Friday, May 17, 2019

Pete Buttigieg, White Privilege, and Identity Politics

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg delivered the keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) annual dinner last Saturday at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The 37-year-old Buttigieg attended the event with his husband Chasten, and spoke about his coming out experience and what he calls the "crisis of belonging" in America.

"I may be part of the LGBTQ community," he said, "but being a gay man doesn't tell me what it's like to be a trans woman of color in that same community, let alone an undocumented mother of four, or a disabled veteran, or a displaced auto worker. But being gay, just like every other fact about me, means I have a story. And if I look to that story, I can find the building blocks not only for empathy, but for the impetus for action. The more you know about exclusion, the more you think about belonging, and we have a crisis of belonging in this country."

"The walls I worry about most," continued Buttigieg, "isn't [President Trump's] fantasy wall on the Mexican border . . . [but] the very real walls being put up between us as we get divided and carved up. . . . The struggle for equality for the LGBT community on everything from workplace discrimination to trans servicemembers' dignity doesn't compete with the other struggles of Americans yearning to get to another side of an ugly wall. It reinforces those struggles, and obligates all of us to do everything we can to lift one another up. We have to be there for each other, no matter what."

At first glance, I find Buttigieg's comments at Saturday's HRC gala dinner heartening, even inspiring. Yet I also appreciate Jeff Campagna's thoughtful take on what Buttigieg had to say.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to Pete Buttigieg’s white privilege/identity politics speech at the Las Vegas HRC dinner. I’ve seen many criticisms. But I’ve also seen many people, mostly gay white men, praising the following passage from the speech:

And these divisive lines of thinking have even entered into the consciousness of my own party. Like when we're told we need to choose between supporting an autoworker and supporting a trans woman of color without stopping to think about the fact that sometimes the auto worker is a trans woman of color and she definitely needs all the support that she can get.

First off, I don’t recall any Democrat ever telling anyone they couldn’t support racial justice, LGBT equality, and the manufacturing industry at the same time. . . . Nonetheless, some people seem quite moved by the statement that the black trans woman and the factory worker may be the same person and thus need our help for similar reasons. But the Eric Garner trial should remind us all, sometimes black people just get shot by police while white factory workers don’t. And black trans women are more likely to get murdered than just about anyone. Further, the black trans woman in Indiana can be fired for being trans. And that’s not a trade issue. That’s an identity issue.

When there are life and death issues like these, sometimes identity politics are unavoidable and necessary. Someone who came out three years ago might not know it, but the reason for the explosion of people coming out of the closet in the early 90’s was not a sudden mass hysteria about dating, but the existential threat of the AIDS crisis.

What I get from Buttigieg’s speech and other remarks he’s made about activism is that activism makes him uncomfortable and to him, seems unintentionally polarizing. But activism is not easy and it is not supposed to be comfortable. It is supposed to create a moral crisis to effect change. Whether it makes him comfortable or not. The more he talks about political theory the more arrogant and out of touch he sounds. It doesn’t have to be this way. He could put out policies instead. But he’s made it clear that’s not his style.

At the conclusion of Buttigieg’s speech he suggests that black people and women should trust that he will use his privilege to solve their problems. When he says things like that he convinces many people (obviously not the ones praising his remarks) that he doesn’t have any understanding of what the problems are.

Jeff Campagna
via Facebook
May 15, 2019

Another worthwhile analysis of Buttigieg's recent comments is provided by Andrew Romano, who (like Campagna) points out that these comments were "carefully crafted" by Buttigieg to "solve the issue of identity politics in America" by putting forward himself as the solution.

Writes Romano for Yahoo! News:

Early reports framed Buttigieg’s speech as a repudiation of identity politics altogether – a “risky” decision, as one NBC News report put it, to “cal[l] out fellow Democrats” for “pitting one group’s grievances against another’s” that “had echoes of Bill Clinton’s ‘Sistah Souljah moment’ in 1992, when he distanced himself from a black political activist who had made controversial comments about race.”

But the entirety of Buttigieg’s remarks make it clear that the mayor is in fact attempting something more subtle, and ultimately more risky, than a mere repudiation.

Instead, he is trying to redefine identity politics altogether – and to do so in a way that puts his own identity front and center – and his solution is Pete Buttigieg.

. . . It remains to be seen whether Buttigieg’s nuanced strategy – his attempt to transcend identity politics by embracing identity itself – is enough to silence critics and persuade skeptics.

