The following day, she responded with a tweet about the so-called “cancel culture” and free speech and then posted a recording of her speech in its entirety. Four hundred and eighty-eight students, faculty members, and alumni had signed an open letter to administrators at WSU, calling for Ivanka Trump’s removal from the ceremony. And yet, she released her speech anyway. In it, she made no mention of George Floyd, the man whose death has set off nearly two weeks of protests in the United States. Instead, she mentioned the coronavirus pandemic, unironically likening it to a “war” even as an actual war was unfolding on American streets.
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What Ivanka Trump’s speech (as well as her ridiculous outrage at not being able to deliver it — and her arrogance in believing that she should release it anyway) reveals is that the idea of racial injustice and how to correct it in the United States is not just on the back burner in Trump World; it’s simply non-existent. Many Republicans have stopped short of calling President Trump and his administration racist, despite some unequivocal language coming out of our commander-in-chief’s mouth. But a failure to recognize systemic racism — the intentional erasure of that recognition, in fact — is a brand of racism.
Last week, when a jobs report revealed some uplifting news for a nation in a downward economic spiral (though those numbers were later disclosed to be partially incorrect), Trump said that it was a “great day” for George Floyd, who had recently died after a police officer knelt on his neck for around nine minutes, and that he was surely “looking down” with satisfaction at the US employment numbers. To add insult to injury, the president also retweeted a video whereby one of his supporters declared Floyd “not a good person.”Has the president come out and used pointed language proving his racism? Republicans will argue that he (and those who do his bidding, like Ivanka) has not. But the problem is that the erasure of racism from the conversation is just another reminder of what plagues the United States.
Not addressing racism during a speech to the next generation when peaceful protests have dominated the news cycle for 13 out of the past 14 days does not make racism a secondary concern; it makes the people not talking about it obvious in their objectives. Ivanka and her father plainly want to sweep racism under the rug, either because it is either inconvenient, or politically harmful, or both.
Perhaps that’s why they find it so difficult to address race and equality in a time when it is the only topic on the table, when even the most unlikely of actors — like Mitt Romney, for heaven’s sake, who strapped on a mask and marched with Black Lives Matter protesters over the weekend — have stepped up to the plate to join the cause, because to do the opposite and to stay silent is to remain on the wrong side of history.
President Trump has caused obvious harm to all kinds of people during his time in office. The decision by him and his surrogates to erase the problem of racism and to ignore the current climate is a less obvious harm — but it is still harm. Silence is complicity, even if it comes from the woman delivering the speech that no one asked for. The gaping hole is thunderous, a loud clarion call to those of us who are listening. We all hear exactly what you are saying, Ivanka. I believe your stepmother, Melania, wore the words you represent best: “I don’t really care. Do you?”
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