To Love and be Betrayed: The Disappointment of a Black Woman Voter

by Candace Simpson
“Quit scraping and fawning over mere humans,
so full of themselves, so full of hot air!
Can’t you see there’s nothing to them?”

Isaiah 2:22, Message Translation

Any hope I had ever had for Powers and Systems has dissolved. In the basement of my heart, where the Christmas ornaments, deep feelings, and winter clothes are stored, you will find something ugly. I wish to store this instinct away. But naming it reminds me that perpetrators must be held accountable, because my feelings indicate a reality that must be changed.

Political betrayal. We talk about betrayal in the romantic sense. That’s why we delete our exes on Facebook. But you cannot delete your votes. You can’t delete your prayer breakfasts, scholarship galas, and voter registration drives.

When President Obama gave that speech on the needs of Black women and girls, I watched with half of my face screaming “finallyyyyYAASSS” and the other half wailing out “you’re late, homeboy.” I wanted to be grateful for a nod of recognition. It had taken years for him to acknowledge his misstep. Of course, because most of us have the attention span of a gnat and the ambition of a toddler trying to steal cookies from the countertop, people rushed to do work for boys at the exclusion of their sisters. So even though President Obama publicly revised his stance, the damage has already been done. Most of us will associate President Obama with racial justice through My Brother’s Keeper, and not the one speech he made that challenged that program. I am willing to extend personal grace towards President Obama, but fear that it is too late. That spirit of centering racial uplift in boys and men has already descended upon us, like tongues of flames in a Patriarchy Pentecost. He forgot us and came back years later with day old chocolate and grocery store flowers. He betrayed us, and that feeling doesn’t go away.
Then, we heard of Loretta Lynch’s stance that police departments need not be required to track data on fatal shootings of civilians. That hurts, particularly since an entire social media campaign was encouraged by our shared sorority, #ConfirmLynch. I was disappointed when she started the predictable condemnation of “riots” on the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. She had a perfect opportunity to point to the excessive militarized force that had erupted in Ferguson, but instead she wagged a finger at protesters of that very violence. She might as well have said “Y’all gotta stop all that looting and violence because the good police officers are trying to protect you from yourself.” Perhaps we overlooked the fact that she was endorsed by police chiefs because we didn’t want to sacrifice her to the gods of Misogynoir. And perhaps we didn’t push her when she made the argument that communities and police have equal responsibilities to safer policing. We wanted her to just be confirmed already, because, well, that’s how the process works. Some of us, Black or not, Woman or not, Sorors or not, rooted for her because we had been sold a dream that she would “do something.” She did not. She betrayed us, and that feeling has not gone away.

This misrecognition of Black women and the exploitation of our voter base is a form of political betrayal. This erodes the foundation of our political imaginations. Because then, our leaders might not be gods anymore. They might be humans who happen to have a job. Thinking of our leaders in this way is disruptive. It means we have to rethink the placement all of our political-involvement eggs in the formal political process basket. It’s just not enough.

What do we do when the people we rallied and voted for harm us? What do we do when our interests are not protected by those who share vulnerabilities? And what is left for us who have nothing but a basement storage bin of betrayal, “BaRack the Vote” para, and reminders that we are forgotten by our own?

We resist. In the last year or so, we have seen an uptick of public recognition for Black women’s work in organizing. It’s not a new phenomenon that Sisters lead, but it is new that we recognize it. I could begin to list Black women who have been leading marches, setting up conference calls, situating child-care for parents who want to protest, and devising social media plans to spread the word about protest activities. But doing so would limit the point. You don’t have to be explicitly involved in direct protest planning to resist. You can be a teacher and demand your students learn the true story behind Columbus Day. You can be an auntie who steals her nieces and nephews for a Saturday trip to the museum. You could be a cafeteria worker who sends extra sandwiches in a student’s bag for his family.
Black women are taught not to talk bad about the president or the pastor. We are taught that systems work, so long as we participate. We are taught that leaders are faultless. We are constantly trying to stand up straight in a “crooked room.” When we know, deep in our heart, that leadership doesn’t give a damn about us, we do the thing that needs to be done. You host a college shower for a girl at the church who needs dorm supplies, you throw a rent party for the neighbor who cannot afford to make hers this month, you disrupt a speech that precipitates more nuanced platforms for racial justice, you block traffic across interstates, you take your students to a town hall meeting and make that their homework, you gather your sisters for some much needed life-bringing laughter. If anyone knows the futility of powers, it is Black women. Whether or not we articulate an explicit political framework like bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, Traci West, or Shirley Chisholm, we have always had to figure out how to stand in the gap between “what was promised” and “what we need.”

To those who have betrayed us, forgotten us, sat on our neck and dared us to scream “you’re hurting me,” may you stay awake at night with the words of Alice Walker in your head.

“I gave it freely this life that pours through me abundant… Why was it not the same with you?”

Candace Simpson is a Brooklyn native and a seminary student. You can follow her tweets on faith, shea butter, and the gospel of Nicki Minaj at @CandyCornball.

Photo: Ron Foster Sharif /

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