Though Buttigieg vowed to “to fight for a fairer criminal justice system, even if no one in [his] immediate family has experienced the racial inequity in that broken system,” and to “fight for the Central American asylum seeker looking for a better life” for “the same reason” he “fight[s] for transgender troops,” it may be that women or minority voters who otherwise share his values nonetheless choose to support candidates, such as Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris or Cory Booker or Julián Castro, who have more directly shared their struggles.

It may be that such voters scrutinize Buttigieg’s elite background and his record as mayor of South Bend and see in him someone who instinctively identifies more with the forces of gentrification than with the communities of color those forces tend to displace.

Or it may be that some Democrats, worried about losing again to Donald Trump, decide that America isn’t ready to elect a gay president. . . . Yet Buttigieg is betting otherwise.

– Andrew Romano
Excerpted from "Pete Buttigieg Wants You
to Know, As a Gay Man, He's a Minority Too

Yahoo! News
May 14, 2019

Okay, I should say for the record that I'm happy that there's an out gay man running for President of the United States. I don't share, however, the same amount of enthusiasm about either Buttigieg or his campaign as many other gay men do. In fact, I'm somewhat perturbed by the amount of media attention Buttigieg is getting compared to other Democratic presidential candidates. He and his husband have even appeared on the cover of TIME magazine. Can we expect to see Andrew Yang or Marianne Williamson on future covers?

It's as if "Mayor Pete" has been anointed by the mainstream corporate media as both a front-runner and one of the most likely candidates to defeat Trump next year. I don't see either of these to be the case. From everything I've read it seems as if Buttigieg is just one more centrist Democrat, one with an alarming lack of actual policies. We all know how such a centrist candidate fared against an authoritarian populist in 2016. Given that the economic and social climate has only deteriorated further since then, I really think that only a progressive populist can take on and defeat Trump in 2020. And I just don't see Pete Buttigieg fitting that bill.

UPDATE: Since I published this piece, my friend Rick has notified me that Pete Buttigieg has updated his official website to include an "Issues" section. Up until now, Buttigieg had been criticized by many for a lack of policies and proposals. I look forward to reading through the pages of this section and learning more about Buttigieg's understanding of the issues and problems facing the U.S.

Related Off-site Links:
Buttigieg Laments "Crisis of Belonging" Across Nation During Human Rights Campaign Speech – Jackie Valley (The Nevada Independent, May 12, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg Wants You to Know, As a Gay Man, He's a Minority Too – Andrew Romano (Yahoo! News, May 14, 2019).
Why I’m Not Here for Pete Buttigieg’s Moderate Politics in the 2020 Primaries – Lucy Diavolo (Teen Vogue, May 10, 2019).
America Is At a Gay Rights Crossroads, Thanks to Pete Buttigieg and the Supreme Court – Steven Petrow (USA Today, April 23, 2019).
Elizabeth Warren's the Professor and Pete Buttigieg Is the Charismatic Student Without His Homework. Guess Who Voters Like Best? – Nia-Malika Henderson (CNN, April 23, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg’s Bad Take on Bernie Sanders – Greg Sargent (The Washington Post, April 24, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg’s Campaign Website Has a Color Scheme Page, But Not an Issues Page – Katelyn Kivel (GritPost, April 24, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg Has Everything Except Positions on Major Issues – Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2019).
The Pete Buttigieg Boom – Zack Beauchamp (Vox, April 3, 2019).
Have You Heard? Pete Buttigieg Is Really Smart – Liza Featherstone (Jacobin, April 1, 2019).

