A former contestant on The Apprentice, whose harsh treatment by Donald Trump drew accusations of racism in 2004, suggested to TPM on Monday that the billionaire Republican businessman’s attacks on President Obama’s academic record are reflective of Trump’s hang-ups over race.
“Apparently he doesn’t like educated African-Americans very much,” Kevin Allen, a final four contestant on the series’ second season, said with a laugh when asked about Trump’s recent attacks on Obama. His words contrast with Trump’s claim Monday on FOX News that The Apprentice’s treatment of African-American contestants in recent seasons confirms that he is “the least racist person there is.”
Allen, a Wharton Business School grad, Emory MBA, and University of Chicago law graduate, was “fired” from the show after Trump criticized his “unbelievable education,” and numerous degrees from elite universities.
“You’re an unbelievably talented guy in terms of education, and you haven’t done anything,” Trump said on the show. “At some point you have to say ‘That’s enough.’”
Allen was fired shortly after a controversial episode in which he was ordered to sell chocolate bars outside of New York City subway stops, a job stereotypically associated with African-American high school students. Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris bluntly labeled Trump’s handling of race tone-deaf at the time and said that the show “humiliated itself in regards to Allen.”
“By never addressing race head-on, and instead concocting a ludicrous way to turn Allen’s intelligence into a liability, the show paradoxically came off as so panicked about hiring a black guy that they had to invent a new standard — ‘too smart’ — to boot him off,” Harris wrote.
Allen told TPM that he took the candy episode in stride as a typical competition for the show. “We knew we were being evaluated in part on our ability to sell things and it was a valid sort of path to put us through,” he said. But he indicated that Trump’s dressing down of his impressive credentials raised tougher questions for him.
“What I thought was more interesting was that one of the knocks he had on me when he told me I was fired was that I was overeducated,” he said. “That was more interesting than necessarily anything we had to do.”
Trump’s latest offensive on Obama has centered on his academic record. Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review, but Trump has demanded he release his school records to prove he was a worthy admission to the university and to Columbia, where he received his undergraduate degree. Allen noted that there are parallels between him and the president — in fact, he even was a law student at the University of Chicago while Obama was a professor.
“I lived around the corner from where the President and his family then lived,” he said. “I never took his class, but he was very active in the Black Law Students Association. … He was very bright, very engaging, I was impressed even then.”
Fortunately for Allen, other employers didn’t share Trump’s views on his qualifications. He now works in Washington, D.C., as business development director at Johnson Controls, helping businesses improve energy efficiency and sustainability levels in their buildings.
TPM asked Allen what he thought of Trump’s comments that he’s “the least racist person there is.”
“It’s an interesting statement, I doubt that its true,” he said. “I think it’s important to note given his comment that racism is not about just making racial slurs or about what you say outwardly, it’s also a mindset and how you feel about folks and how you compartmentalize. It’s interesting, I read his comment when he referred to how he has a great relationship with ‘the blacks,’ like it was some sort of alien population, which is a bit odd.”
Ever the businessman, Allen sounded more interested in Trump’s anti-Obama campaign as a marketing strategy than as a bellwether for his views on race. He told TPM that Trump “has a lot of great qualities and has obviously been very good at doing what he does” and noted that he’s especially talented at messaging.
“The more negatives he can put out there about his competitor — and if he’s serious, that’s what Obama is — the better off he’s going to be in terms of his ability to garner support from those who don’t like Obama for whatever reason,” he said.
An e-mail to a spokeswoman for Trump seeking comment was not immediately returned.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.