The Washington Post reported Thursday that, during a meeting in the Oval Office over an immigration deal that might include protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and unnamed African countries, President Donald Trump asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” The president has since denied making those racist comments but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who was in the meeting, insists that Trump “said these hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.”
Some reacted to the reports with anger and vitriol, others with disappointment and resignation, and others with defensiveness and whataboutism. Golden State Warriors forward David West, though, responded by aiming to make Trump’s comments a teachable moment.
The 37-year-old forward, a respected veteran viewed as “a big brother” by many of the league-leading Warriors, took the opportunity to offer some background on why many of those who live in places like Haiti and El Salvador today find themselves struggling with poverty, deprivation, political instability and widespread corruption and oppression. It’s a story that starts hundreds of years ago, and so West reached back hundreds of years, to a book written in 1561 by Spanish historian and Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas titled “The History of the Indies,” which detailed the ravages wrought on the West Indies in the name of colonization by European powers.
Here, as highlighted by West, is how de las Casas described the people of the West Indies as he first encountered them:
And of all the infinite universe of humanity these people are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity, the most obedient and faithful to their native masters and to the Spanish Christians whom they serve. They are by nature the most humble, patient, and peaceable, holding no grudges, free from embroilments, neither excitable nor quarrelsome. These people are the most devoid of rancors, hatreds, or desire for vengeance of any people in the world […] They are also poor people, for they not only possess little but have no desire to possess worldly goods. For this reason they are not arrogant, embittered, or greedy.
Yet into this sheepfold, into this land of week [sic] outcasts there came some Spaniards who immediately behaved like ravening wild beasts, wolves, tigers, or lions that had been starved for many days. And Spaniards have behaved in no other way during the past forty years, down to the present time, for they are still acting like ravening beasts, killing, terrorizing, afflicting, torturing and destroying the native peoples, doing all this with the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty, never seen or heard of before, and to such a degree that this Island of Hispaniola, once so populous (Having a population that I estimated to be more than three million), now has a population of barely two hundred persons.
The island of Cuba is nearly as long as the distance between Valladolid and Rome, it is now almost completely depopulated. San Juan and Jamaica are two of the largest, and most productive and attractive islands, both are now deserted and devastated. On the northern side of Cuba and Hispaniola lie the neighboring Lucayos comprising more than sixty islands including those called Gigantes, besides numerous other islands, some small some large. The least felicitous of them were more fertile and beautiful than the gardens of the King of Seville. They have the healthiest lands in the world, where lived more than five hundred thousand souls; they are now deserted, inhabited by not a single living creature. All the people were slain or died after being taken into captivity and brought to the Island of Hispaniola to be sold as slaves.
Warriors teammate Andre Iguodala supported West’s referral to the damaging impact that colonization and the slave trade had on some of the regions the president reportedly referred to as shitholes:
— Chris Archer (@ChrisArcher22) January 12, 2018
Long one the NBA’s most thoughtful players, West hasn’t been shy about sharing his concerns over Trump’s election and his disagreements with the sitting administration. After Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, West pointed to the outcome as evidence that “this whole fairy tale about this post-racial utopia that [President Barack] Obama supposedly created is all bull,” and that “this nation has not moved a thread in terms of its ideals.”
One year ago, as Trump prepared to take office, West said he believed his role over the ensuing four years would be to “stand for truth and fairness and courtesy,” irrespective of whether he felt those traits were being reflected in the White House.
“All the tactics that he used to get elected are the very things that someone like me, who works with youth on a consistent basis, are the things that we try to talk our young folks out of being,” West said. “We try to talk our young people out of being bullies. We try to talk our young men out of disrespecting women. We try to talk our young people into being accepting of other people’s opinions and other people’s walks of life. And he is the complete opposite of all of that.”
Back in September, as Golden State opened training camp and prepared to defend its NBA championship — and on the heels of Trump’s well-publicized spat with the Warriors, and later many other NBA players, over whether or not Stephen Curry and company would visit the White House to celebrate their title win — West spoke about why the team struggled so much with the notion of showing up on Pennsylvania Avenue to shake hands with Trump.
“It’s the disregard for everybody other than those who can benefit from what he can do,” West said. “I think that’s why everybody’s up in arms. Everybody is on edge and things are unsettled. Nobody’s safe. People attempt to express themselves and express their right to be humans and be people. That’s in question. The worst thing you can do is be quiet. The worst thing you can do is attempt to normalize it.”
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