Stephen A. Smith’s Non-Apology ‘Apology’ 

Stephen A. Smith defended Trump’s claim that “Black folks find him relatable because what he is going through is similar to what Black Americans have gone through.” (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

by Keith Boykin

Stephen A. Smith has apologized for remarks last week suggesting that Trump was receiving support from the Black community because we relate to his legal woes.

“A lot of folks in Black America seem pretty pissed at me right now,” said the controversial ESPN host. “For that, I sincerely apologize.”

But it wasn’t really an apology. 

Smith claimed that his words were “misconstrued, “taken out of context,” and misrepresented him in a way that he found “every bit as insulting and disrespectful as folks in Black America evidently felt about what they thought I said.”

No one likes to be misquoted, so let’s go back and revisit what Smith actually said.

Smith appeared on the Fox News “Hannity” show on April 18 and discussed Trump’s claim that “Black folks find him relatable because what he is going through is similar to what Black Americans have gone through.” Trump “wasn’t lying,” Smith said. “He was telling the truth.”

“When you see the law…being exercised against him, it is something that Black folks throughout this nation can relate to with some of our historic, iconic figures,” Smith told Fox News viewers. 

How, exactly, was that taken out of context? That’s not a statement about how Trump sees Black America but how Smith sees Black America responding to Trump’s trials.

Of course, Black people were upset. It’s insulting that Smith seems to compare Trump’s four criminal indictments and 88 felony charges to the legal attacks on iconic Black historical figures, presumably including people like Marcus GarveyRosa ParksMartin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis, who were targeted by law enforcement because they were fighting for Black people. 

Trump, on the other hand, is facing two criminal cases for fighting against Black people by trying to throw out millions of Black votes in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, and other cities with large Black populations in states he lost in 2020. 

What’s most insulting about Smith’s argument is his attempt to equate the legal troubles of a self-proclaimed white “billionaire” with an army of lawyers assigned to delay his cases to the struggle of ordinary African Americans simply trying to pay their bills and not get harassed by the police. “We relate to you when you’re suffering like that cause we know we have,” Smith told Hannity. 

Even the NAACP mocked Smith for that remark in a Twitter post. “Show of hands: Anyone in your Black family have 88 felony charges pending, filed for bankruptcy 6x, made an attempt to overthrow a presidential election and our democracy, and still have the ability to fall asleep in court and dream of being POTUS?” 

Trump’s interest in police accountability only applies to himself, which is why he attacked FBI agents for raiding his home in Mar-a-Lago to execute a lawful search warrant but endorsed Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron after he failed to charge the police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in a botched raid in Louisville.

Perhaps Smith forgot that Trump is not the hero fighting against racial profiling and targeting of Black people but the villain who’s openly encouraging it, who teargassed peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, threatened to shoot looters on the spot, and encouraged police brutality by telling cops “don’t be too nice” when making arrests, even though people are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Black people will face even greater threats if Trump is elected in November.

Or maybe he forgot that Trump’s 2020 election scam targeted and endangered the lives of two Black Fulton County poll workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who had to go into hiding to protect themselves from his vigilantes. Or that his infamous 1989 lynch mob helped to lock up five wrongly accused Black and brown teenagers in prison for years.

Black people will face even greater threats if Trump is elected in November. He promises he will pardon the January 6 insurrectionists, “indemnify” crooked police officers accused of misconduct, and bring back stop-and-frisk policies that unfairly targeted Black people.

Stephen A. Smith’s non-apology “apology” mentions none of that history or policy, but he does justify his earlier remarks by citing five recent polls that show Trump leading Biden. He does not explain that early polls are non-predictive of election outcomes, that Black voters have been the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party for decades, or that Trump received miniscule Black support in 2016 and 2020 despite his wildly unrealistic promise to win 95% of the Black vote.

It’s hard to take Smith’s apology seriously considering he made similar remarks just last month. Speaking in March, Smith parroted Republican talking points by accusing Democrats of waging “lawfare” against Trump and once again cited polls as evidence of Trump’s success. 

Even if you believe the polls, Smith citing them as a suggestion that prosecutors should reconsider their cases because of Trump’s alleged popularity reflects an abdication of his responsibility as a journalist. 

Every four years, rappers, athletes, actors, singers, and other famous Black people who aren’t political professionals are thrust into the national spotlight to comment on presidential politics. Many don’t make headlines, but the ones who do often misrepresent Black public sentiment. 

All polls indicate that Black people overwhelmingly reject Donald Trump, but perhaps more Black Americans would appreciate the grave danger he poses if influential Black people with popular platforms realized they have a duty to educate, not just to entertain.

“Black Vote, Black Power,” a collaboration between Keith Boykin and Word In Black, examines the issues, the candidates, and what’s at stake for Black America in the 2024 presidential election.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times–bestselling author, TV and film producer, and former CNN political commentator. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, Keith served in the White House, cofounded the National Black Justice Coalition, cohosted the BET talk show My Two Cents, and taught at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University in New York. He’s a Lambda Literary Award–winning author and editor of seven books. He lives in Los Angeles.