“It’s gonna be a shit show. Why are you participating in a shit show?”
“It’s not gonna be a shit show.”
“It’s totally gonna be a shit show, and I specifically remember you saying last year you want to AVOID shit shows.”
This was pretty much the exchange between me and The Root’s editor-in-chief, Danielle Belton, a couple of days ago. I told her that I was participating in a panel with Omarosa Manigault-Newman at the National Association of Black Journalists conference.
Of course she was right. (That’s why she makes the big bucks!) The panel ended up being a mess, but it didn’t have to be. All of this could have been avoided if black folks just stopped expecting so much from Omarosa. She’s not Jared, she’s not Don Jr., she’s not Ivanka; nor is she Sessions, Bannon, Miller, Bran, Jamie, Arya or even Sansa.
Omarosa doesn’t have much power in the Trump White House, and the sooner folks realize it, the fewer “shit show” panels we’ll have to endure.
Point of full disclosure: I’ve always had a nice professional relationship with Omarosa. She has always been very gracious to me on and off camera, in and out of political settings, and I have gotten more than a few stares from people when I relate my generally positive interactions with her. In journalism you can get along professionally with people even if you find their employer or employment to be reprehensible.
The W.E.B. Du Bois panel she was asked to participate in at the NABJ last week was looking as if it was going to be a problem from jump. Once people found out that Omarosa was going to be a part of it, black folks were running from that thing faster than a casting call for HBO’s Confederate. Part of that I get; the possibility of the audience or Omarosa herself turning a panel discussion on police brutality into a scene was certainly within the realm of possibility.
However, when I was invited—a day before the event—I was told that Omarosa and I would discuss the criminal-justice policy of the Trump administration and that veteran host Ed Gordon would moderate. I mean, this is Ed Gordon, the man who managed to civilly grill R. Kelly about his pedophilia way back in 2002, when most other folks were still stepping in the name of love. I figured everything would be fine.
Of course it wasn’t. Like everyone else, I saw a panel on police brutality turn into a fireball of broken norms and standards.
Here’s the problem, though: I don’t understand all the anger against Omarosa specifically. I understand that she made a name for herself on The Apprentice, and just about every Apprentice contestant I’ve interviewed doesn’t have nice words for her; and yes, she said asinine things during the 2016 campaign, but when it comes to Donald Trump, she really isn’t powerful enough to stop the most egregious parts of his administration—yet people keep asking her as if she can actually do something about it.
“I’m tired of people asking about Sessions and Bannon,” she claimed at one point during the panel.
Yes, on the one hand, when you’re a Trump adviser, it’s expected that you may have to account for the pile of Duplo blocks masquerading as a government we have in Washington, D.C., right now, but on a more practical level, who says Omarosa has anything to do with Jeff Sessions or Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller and how they do their jobs? That’s like asking the guy at Ticketmaster to explain why Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have a job.
At one point during the panel I asked, “What do you actually do?” which was not meant to be snide, but honestly, I don’t think most people know what Omarosa does, and therefore it’s easier to just attack this black woman for everything people think she should be doing.
Omarosa is a Trump adviser and a director of communications for the Trump administration’s Office of Public Liaison. When I asked her what Trump decisions affecting the black community she had played a role in, she pointed out that she had worked in fixing the PLUS loan situation, which every HBCU in the country had been screaming at Obama about. This is an actual accomplishment. What more do you expect from a black person working for the Trump administration?
Omarosa elicits a rage from black folks that we don’t have for Ben Carson, Pastor Darrell Scott, Sheriff David Clarke or a slew of other people who are a part of this administration or have caped for it in the past. It’s as if they’re all in the sunken place, but we’re convinced that Omarosa is stirring the tea. The reality is that none of them are running the house, so there’s no reason for drama at NABJ or anywhere else, for that matter.
You can dislike her for working for Trump, for co-signing some of his administration’s behavior, but you have to remember that there are other moves Trump has made that she has publicly disagreed with; however, she is essentially powerless to stop him. (She said during the panel that Trump’s encouragement for cops to abuse suspects was inappropriate.)
Here’s the thing, though: No one has been able to keep a lid on Trump’s tendencies, so once you accept that about Omarosa, she becomes just another panelist and not someone worth having a fit over.
Near the end of the panel, Omarosa challenged the black community to get over their anger at the Trump administration and try to engage to get things done. She brought up that old bromide: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!”
Which is true, but you know what’s also true?
“What’s the point of being at the table if they never take your order?”
Donald Trump isn’t listening to Omarosa on most issues that matter to black people, and we should stop treating her as if he is. (Who do you think was behind that flaccid Charlottesville, Va., speech: the White House Steves—Bannon and Miller—or Omarosa?) Instead, she should be treated like any other White House bureaucrat. We’ll avoid a lot of shit shows if we realize what shit she is and isn’t bringing to the table.