Race was the elephant in the room when Raynard Jackson, a Republican political strategist, invited White nationalist Steve Bannon and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to speak at an event geared towards Black entrepreneurs.

Though both speakers confirmed their attendance at the first annual Black Entrepreneurs Summit on Sept. 27, according to Jackson, Bannon cancelled on Sept. 26 to instead support Senate candidate Roy Moore in his successful campaign in Alabama. Lewandowski, the event’s keynote speaker, assured the nearly 100 Black business owners that racism had no place in Donald Trump’s economic agenda.

Corey Lewandowski addresses Black Entrepreneurs at first annual Black Entrepreneurs Summit on Sept. 27. (AFRO Photo/Shantella Sherman)

“Donald Trump started to remove the overburdening regulations that our small business owners face,” Lewandowski said. “What that means is opportunity for them to no longer be pejorative—the government—against the small business owners, which means access to more capital.”

Lewandowski said he believed Trump’s economic plan would unburden small, Black businesses.

“His tax plan is going to take the highest tax rate that businesses are paying right now, 35 percent, propose that down to 15 percent,” he said. “What that means is, if you are spending less money on taxes, then you have an opportunity there to spend more money on employees and growing a small business.”

Jackson, who is the founder of the super PAC Black Americans for a Better Future, continues to tout the benefits of Black participation within and acceptance of a more powerful and economically-sound GOP platform—even if that participation means ignoring labels such as “White supremacist,” “White nationalist,” and “racist,” which have been used to describe some of the party’s members.  

According to Jackson, some Republicans including Lewandowski and Bannon, hold key insight into the very components that could strengthen Black businesses.  

Jackson told attendees that the purpose of the two-day conference, held at the Park Hotel on Capitol Hill, was to ensure that Black entrepreneurs received a “fair shake” at getting government contracts, including FEMA money related to Hurricane Harvey and Texas national infrastructure projects, and technology.  

“They say Trump and people like Steve Bannon are White nationalists. If it means that you are a White nationalist because you believe in controlling your borders, you want to sign trade deals that protect the American workers, you want to make sure that American sovereignty is never subjugated to outside organizations like the UN, the World Bank, IMF, the EU, then I am a White nationalist also,” Jackson said to thunderous laughter from the crowd. “I didn’t realize that was only relative to the White folks. I support Trump and people like him because we need someone to shake up the system. We’ve become fat and lazy…we have a digital economy with an analog government.”

The tone of the gathering, even among audience members, promoted an American ideology over one of race, gender, or class, said Gorman Thomas, a financial planner who traveled from Hampton Va. to attend the conference.

“It is time Blacks think less about race and more about basic survival,” he said.

“Black folks are quick to label each other and become disparaging about another person’s platform, not understanding that one doesn’t have to personally love you to want you as a fellow American to succeed,” Thomas added. “At the end of the day, my clients are not Black, because Blacks don’t support one another. Am I supposed to take the advice of a man hollering about Africa, living off the system, and who will not support my business?”  

Thomas said that since Trump took office, the rate of unemployment among Blacks dropped to 7.5 percent, its lowest level since December 2000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Blacks stood at 7.5 percent in May. The unemployment rate for August was recorded at 7.7 percent, while the unemployment rate for Whites in August was recorded at 3.9 percent.

“The labor market is being strengthened by Trump and that impacts our bottom line as Black people.  It’s time to stop calling names and listen,” Thomas said.