Opinion: What did Jemele Hill get wrong?
Let’s consider the evidence.
He was sued for systematically refusing to rent to African Americans and settled out of court.
He demanded the death penalty for five black and Hispanic kids charged in the notorious Central Park jogger rape case — and refuses to recant to this day, though the young men were long ago exonerated and set free.
He had a disdain for African Americans so pronounced that, according to an employee at one of his casinos, supervisors would remove black workers from the floor and ensconce them in a back room whenever he came through.
He was once quoted as saying of a black accountant: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.”
He retweeted racist and anti-Semitic insults from Nazi sympathizers, called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and said a judge was unfit to preside over a case because of his Mexican heritage.
He led the inane “birther” movement that claimed President Obama was born in Kenya.
He suggested moral equivalence between white supremacists and those who oppose them.
He is embraced by bigots, who recognize him as one of their own. Said former Klan leader David Duke, “We are determined to take our country back. … That’s what we believe in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump …”
So what, pray tell, did Jemele Hill get wrong? Last week, the co-host of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” issued tweets calling the so-called president, among other things, “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”
You’d have thought she advocated kindergarten classes in Satanism from the speed with which ESPN disavowed her for what it called “inappropriate” tweets. Hill would eventually apologize for putting the company in such an awkward position. But ESPN’s response was mild compared with the White House’s rebuke. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders pronounced Hill’s tweets “a fireable offense.”
Really? Well, if Hill deserves firing for calling Trump a white supremacist, then what does he get for actually being one?
But we already know the answer, don’t we? Donald John Trump is a man whose cognitive and moral deficits would, in a sane country, render him unfit to clean toilets at a reasonably respectable strip club. But he became president. And as Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in the new issue of The Atlantic, he was elected largely because of his racism — not despite it — having run on an implicit promise to restore white primacy after eight years of the black interloper Obama.
And here, someone will protest that she voted for Trump, but doesn’t consider herself a white supremacist. Yet that hypothetical voter and 63 million others did vote — knowingly — for white supremacy even if they disavow the ideology for themselves. So what’s the material difference?
There is none. That’s a bitter truth some of us would prefer not to face, indicting as it does cherished myths about ourselves and our country and how we overcame.
For the record, the only “fireable offense” here is Trump’s impersonation of a president. But make no mistake: Even if he is held accountable in 2020, it won’t fix, or even address, that frightened, primitive thing inside them that led so many to reach out to him in the first place.
So the fact of the matter is, Jemele Hill got nothing wrong. No, she’s in trouble because she did the opposite.
She told entirely too much truth.
— Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.