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A New Account Rekindles Allegations That Trump Disrespected Black People on 'The Apprentice'
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By Associated Press
Published 3 weeks ago on
June 7, 2024

New allegations surface about Donald Trump's disrespectful behavior towards Black people during his time on 'The Apprentice', raising questions about the impact on his political career. (AP File)

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Gene Folkes had just been jettisoned as a contestant on “The Apprentice” and was commiserating with a crew member at a bar inside the lobby of Trump Tower. He was indignant — and not just at having been kicked off the reality show after its star, Donald Trump, had delivered his catchphrase: “You’re fired.”

One of two Black contestants chosen for that season in 2010, Folkes was insulted that Trump had called him inarticulate and accused him of illiteracy in a lengthy boardroom tirade minutes earlier.

Unexpected Encounter with Trump

As the crew member, a Black woman who worked as a contestant manager, consoled him, Trump suddenly appeared at the bar.

“He came up and he asked me: ‘Is this your woman? Because you two would make a really great couple. You both have the same background,’” Folkes told The Associated Press.

The contestant manager quietly reminded Trump that she worked for him. Then, Trump made a comment similar to something he uttered in the boardroom that never aired on TV, Folkes said.

“He said again, ‘It’s not like I used the N-word,’ and then he walked off, and that was that,” said Folkes, a New York-based consultant, podcast host and U.S. Air Force veteran.

As Trump seeks to make inroads with African American voters in his third run for the White House, fresh allegations are surfacing about his disrespectful behavior toward Black people inside the Manhattan skyscraper that launched his show and political career. There are still questions about whether any of that behavior was caught on tape.

Allegations from a Former Producer

Bill Pruitt, a former producer on “The Apprentice,” published a recent account alleging that Trump actually used the racist slur to refer to Kwame Jackson, a Black contestant who was a finalist on the show’s first season. A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign has vehemently dismissed the account about the Republican ex-president as false and politically motivated. President Joe Biden’s Democratic campaign, meanwhile, spotlighted Pruitt’s account on social media.

Trump, who hosted “The Apprentice” from 2004 to 2015, has long denied such claims and called former contestants criticizing him “failing wannabes” motivated by greed. But he has been trailed in his professional and political life by charges of racism, from a 1973 discrimination lawsuit against his real estate business, to his push to carry out executions of five Black and Latino youths who were later exonerated of rape allegations, to his yearslong fanning of the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, was not born in the United States.

Impact on Trump’s Political Career

Trump’s first campaign in 2016 was rocked by allegations about his conduct on “The Apprentice” and other appearances during his association with NBC, notably in footage in which he said he could sexually assault women and get away with it because he was a “star.” MGM Studios, which bought the production company that made the show, has since been acquired by Amazon.

Almost a decade after he left his reality TV role to run for president, Trump’s television career remains central to his biography and political rise. It presented Trump Tower to tens of millions of people as a symbol of power and success before Trump launched his first campaign from the building’s lobby. Last week, the same lobby was the setting for his first appearance after being convicted of 34 felony counts in a hush money scheme to influence the 2016 election.

”‘The Apprentice’ is probably underrated as a source of that kind of image construction,” said Joel Penney, a professor at Montclair State University who studies the intersection of pop culture and politics. “There’s nobody who could possibly compete on the level of name recognition, brand recognition, that kind of familiarity.”

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