Profiteers of the Republican National Convention

Throughout the entirety of the 2016 Republican National Convention, one group of people have maintained a constant presence: the vendors.


Chris Hankin

Cleveland, Ohio – Throughout the entirety of the 2016 Republican National Convention, one group of people have maintained a constant presence: the vendors. Visitors to Cleveland can purchase political apparel in every size, color, and design imaginable. One vendor sold shirts that read “Hillary sucks, but not as much as Monica” on the front, and “Trump that Bitch” on the back.


The majority of the vendors are Cleveland locals or commuters from nearby Ohio cities. They have made a killing peddling their merchandise to the politically charged, primarily out of state clientele. Timothy Moore commuted from Ashville, OH to sell Trump apparel. He said that he has been making upwards of $3,000 a day selling shirts and hats. Moore is also a Trump supporter, which came as a surprise to me, because Moore is black.  


In fact, most of the vendors that line the streets of Cleveland are black. Some of them sell local sportswear, some sell Hillary Clinton apparel, but most sell Trump gear. Keith B is another vendor who set up shop along Euclid Avenue. “I’ve grown to be a Trump supporter,” Keith told me. “He is bringing American jobs back, brother, and Hillary Clinton will not do that.”


The Republican Primaries were marred by controversial, racist comments made by Mr. Trump. In a rally announcing his campaign he alleged that Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs, bringing crime,” and were “rapists.” Trump has repeatedly promised that if he were elected he would place a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration to the United States. These comments have led many to simply label Trump, “a racist.” In fact, an NBC/WSJ/Marist Poll in July found that Trump had 0% support from black voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Keith, however, may be part of that zero percent.

“I would tell people who say that Trump is a racist, that they don’t know what a racist is… Now Hillary and Bill, they have never done anything for the black community but made it harder, and harsher,” said Keith.

This was an opinion that I heard repeated from many minority vendors.  Another vendor, Richard, is a Cleveland native and a BLM activist. He sold shirts that read “hands up don’t shoot.” Richard won’t vote for Trump, but felt similarly to Keith. “Trump never offended me,” Richard said. “I mean I personally have never heard him say anything racist.”  


Most of the vendors that I interviewed gave me quizzical looks when I asked them if they felt like their racial identity clashed with the merchandise that they were selling.  And really, why should it? Why should someone vote a certain way just because of their race? With the myriad aspects that make up personal and political identity, race isn’t the most important factor for a lot of voters.  

“Most of the black people that vote, they vote blindly because their minister told them to,” said Richard. “They call it the ‘black slate.’ They say, ‘this is the black slate, and this is who you vote for,’ and the name is always a Democrat.”

Political pundits often talk about the “black vote” as a prize that candidates win by saying the phrase “equality” more than ten times, but the reality is that black voters are a diverse group of people who support a diverse group of candidates and hold a diverse group of political ideologies.  

Richard went even farther, turning the focus back on me. “Look, as far as I can tell, labeling people as “racists” is something that white folks like you love to do. But who does it help? I don’t think Trump is any more racist than Hillary, and really, how do I know that you aren’t a racist?”