There’s a phrase that comes to mind when I consider Pete Buttigieg: “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Of course, the phrase has a complicated history; I don’t mean it in the way it was originally used. When I use it here, I mean that Pete Buttigieg is milquetoast mediocrity and I am confident that white people’s support of him is based in racism.
Why do I think white people’s support of Buttigieg is based in racism? For two reasons. First, he is not well-qualified for the position of the president of the United States of America. He’s only been a semi-successful mayor of a relatively small city; he’s had no federal experience. And, second, his policy ideas are so “centrist” they’re practically Republican.
Why are those reasons racist? Here’s where the soft bigotry of low expectations, or maybe “dancing backwards in high heels“ comes into play. We white people have extraordinarily high expectations for candidates of color. Na’ilah Amaru, policy strategist and Iraq veteran, said it well, discussing Kamala Harris leaving the campaign, “…women of color understand from our own lived experience: We must be twice as good for half the opportunity—and even then, that may not be enough.”
The fact that he is even being considered a serious candidate with so little experience is an example of how low the bar is for white men. The current president is another example, of course. The candidates who are people of color all have so much more experience than Buttigieg, but the bar for them is higher. Most of the candidates of color also don’t have the connections to global consultancy firms like McKinsey & Company for fundraising opportunities (most of which are closed to the press). So, yes, supporting Pete Buttigieg is racist because he’s not as qualified as most of the other candidates and apparently that doesn’t matter to you; for you, it’s enough that he’s a book-smart white man.
The other reason that supporting Buttigieg is racist is because his policy ideas are almost exclusively non-threatening. Nothing he is suggesting requires radical change in our white supremacist systems. He doesn’t support Medicare for All and he wants to increase military spending, for example. Here’s a good example of how wishy-washy and not-radical he is, when asked about a wealth tax: “I think we certainly need to consider a higher marginal tax rate for top income earners. Maybe it doesn’t have to be as high as it was historically, but we should at least admit that when it was higher, the American economy was growing pretty well. We should consider a wealth tax.” Notice that he’s not saying we should do it, only that we should consider it but not at too high a rate. That’s how he talks about anything approaching actual change. He uses lots of subtle cues to appease more conservative or wealthy voters.
I will also freely admit that I don’t trust him because none of the Black people I know on- or offline trust the guy; there’s plenty of press coverage about his lack of support among Black voters. I don’t think all Black people are always right, but the overwhelming dislike of this candidate by Black people is something I take seriously.
Plus, racism is rampant in South Bend. 26% of the people in South Bend, Indiana are Black but 0% dollars of the government contracts have gone to Black-owned businesses. There is a consistent lack of support from Black and Latinx voters in his small city. Referring to Buttigieg’s “1,000 homes in 1,000 days“ project, “[B]lack and Latino residents panned the aggressive blight eradication project that put local homeowners at the mercy of inflexible bureaucrats, did not incorporate community voices and concerns as much as it should have, and cast the pall of gentrification on those neighborhoods.”
The fact is, I can’t prove that you like Buttigieg because he’s white and doesn’t threaten to radically change anything. I’m sure you have reasons that make sense to you. But as Rafia Zakaria writes in “Why is Kamala Harris gone while Pete Buttigieg is still here?“ “while there is no direct evidence (there never is) [emphasis added] that a combination of race and gender hastened the end of the Harris candidacy, it is true that all the front-runners left in the democratic field are white.” I believe the same reasoning holds true for why I’m confident that white people’s support of Buttigieg is racist. As Gabrielle Gurley of the Prospect says, “Contemporary problems cannot be willed away with an earnest demeanor, good intentions, and a plan named for a fabled abolitionist by someone who has shown himself completely unqualified to sweep away the detritus of the country’s original sin.”
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