Last night on Fox News, Donald Trump told Bill O’Reilly that he can relate to black Americans, because he, a white billionaire that is the son of a white millionaire, has also struggled against a rigged system.
The exchange happened when O’Reilly asked Trump what he thought about black Americans who believed the “system is biased against them,” meaning they and white Americans don’t get the same shot at success.
“Well I’ve been saying even against me the system is rigged,” Trump replied. “What I’m saying is that they’re not necessarily wrong. There are some people where that definitely comes into play. And I can relate it very much to myself.”
Research overwhelmingly indicates that the playing field indeed isn’t even for black and white Americans. The evidence, however, also overwhelmingly indicates that Donald Trump, the son of an immensely wealthy real-estate developer, was particularly privileged even among whites.
Study after study — not to mention anecdote after anecdote — shows that black Americans often face systemic barriers to success.
Black children are most likely to live in poverty. Starting in elementary school, they are disproportionately likely to be suspended, and less likely to have experienced teachers in their schools. When applying for jobs, people with white-sounding names at the top of their resumes are more likely to receive call-backs than those with black-sounding names. When hired, black Americans are likely to be paid less. And if black Americans want to talk about any of this, they’re less likely to even be able to get a therapy appointment.
Some of these barriers are due to subconscious racial bias or discrimination — which, as a white man, it’s safe to say Donald Trump probably hasn’t faced. Others, though, are due to the fact that black Americans are more likely to be born into lower economic circumstances.
In a 2004 book, sociologist Thomas Shapiro argued that the America’s race-opportunity gap persists because of the lingering effect of the barriers and discrimination faced by past generations. Due to the lack of opportunities given to their parents or grandparents, black Americans don’t have the necessary financial safety net to take advantage of opportunities or weather tough times. A 2015 ProPublica investigation came to a similar conclusion: Black Americans are more likely to fall into dangerous levels of debt, because they are less likely to have savings to draw on, or friends or family with available cash to lend them a hand.
Contrast that with Donald Trump. In 2005, Trump himself said “I have to admit, I was born into very fortunate circumstances,” in an episode of his now-defunct radio show Trumped!
As the son of an extraordinarily wealthy real estate developer, Trump has always been given opportunities and second chances. He attended private preparatory school and was far from a model student. But when his behavioral antics became too much, his parents sent him to military school (instead of, say, public school). He started building his business empire while still in college — by working at his father’s company.
And, when he wanted to build his own empire, he started with what he characterized as “very small loan” from his father — of about $1 million, which was only a small part of the help he received. His father’s name, wealth, and connections were essential to Trump securing the first bank loan for the real-estate deal that put him, literally, on the Manhattan map. As the son of a real-estate tycoon, Trump also inherited millions from his father — an inheritance he used to borrow millions during times of relative financial difficulty.
This election, Trump is selling himself as a self-made man, insisting to detractors that success “has not been easy for me.” Without his father’s money and connections, though, it would have been impossible.
Despite Trump’s claims of affinity for the experience of black Americans, the community isn’t buying it. Recent polling data from Quinniapiac shows that Trump currently enjoys just 1 percent support among black voters, compared to 91 percent for Hillary Clinton. Trump also recently declined an invite to speak at the NAACP convention, citing conflicts with the Republican National Convention (RNC). The NAACP noted in response that the RNC is in Cleveland, just a short trip from the NAACP conference in Cincinnati.