Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has started what is undoubtedly a bid to start attracting a key voting bloc of the Democratic Party: “The Blacks” as his would be burnt apricot-colored 2020 opponent is known to refer to us as.
Of course, everyone saw this coming.. As the Washington Post’s Eugene Scott recently explained, Buttigieg’s “team has demonstrated an awareness he needs to do more to connect with Black voters.” That is rooted in the reality that for all his adoring media coverage, if Buttigieg doesn’t connect with enough Black voters (namely the sect that can credibly describe themselves as original fans of Frankie Beverly and Maze), his campaign will go the way of Bernie Sanders in 2016 once the Southern states starting having their say in the primary.
Alas, on Monday, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana met with Reverend Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s in Harlem.
According to a press release, the two met to discuss “the need to confront homophobia in the faith community as well as the Mayor’s policy agenda for the Black community in Indiana and around the country,” presumably over fried whiting or a plate of chicken livers if Mayor Pete was really feeling adventurous.
To Buttigieg’s credit, he has been effective in detailing how his Christian faith is a boost to his life as a gay man rather than a hindrance. In doing so, he has not allowed the religious right to continue acting as though they have a monopoly on faith — a nasty habit of way too many Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, Reverend Franklin Graham, who is a living and tweeting testament to false idolship, has thankfully highlighted how some white pastors are just as awful as select Black pastors are in perpetuating anti-queer biases (despite what the common media narratives often suggest).
Still, when it comes to the latter item on the Buttigieg-Sharpton meeting agenda, there has yet to be anything really substantive from the presidential contender.
Earlier this month, Buttigieg spoke at the National Action Network conference and declared, “I believe an agenda for Black Americans needs to include five things that all of us care about: homeownership, entrepreneurship, education, health, and justice.”
Sure, but how? Unfortunately, as we’ve come to learn, detailed policy proposals aren’t on the top of Buttigieg’s list right now. Moreover, as political reporters like The Root’s Jason Johnson have pointed out, Buttigieg’s record as mayor is mixed, and subsequently, so are feelings about him from Black constituents.
Buttigieg has time to improve, but in the midst of his turn towards garnering greater Black voter support, I can’t help but think about the kind remarks he’s consistently paid to Trump supporters and how that might impact his ability to attract Black voters. That is if he is even genuinely as interested as some claim.
In January, he caught heat for a Washington Post magazine profile where he argued: “Donald Trump got elected because, in his twisted way, he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy. At least he didn’t go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary did.”
Twice this month he has reiterated this nonsense. In one interview, he suggested that we should listen to Trump voters because they wanted to “burn the house down.” Then there was his New Yorker interview where he basically echoed their support was rooted in “economic anxiety” without actually using the words.
“To the extent that we, the Democratic Party, in 2016, were perceived as saying that the system was fine — so he was saying, I’m going to blow up the system, and we were saying, Trust the system. A lot of people, especially people in industrial Midwestern communities like mine, didn’t find our message to be convincing,” Buttigieg he said in the profile.. “Because the system really had let them down, in the sense that, you know, the rising tide rose, just as we were promised it would, but most of our boats didn’t budge.”
In an interview with USA Today published in April, Buttigieg said of Trump voters: “Well, I think it starts with a certain amount of humility and recognizing that how you voted doesn’t make you a good person or a bad person, and we shouldn’t think of ourselves as better human beings because of how we voted.”
Yeah, Trump voters were not majorly working class and the bigot ran a bigoted campaign and has governed like a bigot since being sworn in. If you didn’t vote for the man who began his campaign generalizing an entire group of people as “rapists,” congratulations, you are a better human being than someone who did. One of my ongoing frustrations about the 2016 presidential election is the failure of the media at large to hold Trump voters accountable for what their support of a racist, sexist, xenophobic and overall garbage human being says about them. The scale of the Trump voter is walking burning cross to someone serving beverages at the hate rally. White folks can’t continue lying to themselves about that, but I’m not Kanye West so my Black ass knows better.
Buttigieg has said that “any white candidate needs to show a level of consciousness around issues like white privilege,” but he hasn’t used his white privilege to tell other white people the consequences of their choices and how they impact others.
Although Buttigieg has since acknowledged even “polite people” can support policies harmful to others, he continues to profess we extend empathy to them. That is a position that can only be held by those not truly impacted by the consequences, or at the very least, is protected from much of [them]. Buttigieg might be apart of a marginalized community, but he is a white man who will always command a certain level of privilege. It’s evident in the aforementioned comments along with the other favorable remarks paid to the deplorables.
If a white gay man cannot admit even the most basic notions of our collective political reality, how long-standing prejudices and institutional barriers inform them, and how that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable groups among us, what good is this outreach? Does he even mean it? A white man gay may have it harder than a straight white man, but he still yields a lot of privilege over the rest of us. Ask Elizabeth Warren, who could never get away with putting policy proposals in rice as he shows off his “likability.”
Speaking of, Warren has mentioned Nigel Shelby, the Black teen who lost his life to suicide as a result of anti-gay bullying. So have other presidential candidates like Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. If there were any opening for Mayor Pete to talk about how his marginalized background gives him even a small peek into the dangers others faced, it was this one. Maybe he will rise to the occasion soon, but it feels like a missed opportunity all the same.
In, “Pete Buttigieg’s Focus: Storytelling First. Policy Details Later,” Alexander Burns writes in the New York Times that Buttigieg has “presented himself as a cerebral type of Jimmy Stewart character, plain-spoken in manner but boasting degrees from Harvard and Oxford, discoursing happily about James Joyce and flaunting his proficiency in Norwegian.”
While that’s cute for folks who are into that sort of thing, I can predict with great confidence that
“Stem på meg, Neger” is not going to lock up many Black votes. We deserve detailed, specific policy proposals. We deserve recognition of what a vote for Trump by some has meant for others.
Rhetoric and storytelling are great for a candidate lacking in name recognition and experience as he shrewdly provides an ample amount of both to a thirsty political media that makes presidential elections even longer than before for the sake of ratings and clicks, but that’s only going to take one so far in a primary campaign whose outcome will be largely shaped by Black votes.