Admitting when I’m wrong is something I do rarely and with a great deal of reluctance. So admitting I’m wrong publicly, on a blog shared with my peers, takes a lot for me. I hate to do it, but it must be said:
I was skeptical about women claiming they support Trump. I absolutely didn’t believe that there were Black Trump supporters. I was definitely wrong.
During the convention I was conducting interviews and I met an African-American woman who is a Trump supporter. She was not just a supporter of Trump; she was his cheerleader. I met her in a crowded alley just beyond the entrance to the convention venue. Even in the dense crowd, she stood out to me in her bright red Trump 2016 T-shirt and her crisp white “Make America Great Again Hat”. It was close to 100 degrees outside and between the heat and the bodies packed tightly in such a small space it was easy to see why sweat dripped down her forehead and smudged the full face of makeup she meticulously retouched during our conversation. Despite the miserable conditions, she was smiling broadly and waving a Trump sign enthusiastically, hoping to appear in the background of an MSNBC newscast that was taping in front of her. In all honesty, I was taken aback by this woman. Who was she, and how much was the Trump campaign paying her? Surely she couldn’t actually be voting for Donald Trump, there had to be some kind of ploy that I was unaware of working just beneath the surface. I made my way through the crowd to interview this woman, because I was genuinely baffled by her apparent endorsement of Donald Trump. How could any Black person vote for a candidate that tokenizes and demeans them? Donald Trump has made disparaging comments about black lives matter and even tweeted false crime statistics that demonized Black people and perpetuated the stereotype that they’re violent. His poverty policy essentially insinuates Black people are lazy and has essentially been a narrative of shame for those grappling with low income and financial insecurity. Donald Trump has tacitly encouraged violence at his rallies against Black people and has stood idly by as Black people at his rallies are pummeled. No Black person could actually support someone who so apparently doesn’t care about them, right?
Unfortunate for both my ego and for those that don’t want to see Trump elected, I was wrong. The woman that I spoke with was a Trump supporter who wasn’t being paid to just be a puppet for a campaign. She passionately laid out her rationale for why Trump is her candidate. As someone who voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012, she felt disappointed by President Obama’s policies. She decried high unemployment in the Black community and accused President Obama of not doing enough to help alleviate poverty. I was shocked by what I perceived to be a fundamental shift in her voting preferences. I viewed Obama and Trump as two ends of a spectrum that could not be farther apart. To go from Obama to Trump was a change that I found to be shocking and disappointing—until I listened more to this woman. The grief of trust bestowed and then broken was evident in our conversation. I identified with many of the criticisms she levied against politicians who get elected and break promises and those that get power and abuse it. As much as I love him, I even recognized that many of her critiques of President Obama’s policies were grounded in some validity. She wanted Trump because she wanted change. She was frustrated that Democrats assume they have the support of Black voters and then don’t work for policies that support them. She is voting for Trump because she has lost faith in a broken system. It was eye-opening to engage in an honest conversation with someone who supports Trump rather than holding their nose and rallying around him because he represents the Republican party. I definitely didn’t see my interaction with this woman coming, but I’m so glad it happened. I needed to be reminded that there’s never a perfect representative, and one of the beauties of our democracy is that we have the ability to make a change when our needs are not met. While I definitely think it’s a dangerous overcompensation to go from Obama to Trump, I recognize a lot of the frustration I heard in that woman’s voice. Black Trump voters may be exceedingly rare, but the sentiments they express cannot be ignored. They exist, and not all of them are being paid by the campaign to vocalize their support. Democrat or Republican, Black voters and the issues they care about matter; even if I vehemently disagree with what you say, I wholeheartedly support your right to say it.