Seven thousand three hundred twenty-two dollars.
I hid it in a white Piggly Wiggly bag in the back of the dishwasher. Every single time I returned to that tiny apartment, I opened up that Navajo-white Kenmore dishwasher and made sure it was there. It was not a gift. It was not a reward. It wasn’t even mine.
And it still wasn’t enough.
I am from what most people would call “the hood.” The bad section of town. You know—where black people live. During the crack revolution of the late ’80s, to get to school every day, I would give a friendly nod as I walked past the early-rising dope boys. I meandered through the projects and—if it had recently rained—I waited for someone to help me put a 10-foot long wooden plank across the ditch that separated the black part of town from the bucolic neighborhood where the only high school in town was located. If no one was there, or if a prankster had hidden the makeshift bridge, then I had to either leap across or walk the long way around, adding an extra 15 minutes to my morning walk. Our neighborhood had no bus, so either you walked that balance beam behind the projects, took the 30-minute stroll or you said: “fuck it.”
I never said fuck it.
But if I did, it wouldn’t have been because of a lack of role models. If I had chosen to keep my mama’s lights on instead of making that daily trek, my decision wouldn’t have been based on a tropological dearth of “motivation” or communal ambivalence. As I grow older, I realize that I was not gifted, talented or even diligent.
I’m just a lucky motherfucker.
Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is a lucky motherfucker, too.
He attended one of the best private schools in the country that was quite literally on the campus of one of the best colleges in the country, University of Notre Dame, where his father worked as a professor for 29 years. His mother taught at an even better, more elite school. And if you ask how he got into Harvard or became a Rhodes Scholar, Mayor Pete would probably insist that it had nothing to do with whiteness. He would likely tell you that he valued education and had great role models, both of which are probably true. There is no question that he is intelligent, hard-working and well-educated.
But he didn’t have to jump a ditch.
So, when a clip surfaced of Buttigieg explaining why negro kids fail at school so often, his answer made perfect sense.
“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.
Majority-minority schools receive $23 billion less in funding than majority-white schools, according to a recent study by EdBuild. Black students in Indiana, the state where Buttigieg serves as mayor, and across the country, are disciplined more harshly than white students. But even though Buttigieg has never attended a school with more than 10 percent black students, he thinks he knows what’s stopping black kids from achieving their educational dreams.
Apparently, it’s not the fact that the unemployment rate for black college graduates is twice as high as the unemployment rate for white grads. Black college graduates are paid 80 cents for every dollar a white person with the same education earns. White people leave college with lower debt and higher earnings. White kids get more resources, more advanced classes and have access to more technology. But Pete says it could all be solved with a vision-board.
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.
This is not just a lie of omission, it is a dangerous precedent. This is why institutional inequality persists. Not because of white hoods and racial slurs. It is because this insidious double-talk erases the problem by camouflaging it. Because it is painted as a problem of black lethargy and not white apathy. Pete Buttigieg is standing over a dying man, holding the oxygen machine in his hand and telling everyone:
“Nah, he doesn’t need CPR. He’s just holding his breath.”
Negligent homicide is still homicide.
Occasionally someone would invariably fall in the ditch. It wasn’t because they didn’t see someone cross successfully, it was because the banks of that ditch was slippery and muddy when it rained. To this day, no one has ever built a bridge over that ditch. But over the years, so many people have walked that same path, that the banks eventually wore down and became crossable.
No one ever gave a fuck.
But motherfuckers never stopped jumping.
In the summer of 1992, for weeks, those same D-boys I walked past every day collected all of the ones (and a few five-dollar bills) from guys on the block and handed it to me when I left for college. It was seven thousand three hundred twenty-two dollars.
I didn’t have a driver’s license and my mother is legally blind, so they hired someone to drive me to college. None of my college friends ever knew that I had a hidden treasure in my dishwasher but a few of them noticed that it seemed like I always had a wad of cash. When I arrived to campus in a chauffeured, 1965 drop-top Cadillac (white, with hydraulics and gold specks), a couple even said:
“Damn, you’re lucky.”
They were right.
Correction, 11/26/19, 9:29 a.m.: Buttigieg went to University of Notre Dame, not Notre Dame University. The story has been updated.