Op-EdColumnistsAskia MuhammadOpinion

MUHAMMAD: The Shameful Character Assassination of Trayon White

D.C. Council member Trayon White, who represents Ward 8 — the poorest ward in the District — is in a heap of needless trouble after he repeated an urban myth. As a result, his reputation has been assaulted and dragged through the mud.

Like the wild conspiracy theories about the “Illuminati” and the “Boule,” White recited the one about the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds controlling the weather in U.S. inner cities, in order to make more money for themselves.

Back in late March, when spring should have already settled in, we were experiencing unseasonable snowstorms and frigid weather. White sought to explain the phenomenon by blaming it on a couple of rich White guys, who just might actually manipulate the weather for their own personal profit.

The only thing about that is that some Jewish groups consider negative references to the Rothschild family as a “placeholder” for slander against all Jews, and that rumor has been the source of controversy and denials for decades.

White’s careless speech is a simply a rookie mistake, in my opinion, and not evidence of his hatred of Jewish people or even inadvertent anti-Semitism. I don’t think he was singling out Jewish persons as the source of the inner city blues.

When I was White’s age, growing up in Southern California, I was just like I think he is now. I did not know that there was any difference between Jewish Caucasians and all other Caucasians. White people were all the same, as far as I was concerned. And precious few of them ever lived in my neighborhood.

In his original remarks, White condemned both the Rockefellers (who are WASPs, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants; John D. Rockefeller was a staunch Baptist) and the Rothschilds. But the backlash only came from Jews who insist that anything offensive said about any Jewish person is an anti-Semitic insult against all Jews.

Why hasn’t there been a “WASP backlash” against White’s remark? After every tawdry episode in this drama, the headlines screamed about the purported offenses as seen only from a Jewish perspective.

While it’s true that for millennia, Jews have been scorned and abused, but historically, they were not discriminated against by Black folks, and never in Africa. In fact there is no historical evidence that any Jewish people ever lived in Egypt, and many believe the stories of Pharaoh enslaving “God’s chosen people” are really allegories, prophecies pertaining to today, not 5,000 years ago.

As the Passover season approached, White attended Jewish Seder meals and a kosher breakfast with other Council members and several rabbis, who lectured him. There, he apologized for his remarks. He then went for a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, where he was literally stalked by reporters trailing his group, though he had insisted that there be no reporters for what he hoped would be a private educational experience.

But after discovering that his tour of the Holocaust Museum was being stalked by news teams, White left the guided tour, he said for personal, private reflections and to get away from the public glare. The “yellow journalism” sheets then reported that White abandoned the tour.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience for me, but I’ve said my apologies, and I’m done with that,” White said in a video made public in mid-April after criticism of his museum tour.

The Rev. Willie Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church, one of the most prominent congregations in Ward 8, came to White’s defense.

“I don’t think — in fact, I know that you cannot find a council person who has worked so feverishly and diligently to assuage the violence in our city, as well as ensuring that our people are educated,” Wilson told this writer. “He is involved, in and out of the schools, out in the streets, and I think this situation, this statement, has certainly been overblown, and exaggerated, beyond what it should have. He apologized for his statement, and I thought that was sufficient.

“The community is with him because they know what he does for this community, and they know how hard he’s working,” Wilson said.

Eugene Puryear, a former Statehood-Green Party candidate for an at-large D.C. Council seat, echoed those sentiments.

“I understand why people are upset, given the general growth of White supremacy and anti-Semitism in the country,” Puryear said. “I also think that the reaction to what has happened, though, has been exploited by people who — I don’t think their real interest is, dealing with either racism or anti-Semitism.

“We have to be asking ourselves questions about that: why it is that Black leaders seem to be held to a very different standard than leaders of the White community, as it concerns the broader issue of how a politician engages with their community, with their base?” Puryear continued. “I think it’s indicative of the fact that there is a double standard for Black leaders. The only community in America that isn’t really allowed to hold any [contradiction] and/or complexity, seems to be Black America.”

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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