifetime. Because of their skin color, they were forced to attend racially segregated and underfunded schools, and denied all kinds of employment and other opportunities.
Nor was this country “great” during my grandparents' lifetimes or during the lifetimes of my great-grandparents, some of whom were enslaved in the Carolinas and treated like animals. Nor was it great for our ancestors who were dragged here from West Africa. Blacks have been and continue to be discriminated against in practically every facet of American life.
The wealth gap between white and Black Americans continues to be staggering. Tremendous health disparities caused by systemic racism persist, which is why Black people have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. I could go on, but suffice it to say that there has been no “great” period for African Americans in the United States, including this one.
When questioned on the subject, Trump did what Trump does. He turned the conversation back to his favorite topic — himself and his poll numbers. The president talked about how well he was doing with African Americans and Hispanics and how good things were before the coronavirus pandemic. He said, “If you go back and you want to look over many years, you could just go back six or seven months from now, that was the best single moment in the history of the African American people in this country, I think — I would say.”
Day — who describes himself as an undecided voter who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in 2016 — didn’t back down, and alluded to the staggering wealth gap between Blacks and whites. The 35-year-old pastor of Culture Changing Christians Worship Center, at 22nd and Allegheny, told Trump, “Your statement is, though, ‘make it great again,’" and brought up redlining and systemic racism.
Trump responded by saying, “I hope there’s not a race problem," as if he slept through the country’s turmoil since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“I can tell you, there’s none with me," he said, "because I have great respect for all races, for everybody. This country is great because of it.”
In true Trumpian fashion, the president went on to throw some proverbial shade, saying, “But if you look under President Obama and Biden the income inequality was phenomenal. It was … it was record-setting.”
Since addressing Trump, Day has been enjoying a bit of a moment, doing TV appearances on CNN and MSNBC. Most of the response has been positive, but he’s gotten hate emails, too.
“I’ve heard that tagline many times, ‘Make America Great Again.’ Our question is, when was it great for us?" Day told me on Thursday. “We haven’t experienced such greatness.”
“I told myself there’s no greater question to ask than this one right here,” Day added. “That tagline isn’t meant for people of color.”
He’s right. MAGA isn’t about us.