Gregory Cheadle, the black man singled out by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a Redding, Calif., rally on Friday, said he took no offense when the billionaire urged the crowd, “Look at my African-American over here.”
“I was not offended by it because he had been speaking positively about black people prior to that statement,” Cheadle told NPR when reached at his home for comment over the weekend. “People around me were laughing [at the fact] that he noticed me, and everybody was happy. It was a jovial thing.”
Trump’s use of the possessive “my” touched off a fresh wave of criticism of the candidate, with some saying it came across as racist or at the very least tone deaf.
The remarks came as the real estate mogul interrupted his own meandering remarks to recall an incident from a March rally in Arizona where a black Trump supporter assaulted a protester being escorted out of the venue by police.
In an attempt to show he, as Trump put it, enjoys “tremendous African-American support,” the candidate said the black man from the Arizona rally was a “great fan” of his. The businessman added that his supporter “cold-cocked” the protester who Trump said was wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. The black supporter, who was also escorted from the venue by police, was, according to Trump, initially portrayed by some as being anti-Trump — presumably just because he was African-American.
In between the telling of that anecdote, Trump pointed in Cheadle’s direction to add, “Look at him. Aren’t you the greatest?”
Cheadle, a Republican candidate who is running for California’s 1st Congressional district, called the moment “surreal.” Cheadle was holding a sign that said “Veterans for Trump” and said he was using it to shield the sun from his head.
“Trump talked about the racism, the stereotypical racism targeted against black men by bringing that incident out. He said the people near where the incident took place were about to jump on the black man because they thought he was a protester, when in reality he was a supporter.”
Cheadle said he took Trump’s comments toward him in a positive way. But Cheadle also noted that Trump’s choice of words left many uncertain as to his meaning.
“Had he said, ‘Here’s my African-American friend,’ or ‘my African-American supporter’ or something like that, then there would be less ambiguity,” Cheadle said.
“Had he said, ‘Here’s my African-American’ and then after that said, ‘What’s up, dawg,’ or ‘boy’ or even the N-word as they use it today, I really would have been offended.”
Cheadle says his interaction with Trump has raised his profile heading into the California primary on Tuesday. But one thing Cheadle wants to be clear about is that Trump does not yet have his vote.
“I am not a Trump supporter,” Cheadle said. “I went to go hear Donald Trump because I have an open mind.”
Cheadle says he also went to a rally for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last week in Chico, Calif., but did not go in.
“I am a free man. I am not chained to any particular party, and I refuse to be chained to any particular party.”