Over the past few weeks, there has been immense focus on Ward 8 Council member Trayon White’s comments in a Facebook video that the Rothschilds are manipulating the weather. Once The Washington Post discovered the video, it began running articles with headlines that White said “Jews control the weather,” which he never said. The distinction between saying “Rothschilds” versus saying “Jews” is important because The Post went from merely reporting facts to ascribing intent to White’s statements.
Media outlets worldwide then picked up the story. White did not know that his statement about the Rothschilds could be construed as targeting Jews as a group. To reach that conclusion, he would have needed to know that conspiracies about the Rothschilds are long-running anti-Semitic themes, which he and numerous others, including local Jewish leaders, acknowledge that he did not know.
Upon hearing of the history of Rothschilds conspiracy theories and the impact that they have on the Jewish community, White sincerely apologized, and met with his Jewish Council colleagues and Jewish community leaders, including Rabbi Batya Glazer. The Jewish leaders he met with believed his apology was sincere and expressed a willingness to work with him. White then attended Passover Seder with his Council colleague Elissa Silverman, who is Jewish, and D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine. After that, he attended a guided tour of the Holocaust Museum, set up by the Jewish Community Relations Council.
In response to criticism about White’s tour of the Holocaust Museum, after another Washington Post article, Jews United for Justice, a D.C.-based progressive organization, noted in a statement that, “We have spoken with several people who were present for the museum visit, including a Jewish leader, who say the Post article isn’t an accurate picture. They describe Trayon as sincere in his desire to learn, and that the vast gaps in knowledge and understanding between Black and Jewish communities became evident again and again during the tour.”
These are not the actions of someone who is anti-Semitic and not interested in learning more about Jewish history. White admits in a Facebook Live video that he was “ignorant” about Jewish history and never learned about the Holocaust in school, so disparaging him for asking sincere questions is counter-productive and serves no one. It’s also insensitive and elitist, as many people learn best by asking questions and engaging in dialogue. White should not have been derided by a Washington Post reporter for asking questions in a sincere attempt to learn about a topic that is new to him.
Jews United for Justice’s statement further said that, “Councilmember White closed his Council office to ensure that the entire staff would be present for the museum visit. This in itself shows the depth of his seriousness.” Nonetheless, he was criticized for “leaving early” when he walked away from the group to explore the museum on his own, which he said he did to avoid the uninvited reporter who was following him.
Last week, The Washington Post wrote an article about a $500 donation that White made to the Nation of Islam back in January because local members, who provide much-needed community support in Ward 8, asked him. The donation was made before Louis Farrakhan made anti-Semitic and homophobic comments at a February event that has garnered recent attention. The donation was also made months before the Rothschilds comment was made, so it has no bearing on the sincerity of White’s outreach efforts with the Jewish community. However, the media just became aware of the donation when White filed his April campaign finance report, so a donation that was made months prior to his attempts to make amends with the Jewish community is being used to assert that his efforts are not heartfelt.
Trayon White was born and raised in Ward 8, the District’s poorest ward. Markita Bryant, 31, a youth activist and paralegal, grew up with Trayon in Southeast and went to college with him. The media coverage of White particularly bothers her because “that’s not who Trayon is. If he feels that he hurt or offended someone, he internalizes it, acknowledges it and works on it. He takes in criticism and he will improve himself.”
“He sacrifices a lot to serve the community, including food and sleep,” she said. “He has literally given a neighborhood child the shoes off his feet at a community event when the child’s shoes were stolen.” Bryant further noted, “Trayon’s brilliant because he takes the time to sit there and understand the information in front of them. If he’s not learning, he’s helping others. That’s why he graduated with a 3.7 from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He’s the biggest listener and he’s so patient. He works his butt off for the people.”
Star Bennett, 28, is a transgender woman and one of the founders of Check It, a former LGBT gang turned entrepreneurs. When discussing White’s openness to all people, Bennett said, “Trayon was always cool and very respectful. He never had a problem with me being transgender. He’s always smiling every time he sees me.” Bennett mentioned that White was at the grand opening for the Check It Enterprises store in Ward 8. “He always comes and supports us.”
Wendy Glenn, 50, a community engagement specialist and longtime ward 8 resident, said, “Councilmember White has gone out and galvanized a group of marginalized folks. He’s given the youth something to aspire to. They know that he came from meager beginnings and now represents everyone. He is a young man that has grown up in the same way as they have, and he hasn’t let that stop him.”
Glenn, who has known White since he was a teenager, was “impressed with him as a teen and more impressed with him on the Council. I saw his growth,” she said. “I had a group of LGBTQ youth that did modeling at Barry Farm Rec Center and he was very supportive of them.”
Glenn described the recent media coverage of White as a “false depiction. It’s sensational journalism. To know Trayon is to know him in love. He’s a church boy. He has shown no level of hate. He hates injustice in any form.”
(Editor’s note: The author and Trayon White were previously colleagues at the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, Community Outreach.)
Lateefah Williams is an attorney and a former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the District’s largest LGBT political organization.