There is a hilarious episode of The Cosby Show where Rudy, the youngest Huxtable, informs the family that she is seriously contemplating dropping out of elementary school. When her older sister Vanessa hears her sibling’s harebrained scheme, she asks Rudy what she plans to do for the rest of her life with only a fourth-grade education. With all the self-assured smugness endowed upon a pre-pubescent intellectual, Rudy replied:
“Teach third grade.”
On Sunday, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg informed his staff that he was suspending his quest to become the 46th president of the United States. After gaining only 2 percent of the black vote in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, Buttigieg’s inability to convince African-American voters of his viability proved to be an obstacle he could not overcome. While some have blamed media outlets—specifically, this one—for creating a narrative that the 38-year-old candidate had a “black problem,” it was Buttigieg himself who admittedly displayed a privileged blindness to America’s racial disparities.
“I have to confess that I was slow to realize—I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated,” he told Rev. William Barber in December.
I criticized him for whitesplaining that South Bend’s educational disparities were due to children in “lower-income, minority neighborhoods, who literally just haven’t seen [education] work” because they don’t have “someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”
Then there was the issue of black police officers who complained that he ignored discrimination during his mayoral administration. And South Bend’s lack of support for black businesses. And the city’s surge in marijuana arrests while he was in office. And the police brutality that dogged his administration. And the dearth of black people employed by the city.
No one manufactured this narrative.
Buttigieg’s supporters repeatedly insist that he is a well-intentioned, good man who is making an honest attempt at understanding and correcting racial inequality.
Although I have called Buttigieg a “lying motherfucker,” and a “politically expedient automaton programmed with the ‘What Would Barack Do?’ algorithm,” I have repeatedly asserted my personal belief that Pete is not a racist. I have never called him that, nor can I recall another reputable outlet who has said this about him. In fact, we said his “Douglass Plan for Black America” was created with “academic rigor, intention and understanding,” ranking it as the third-best policy agenda for black America. Furthermore, I don’t doubt Buttigieg’s intentions. His past racial obtuseness is understandable. He attended a lily-white high school, graduated from an exclusive college and lived in a town that shielded him from blackness and reinforced his elite, All-American, Midwestern values.
But I am black.
And I am tired.
Like many black people, I am tired of waiting for white people to educate themselves on the consequences of systemic racism. It is not incumbent upon black America to be the subjects of his newly realized race-consciousness during his personal era of enlightenment. Why should we have to suffer while the unschooled, inexperienced Peter Buttigiegs of the world become acquainted with our circumstances? We are fine with giving him the benefit of the doubt, but not to our detriment. And it is damn sure not our responsibility to subsidize his tutelage with our votes.
In spite of what many people believe, white supremacy isn’t predicated on racial animus or evil intent. Many, if not most, white people aren’t aware of the wanton inequalities that have been institutionalized in the nation they blissfully proclaim as the “land of the free.” The idea of American exceptionalism is rooted in the fact that this country is inherently imperfect but always improving.
That is a lie.
Just because Americans are beginning to see cell phone video and bodycam footage of police violence doesn’t mean it hasn’t always been our reality. Black people have fought against police brutality since America declared its independence. Police murdered black people during Reconstruction, enforced Jim Crow, and beat us during the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. even said:
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.
The fact that some people are slowly becoming familiar with redlining, financial discrimination and education disparities shouldn’t be our problem and doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. It means these so-called “leaders” were either incompetent or didn’t care to know.
Our backs have grown weary from carrying the weight of America’s willful ignorance. Our arms are tired from reaching out to embrace our oppressors in hopes that they will someday see the light. The benefit of the doubt is a heavy burden to bear.
But the privilege of whiteness is an incredibly powerful catapult. It can propel a two-term, small-town mayor with no legal or legislative experience to within earshot of becoming the leader of the free world. It can fling the mayor of the 308th largest city in the world past a black woman (Kamala Harris) who represents more people than live in Canada or Australia. If Cory Booker was mayor of a city three times smaller than Newark, didn’t have seven years experience in America’s most exclusive legislative body, worked at a corporate consulting firm instead of free, inner-city law clinics and threw his Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law in the trash, he would still be more qualified than Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg is a “good man” who is still learning about the shit that Harris and Booker actually introduced and passed legislation to correct. Even though his education is woefully incomplete, Pete was still considered a contender.
Rudith Lillian Huxtable would have made a perfect running mate.
Or perhaps, he can teach white people.