Trump honoring Elvis Presley with a Medal of Freedom award sparks online debate on racism

Taryn Ryder

Not everyone is happy Elvis Presley received a Presidential Medal of Freedom award posthumously.

On Friday, President Trump bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor on seven people, including late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and baseball great Babe Ruth. The award is given to those who have made contributions to national interests and security, world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. Presley’s inclusion, however, has sparked a debate about the possible racial undertones of the choice.

President Trump and Elvis Presley (Photo: Getty Images)
President Trump and Elvis Presley (Photo: Getty Images)

An opinion piece published by the Washington Post titled “Is Trump Sending a Message by Awarding the Medal of Freedom to Elvis? Yes.” was widely shared online.

“Yes, Presley is among the most pivotal and controversial musicians of the previous century, so yes, this is another needling MAGA maneuver — a little nod to the good old days, back when black visionaries could invent rock-and-roll, but only a white man could become the king,” pop culture critic Chris Richards wrote, adding, “America is still afraid of a black planet.”

Many people on Twitter who were equally upset.

However, there were plenty of counterarguments floating around as well — like a piece from the Weekly Standards Mark Hemingway, titled “Elvis Wasn’t Racist. Neither is Giving Him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

“Even if Elvis popularized an art form that people of another race largely invented, it’s hard to argue that lots and lots of successful black artists didn’t walk right through the doors he opened. Presley was initially a hero among black musicians in Memphis for that reason, and there’s no reason to think Elvis himself was racist. Quite the opposite, in fact,” he argues.

“Music is one of a precious few cultural forces still holding us together. It’s not zero sum; we can acknowledge that more credit is owed to black musical pioneers and acknowledge that Elvis was remarkably talented man a who made a singular connection with tens of millions of Americans that went well beyond race,” he continued.

The notion was met with equal support.

Noticeably absent from the ceremony was Presley’s only child, Lisa Marie. It’s not clear if she was ever asked by the White House to attend or participate in Friday’s event. Yahoo Entertainment reached out to her publicist for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

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