Pete Buttigieg’s smug complacency on race issues

Via Pharyngula I came across this article by Michael Harriot that looked at how oblivious people like Pete Buttigieg are when it comes to understanding the issues that black people face in this country.

“Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them,” Buttigieg explained whitely, when he was running for mayor in 2011. You’re motivated because you believe that at the end of your education, there is a reward; there’s a stable life; there’s a job. And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods, who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”

I want to be clear: Pete Buttigieg is a lying motherfucker.

This is not a misunderstanding. This is not a misstatement. Pete Buttigieg went to the best educational institutions America has to offer and he—more than anyone on the goddamned planet—knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie.

Mayor Pete’s bullshittery is not just wrong, it is proof.

It proves men like him are more willing to perpetuate the fantastic narrative of negro neighborhoods needing more role models and briefcase-carriers than make the people in power stare into the sun and see the blinding light of racism. Get-along moderates would rather make shit up out of whole cloth than wade into the waters of reality. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want to change anything. He just wants to be something.

Buttigieg seems captive to the deficit model of racial inequalities in the US that I wrote about in my 2005 book The Achievement Gap in US Education: Canaries in the Mine (p. 31-32).

This approach is an example of a more general characteristic of discussions involving any issue that is being analyzed on the basis of how different ethnic groups perform. The issue could be education, crime, suicide, welfare, teen sex and pregnancy, or anything else that is perceived as creating a problem for society. In such analyses, statistics for whites are usually taken as being the natural or acceptable state of society, and the problem to be solved is framed as being how to improve the black statistics until they reach the level of whites.

In the musical My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins plaintively sings, “Why can’t a woman be more like man?” implying that the problems of gender-based misunderstandings and conflict could be avoided if women just adopted the values and behavior of men. This same spirit underlies the arguments that focus on how to “improve” black performance so that it reaches the level of whites. If only black people would act like whites, there would be no achievement gap.

To look at the problem in this way is to immediately go off in the wrong direction. Such a view obscures the fact that a large fraction of white students are also underachieving and that this problem is deserving of serious attention as well. In addition, focusing on black student performance alone is deeply offensive to members of the black community because it points the finger of social pathology directly at them. It has to be realized that black people are not as impressed with the virtues of whites as whites are, and see little need to emulate them. After all, the whites were the ones who brought blacks over as slaves and kept them in abject servitude and poverty for generations. Lynchings, beatings, and being set upon by dogs and buffeted by water from fire hoses are all things that are within living memory of black people. Given this history, to ask blacks to adopt white behavior as role models for virtuousness seems presumptuous, to put it mildly. James Baldwin captured this difference in perception when he said in The Fire Next Time, “White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need or want. . . . There is certainly little enough in the white man’s public or private life that one should desire to imitate.”

More recently, the authors of the Web journal The Black Commentator expressed a similar view even more strongly, saying,

The starting point of American racism is the assumption that white people and their institutions represent the proper, normative standards against which all other people and institutions are judged. Once the white normative assumption is internalized, a racist worldview flows from it as surely as water to the sea, polluting every social space in its path.

An exclusive focus on black student achievement alone may obscure the fact that the achievement gap may be due to the problematic way we approach the teaching of all children of all ethnicities (including whites), not just minority ones.

Ryan Grim and Akela Lacy write that Buttigieg’s record as mayor of South Bend about racial disparities for marijuana offenses does not come close to what he is saying now.

The disparity in South Bend, Indiana, however, has been significantly worse than that under Buttigieg’s leadership.

Since Buttigieg became mayor in January 2012, taking charge of the South Bend Police Department, the city’s black residents have been far more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than its white residents. That disparity in South Bend under Buttigieg, in fact, is worse than in the rest of the country, or even the rest of Indiana.

Before Buttigieg entered office, according to testimony from a former city official, a small group of white police officers conspired to push the city’s black police chief, Darryl Boykins, out of his job, hoping to use donors to persuade Buttigieg to make the move. “It is going to be a fun time when all white people are in charge,” one officer reportedly said.

Buttigieg, amid a controversy over police recordings, did fire Boykins, but after protests from the black community, rescinded the firing and demoted him instead.

It is not surprising that Buttigieg is polling at or near zero among black and Hispanic voters. He says, with the arrogance that seems to come naturally to him, that it is because they do not know him as yet. I think that he is wrong. It is precisely because they do know him and people like him, white liberals who think they know what is best for others, that they are not signing on. They can see clearly what might be hazy to the rest of us.


  1. says

    Mayor Pete and Mike Bloomberg are finding out that you can’t get anywhere on the Democratic ticket without support from black Americans, especially black women. That’s why they’re issuing their half-assed apologies right now. If either of them are the nominee there’s a very good chance the Hamberdler wins because neither are going to excite the non-white Democratic base.

    As for Michael Harriot, his Clapback Mailbag at The Root is on of my must-reads every Friday.

  2. Michael Sternberg says

    Is the primary sin of Mr. Buttigieg that he prescribes the remedy of “role models” or that he uses race as a proxy for class? If class and inequality are the real ills, it would mesh with the point that Mano made about a large fraction of white students underachieving.

    Surely better access to education and better funding thereof is a more agreeable remedy for a lot of social ills. I shudder to think, however, if I am to understand that “a good education” is now to be considered a “white” aspiration and therefore outré.

    What becomes of the condemned points if we were to read “rich” and “poor” in place of “white” and “black”/”Hispanic”? Would that make it more palatable, as it were, or be elitist and paternalistic?

  3. smrnda says

    Did he ever think that maybe the kids do have role models who attest to the value of education, but that they educations they’re likely to get tend to be inferior?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *