Black Trump supporters are increasing, and they don’t like being told how to vote

It’s easy to assume Black voters won’t support Donald Trump in the fall.

Indeed, many of us have never gotten over the way he treated the “Central Park Five” after the group was wrongfully accused of a 1989 assault of a jogger in New York. Nor have a lot of us forgiven him for the birther lies he told, claiming Barack Obama — the nation’s first Black president — was born outside the United States. And, of course, we haven’t forgotten the time Trump referred to nations in our ancestral homeland by an expletive. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.

These are just a handful of the reasons why only 8% of Black voters opted for Trump over Joe Biden in 2020, roughly the same number who voted for him in 2016.

» READ MORE: Racism, bias, and xenophobia: How Trump’s bigoted views foster division and abase the presidency | Editorial

But a recent New York Times/Siena poll, released earlier this month, showed Trump’s support among Black voters has spiked to 23%. Clearly, some of Trump’s messaging does connect with a subset of Black people, and that subset is growing. But why? According to the Times/Siena poll, 26% of the Black people surveyed responded that they’d been personally helped more by Trump’s policies than Biden’s. In comparison, only 17% said they had benefited from Biden’s policies.

I don’t get it.

So, I reached out to some folks who do: African American Trump supporters.

Over brunch this week, West Philly resident Sheila Armstrong (no relation), a single mother and native Philadelphian, told me she makes no apologies for her decision to vote for Trump in November. The Black community is the only one that is told “how to think and who or how we should vote,” said Armstrong, who heads the Philadelphia chapter of Moms for Liberty, a right-wing parents’ rights group.

Armstrong, former southeast coordinator for Mehmet Oz’s unsuccessful Senate campaign, said she became a Republican in part because of her desire “to be with a party that’s trying to keep God in it.” She’s sticking with the party in November and believes Trump has helped African Americans — citing his decision to sign a bipartisan bill providing millions of dollars in funding for historically Black colleges and universities (though Biden has provided far more money to those institutions), and the First Step Act, which eased certain mandatory minimum sentences, among other changes.

Still, last month, at an event for Black conservatives in South Carolina, Trump claimed his criminal indictments increased his popularity among Black voters, as if we are all lawbreakers who can relate to his plight. “A lot of people said that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against,” Trump said.

Civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton blasted Trump’s comments, calling them “an epitome of an insult to Black folks,” according to the Associated Press.

Armstrong told me she was at the event, and heard Trump’s comments live. But to her, they hit differently. “In all honesty, a lot of [Black] people are seeing what he’s going through with the justice system, and they can relate to that,” she told me Monday. “That’s the reality of it. … We’re still fighting for justice.”

Even if I can’t relate, there’s no denying that there are more Black people siding with Trump than before.

Take, for instance, Nicetown resident Carnel Harley, who voted for Biden in 2020 but is now a Trump supporter.

Harley told me he’s disappointed by Biden’s performance so far. “The only thing we got out of the Biden administration was [the Juneteenth] holiday,” Harley said, which Biden designated as a federal holiday in 2021. Trump “never promised us nothing … and he still did things for the Black community,” said Harley, a leader of the city’s 13th Ward. “A lot of people, they were for Biden, but they see a lot of things that are being done now, which is nothing.”

East Falls resident Ricky Wilson, of A&I Cleaning Solutions, told me he feels things were better economically under Trump. “We didn’t have so much inflation as far as groceries and gas,” he told me. “Also interest rates were lower, as well.”

When he voiced his pro-Trump opinion recently on the NoGunZone Instagram page, Wilson, a widower raising two children, got a lot of pushback. He told me he took it in stride, pointing out how “it’s almost blasphemous” for a Black person to openly express support for Trump.

Milo Morris, a Black gay man who lives in Bucks County, works as a human relations administrator and as a singer at church and various venues and also intends to vote for Trump. He became involved in GOP politics when he worked for Republican Sam Katz’s 2003 mayoral campaign as a paid canvasser. Like Armstrong, he pointed to the bipartisan funding measure Trump signed to fund HBCUs, the First Step Act, and also Trump’s efforts to end HIV. “The expectation that because I’m Black and gay that I’m going to vote a certain way is no more stereotypical than expecting that Black folks are going to like fried chicken and watermelon,” Morris told me.

We shouldn’t just assume Black people will all vote in a bloc. And based on what I’m hearing, Biden’s campaign shouldn’t assume they have the entire Black vote on lock.

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