Rapper Kanye West dominated headlines last week after visiting with President Donald Trump at the White House, alongside NFL hall of famer and civil rights activist Jim Brown. Reverend Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist, the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail, and a visiting researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University’s School of Theology. Reverend Emmett G. Price III is a professor and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Monroe and Price spoke with Boston Public Radio hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan about what to make of Kanye’s visit. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Margery Eagan: What do you make of this?
Emmett G. Price III: I think the challenge of this is, when reality TV dictates the political landscape, we have a huge problem. The challenge of this is you have a person who was clearly having meltdowns … and you had this icon Jim Brown sitting there like, what in the world is going on? I think that was a horrible TV moment for the stability of our nation.
Irene Monroe: I think what bothered me about it was that it was a distraction in many ways. One, it was that we had Hurricane Michael and its devastation, and clearly on that particular day we also had the stock market crashing. But I think what Kanye is trying to do is that, I think, since Omarosa is no longer that portal to the African-American community. I think that Kanye wants to be that, and I also think that he wants to be a peace broker for both sides of the fence — and he’s doing it miserably. I think that Trump will use Kanye until he becomes a liability, and I think last Thursday was a really classic example of that. I also think that Kanye is trying to prove that the old model of black leadership is long gone when he says that Malcolm X and MLK have no more relevancy.
Jim Braude: I thought it was a joke from beginning to end … I want to get back to this Jim Brown thing — I don’t think Brown was lured into anything. He’s got a checkered past, his assaulting women is a serious problem. However, as a political actor … obviously this guy has done a 180. He’s a big-time [Trump] supporter. He’s a total convert, right?
Price: He is, and he has every right to be that. The challenge is, when you sit in the room as an African-American or black elder, you have a responsibility to that next generation to say, "hey, you are so far off the grid in this moment, this is not what we came here to talk about." I think that’s the challenge — I think there’s a responsibility for him to be that senior person, no matter what he believes, he can be a Trump fanatic, he has every right to do that, but he has a responsibility in that conversation where he was tacit, pretty much, while Kanye went off the grid.
Monroe: But I think he was stunned — so stunned that-
Eagan: Who was stunned? Brown?
Monroe: Yeah, Brown was stunned. Trump was stunned! I mean, he was quiet for 10 minutes, have we ever known him to have an interview where he didn’t interrupt? He wasn’t even Trumpian. I think what we’ve really got to look at here is while we might be disappointed with Brown, and I was a little shocked, Brown also wants to be a peacemaker, in terms of the two warring factions here.
Braude: What’s the evidence of that?
Price: I don’t see that.
Monroe: I think what he’s trying to say is what a lot of black republicans are trying to say, "we’re not a monolith." We see something in Trump that will help the African-American community. [Brown] buys into the notion that with unemployment being the lowest that it’s ever been, we’ve got more black folks in jobs than we ever have. But the statistics, if you look at it more closely, you begin to see that no, our demographic group, meaning African-Americans, are still high, there’s high unemployment among us.