UPDATES: Buttigieg Unveils Wide-Ranging Policy Positions – Josh Lederman (NBC News, May 16, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg Calls for Carbon Capture and Tax – Climate Proposals Backed by the Fossil Fuel Industry – Jessica Corbett (Common Dreams, May 19, 2019).
Pete and Chasten: Heterosexuality Without Women – Greta LaFleur (Los Angeles Review of Books, May 209, 2019).
Buttigieg Won't Win the Nomination, and That's a Good Thing – Michael Sean Winters (National Catholic Reporter, May 29, 2019).
If Pete Buttigieg Is the “Opposition” to Trump, We Are Screwed – Daniel Uncapher (TruthOut, June 1, 2019).
Do Pete Buttigieg’s Donors Know Him Better Than We Do? – Adewale Maye, Eleanor Eagan, and Jeff Hauser (The American Prospect, June 25, 2019).
Pete Buttigieg's Disingenuous Attack on Medicare-for-All – Ryan Cooper (The Week, October 15, 2019).
Mayor Pete Created the Cringeworthiest Moment of the Campaign, and Was Rewarded for It (God Help Us All) – Jacob Weindling (Paste, November 7, 2019).
The Progressive Group Justice Democrats Accuses Pete Buttigieg of Abandoning Medicare for All After Taking “Tons of Cash” From Corporate Interests – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, November 13, 2019).
Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg Are Not to Be Trusted – Norman Solomon (Common Dreams, January 2, 2020).
Pete Buttigieg Proved Last Night That He's Not the President America Wants or Needs – Carli Pierson (Independent, January 15, 2020).
Pete Buttigieg Skipped South Bend Meetings on Police Oversight to Attend Campaign Fundraisers Across the Country – Akela Lacy (The Intercept, January 23, 2020).
The Creation Myth of the Buttigieg Campaign – Norman Solomon (Common Dreams, February 3, 2020).
Buttigieg Confirms Status as “Austerity Candidate” With Call for Democrats to Prioritize Reducing Deficit – Julia Conley (Common Dreams, February 9, 2020).
Mayor Pete’s Health Care Plan Is a Joke – Matt Bruenig (Jacobin, February 10, 2020).
Pete Buttigieg Is the Embodiment of White Privilege – and Black Voters Know It – Benjamin Dixon (The Guardian, February 11, 2020).
Union President Accuses Pete Buttigieg of “Perpetuating This Gross Fallacy” About Union Health Care: “This Is Offensive” – Jason Lemon (Newsweek, February 12, 2020).
South Bend Politician: I Worked with Pete Buttigieg. He Did Not Respect Black Residents’ StrugglesDemocracy Now! (February 12, 2020).
Buttigieg Is a Wall Street Democrat Beholden to Corporate Interests – Kenneth Peres (Common Dreams, February 17, 2020).
As a Corporate Tool, Buttigieg Is Now a Hammer to Bash Bernie Sanders – Norman Solomon (Common Dreams, February 24, 2020).
“Loyal Soldier”? Ahead of Super Tuesday, Pete Buttigieg to End Presidential Bid – Jon Queally (Common Dreams, March 1, 2020).
Buttigieg Drops Out of Presidential Race – Elena Schneider (Politico, March 1, 2020).
Pete Buttigieg Ends Historic Presidential Bid – Barbara Sprunt, Benjamin Swasey and Sam Gringlas (NPR News, March 1, 2020).
“Political Consolation Prize”? President-Elect Biden Picks Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary Despite His Lack of Relevant Experience – Jake Johnson (Common Dreams, December 15, 2020).

For more coverage at The Wild Reed of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, see:
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – November 5, 2018
Jacob Weindling: Quote of the Day – November 19, 2018
Something to Think About – February 19, 2019
Quotes(s) of the Day – February 26, 2019
Bernie Sanders: Quote of the Day – March 2, 2019
Talkin’ ’Bout An Evolution: Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid
Why Marianne Williamson Is a Serious and Credible Presidential Candidate
Pete Buttigieg: Quote of the Day – April 17, 2019
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – April 24, 2019
Marianne Williamson: Reaching for Higher Ground
Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden's Presidential Run
Beto, Biden and Buttigieg: “Empty Suits and Poll-Tested Brands”

See also the previous posts:
Michelangelo Signorile on the Rebellious Purpose of Queer Pride
Police, Pride, and Philando Castile
Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride
Quote of the Day – May 4, 2013
Quote of the Day – March 29, 2013
A Lose/Lose Situation
Making the Connections . . . Then and Now

Images: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.


Edward said...

You really must be afraid of him considering how all your postings on him are so negative. Bernie is past tense. Move on.

Michael J. Bayly said...

I've made no mention of Bernie. . . . Also, the reason I think it's important to focus on Buttigieg is because he is a serious and viable contender embraced by many who see themselves as either liberal or progressive. As such, he should not be above scrutiny or informed criticism. I'd suggest, Ed, that you be more concerned by those liberals who are unquestioningly fawning over him or any candidate who is vying for such an important office. Also, if Buttigieg is the centrist that this proposed policy of his suggests, then I think we all should be afraid. A centrist/moderate will not defeat Trump. Surely we've learned that lesson from 2016. It's time for a much more fundamental disruption of the political and economic status quo than anything being offered by centrist/establishment candidates.