pipe down about mayor pete

May 2, 2019
1.8K Picks

There are many unfortunate elements about the cultural tone of this political moment. As nebulous as it may sound, the most exhausting thing, for me, has been that people seem to not be able to see things clearly. The same symbols, thoughts, and politics have been distorted as something new (and perhaps even righteous) in the face of Trump’s occupancy of the White House.

The queerest example of this is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He is positioned by Time magazine as having an “unlikely, unprecedented, and untested” presidential campaign. There are two things wrong with this assertion: it’s not unprecedented or untested. We’ve seen this “grassroots” rise to political stardom with many of the new Black and POC representatives in Congress — and most obviously with President Barack Obama. One of the characteristics that gained him so much trust and aided his meteoric rise was how seemingly unaffiliated and authentic he appeared. Barack Obama was a candidate for the people; he was just like us. Until he wasn’t. Until he gained the presidency and we saw that, despite a more transgressive campaign style, the actual policies and cultures he created while in office reinforced some of the more violent actions that white supremacist imperialism produces. This is especially true when it comes to immigration, war, and clearly pro-Black policies as we learned during Obama’s tenure as president.

The most profound mischaracterization of Mayor Pete is as something unlikely or new, even groundbreaking. It insinuates that because of his homosexuality, a white man can’t be the vehicle for the same mundane evil that is American politics, right now. The Time cover where he’s pictured with his husband, is proof of this.

What is queer about Mayor Pete is that his homosexuality is such an afterthought. To the point that many of us across sexualities and genders need reminding that he is gay, because he is such a throwback to the mythological white manhood that it is seen as inherently righteous and authentic because he rolls up his sleeves, leans forwarded when he speaks, and talks in a way that is digested as sure and ‘real’. Because he is speaking to the little people. These are the same ideas many candidates across political parties have used, including President Trump.

A more thoughtful and impactful thing to concern ourselves with is: what has Mayor Pete done for Black people? The answer is not enough for someone interested in possibly shaping Black life, for a minimum of four years with political policies and their leadership.

A presidential candidate shouldn’t be meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton or any Black leader, after they’ve already announced their desire to be president to ‘understand’ what Black voters need. Black people’s needs — some of the most historically underserved and exploited people in this country, who are also the political and moral compass of America — should be ingrained in the fabric of why you want to take the lead, not an afterthought. Leaders like Shirley Chisholm should be the cornerstone of your thoughts and politics. Black LGBTQIA+ activists, and political game changers like Marsha P. Johnson and Bayard Rustin should not be background noise to you perpetuating this contrived vision of All-American whiteness, that just so happens to be gay. A pro-Black politic — especially as a gay man — should be at the center of your political present, not at the periphery. And this has not been the case when it comes to Mayor Pete.

The truth is, Black people, a large part of this voting population and one of the most significant influences in American culture, are an afterthought for Mayor Pete, obvious even in his outreach efforts, as reported by the Associated Press, whom he told, “I know I’ve got a lot to learn and I’m ready to make sure I’m understanding the concerns that are top of mind for the different audiences I speak to, to make sure what I have to say rhymes with what they’re most concerned about.” A plan that does not center the Black and the indigenous, simply attempts to ‘rhyme’, is a plan that does what America has always done: ignore and disregard the most exploited people in this country who you still need something from politically.

The Time cover didn’t feel like anything new, but something slightly rebranded for a dangerously forgetful public. It didn’t feel groundbreaking. It felt like two white men sharing a cover on a mainstream, white-owned magazine. Business (and politics) as usual.

Even if it were to be engaged as some radical editorial storytelling — we’d know that Laverne Cox’s Time cover didn’t prevent the following years as being some of the deadliest for Black trans women on record. We know that the rise of Black, queer-identified men like Frank Ocean and Titus Burgess has not prevented Democratic Party donor, Ed Buck, from not being held accountable for the deaths of two Black gay men in his home. Representation did not make Nigel Shelby feel affirmed enough to stay on this Earth.

Representation of a thing is not inherently radical or iconoclastic, it simply ensures visibility and often surveillance and control of and over the identity. Black people have not become more welcomed or safe with visibility, we’ve become more seen. Mayor Pete would know this if he cared about the Black community in a substantial way  before his presidential run, and what we’ve learned in the last century in media.

What’s not queer, but quite clear about Mayor Pete is his politics. He is not the answer. His politics and ideas around Black life are not evolved enough. Not authentic enough. Not specific enough for me to even think about supporting him to create policy that will shape Black queer life in America. He is more of the same.

This is to say simply, the answer to this current cultural tone and political moment is not to put one more white man in the White House — even if he is married to the president.