White man, listen (Dec. 4)

A 2011 television clip surfaced of Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg discussing minorities and education. Buttigieg stated, minority children aren’t motivated because they don’t know anyone personally that testifies to the value of education. Buttigieg repeated what many Black educators and Black ministers in the 1980s and 1990s pinpointed as a factor that stifled academic progress for low-income children.

Between 1980 and 2003 Buttigieg’s assessment would have been considered commonplace, even by those that disagreed.

But in 2004, at the NAACP’s 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board school desegregation decision, Bill Cosby delivered his infamous “Pound Cake” speech where he singled out dysfunctions in Black culture as the root cause of the “racial achievement gap” and not structural racism.

The backlash against Cosby was intense.

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson wrote an entire book in response to the “Pound Cake” speech called: “Is Bill Cosby right or has the Black middle class lost its mind?” Dyson’s argument was that systemic racism was the root cause of the “racial achievement gap” and the cultural dysfunctions derided by Cosby.

The battle lines were drawn, sides were taken, and Dr. Dyson won.

Afterwards, cultural critiques of the Black community were considered taboo, and all discussions concerning the achievement gap were addressed through the lens of systemic racism. So, if one was forced to find fault with Buttigieg’s 8-year-old comment one might say it was outdated for 2011.

But a writer for the Black online magazine The Root responded to the clip with an op-ed titled: Pete Buttigieg is a lying MF, and it went viral.

The Root writer said everyone on the planet knows everything Buttigieg just said is a bold-faced lie. Mayor Pete isn’t just wrong, it proves men like him are more willing to perpetuate the fantastic narrative of Negro neighborhoods needing more role models and briefcase carriers than making the people in power stare into the sun and see the blinding light of racism.

The writer denounced what he believed was a “presidential attack” on Black culture.

Buttigieg reached out to the writer at The Root to discuss the matter. Buttigieg’s team probably informed him that famous author Ta-Nehisi Coates reached out to Bernie Sanders to discuss reparations during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and Sanders ignored him. Reaching out to The Root writer was Buttigieg’s way of distinguishing their respective campaigns.

The two talked and the writer penned a follow up op-ed titled: Pete Buttigieg called me. Here’s what happened.

The Root writer said, “For 18 minutes we talked about educational inequality, poverty, and institutional racism in America and how to fix it. O…I’m lying. I don’t know how to fix sh*t …I conceded that the problems of institutional racism are so complex and go so far back that I’m not sure that anyone—a mayor, a governor, or even a president could fix them.” Then, The Root writer told Buttigieg it was infuriating to watch White men talk about what was broken in the Black community without acknowledging who broke it and who refuses to fix it. The Root writer concluded the only thing I know about Pete Buttigieg is that he is a White man. But Pete Buttigieg listened, which is all you can ask a White man to do.

But listen to what?

Richard Wright published a collection of lectures in 1964 called: White man, listen. Buttigieg should read these instead of making phone calls.

(J. Pharoah Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier


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