For starters, he made himself the face of the “birther” lie against President Obama. He claims credit for pushing the President to release his birth certificate. (Ironic considering the President’s 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, really was born outside of the country, as was 2016 contender Sen. Ted Cruz, both of whom have since become Trump foes.) For many black Americans, the entire birther conspiracy was added to the list of indignities no previous commander-in-chief, all of whom were white, had been subjected to. While most birthers until Trump had primarily been seen as basement kooks who occasionally landed airtime on a few cable shows, he lent the movement a mainstream face that many black Americans have not forgotten or forgiven.
Additionally, while Trump’s language and policy proposals have perhaps not been as openly hostile to black Americans as some other groups, black people are well acquainted with coded dog whistles – and the impact they can have. For instance, Trump’s false tweet about the level of crimes committed by black Americans against whites is precisely the kind of rhetoric that plays into the worst fears of his overwhelmingly white supporters. He’s been doing this for decades, since he put out full-page ads calling for the death penalty for the five black boys of the Central Park Five (something he’s never apologized for, even after it emerged that those boys, who spend decades behind bars, were innocent).