It is often said that one identity doesn’t speak to the relevance of another. When observing the current Democratic candidates for president, this couldn’t be more true.
Black candidates, such as senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, aren’t automatic favorites among Black voters. The same can be said for mayor Pete Buttigieg, who often asserts his minority status as an openly gay man in an attempt to find common ground with other marginalized groups.
But this strategy hasn’t been working in his favor.
Although Buttigieg has seen a rise in the polls, he has failed to gain any real support among Black voters — a major problem for any Democratic presidential candidate hoping to win the primary.
There have been so many ridiculous explanations for why Buttigieg is polling at zero percent among Black voters in South Carolina.
One, particularly lazy explanation, has been to scapegoat homophobia in the Black community as the cause for his inability to garner support from African Americans.
But perhaps the most accurate explanation can be found in his constant gaffes while discussing race, particularly surrounding issues impacting Black people.
Such gaffes were magnified in a provocative and no-holds-barred op-ed penned by The Root writer Michael Harriot, where he criticized Buttigieg for placing blame on a lack of positive role models as the reason low income Black kids aren’t succeeding in school.
“There are a lot of kids, especially in low income, minority neighborhoods, where they just haven’t seen it [education] work,” Buttigieg said in a resurfaced 2011 video that Harriot referenced. “There isn’t someone they know personally who attests to the value of education.”
“Occasionally someone would invariably fall in the ditch,” Harriot argued back in his op-ed on how structural racism, not a lack of role models, is the bigger issue here. “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.”
The buzz generated lots of traction and eventually Buttigieg found himself calling Harriot on the phone trying to “listen” to the issues raised in the viral op-ed. And of course, Buttigieg felt the need to remind us that those remarks were from years ago while still trying to defend himself.
“Do you disagree with the point I was making?” Buttigieg asked Harriot in the call, while still trying to double-down on the point that got him on the phone in the first place: “Sometimes, the lack of positive examples of educational success can lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence.”
It is frustrating moments like these when I’m reminded as a Black gay voter of what I’ve known to be true my entire life: white gay men who share one part of my identity, still don’t share my experience — and shouldn’t pretend they can.
When Buttigieg went on the campaign trail this week to suggest that he can relate to the struggles of Black voters because he is gay — I took a long and hard sigh. If this isn’t pandering, I don’t know what is.
For starters, there are Black LGBTQ people within the larger Black community that Buttigieg can’t relate to for various reasons.
Throughout my career, I’ve covered several ongoing issues of racial discrimination and vast disparities within the LGBTQ community that has revealed the undeniable privilage of white cisgender gay men.
For Buttigieg to ignore the difference race and cisgender makes through all of these identities — he’s once again proving the problem he has with Black voters altogether.
My biggest issue with Buttigieg is that for a white gay man who claims to understand how his marginalization resonates to other groups — he still lacks nuance and an acknowledgement of how intersectionality works within all of this.
Sure, Pete — a lack of role models could be playing a partial role in Black kids failing in schools — but that is a symptom of a larger crisis. That crisis is called white supremacy, its attributes are upheld by institutional racism and white privilege.
The fact that Buttigieg can’t separate the forest from the trees as a minority reveals his cisgender white male privilege creates a huge blindspot when addressing race. This is why I have a hard time trusting his platform and candidacy altogether.
Some will sadly argue that Buttigieg is trying, and that Black voters are being too hard on him. We’re not being too hard. The saying “no one cares, work harder” rings true here.
Black people work twice as hard to get half as far as their white counterparts so
complaints about how he tried so that should be enough to earn our votes won’t resonate with us.
Genuine attempts at checking your privilege is a start. The only start to a meaningful and productive conversation between Black voters and white candidates, gay or striaght.
Black voters have a right to demand better and should be critical of those seeking our crucial vote. And such collective power to choose belongs to all Black voters — straight and LGBTQ+.
Based in Philadelphia, Ernest Owens is an award-winning journalist and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. Chat with him on Twitter @MrErnestOwens.