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Homophobia Isn't the Reason Black Voters Don't Like Pete Buttigieg

pete and the black church

While Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is seeing a surge in support in Iowa — polling better than former Vice President Joe Biden — the last few days have displayed his persistent problems with winning over minority voters. 

Buttigieg's difficulties with diversity were recently amplified by a supportive tweet by white queer singer Boy George. 

George, responding to a report from Buttigieg's campaign that intimated Black voters were resistant to a gay candidate, wagged his finger at people of color.

George’s sentiment, coupled with the now-infamous report from the Buttigieg campaign, has brought back an old, problematic conversation that Black voters are somehow more homophobic than white people — even pushing Sen. Kamala Harris to speak out against this idea. 

For decades, Black voters, especially Black women, have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, so our apathy at times toward candidates is often used as a shaming tool. One of the by-products of our overwhelmingly historic turnout for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 is the shaming of Black voters for not turning out for Hillary Clinton in the same way. 

There were takes that blamed Black folks for Donald Trump winning, but white women weren’t shamed equally for the fact that 53 percent of them voted in favor of Trump. Furthermore, the turnout for Obama in 2012 was even higher than in 2008, despite him publicly endorsing same-sex marriage just six months before the election. 

The attempts to even quantify homophobia in Black versus white communities push this narrative of Blacks being generally homophobic and transphobic. In fact, research has shown that resistance to LGBTQ rights from the Black community has decreased

But even so, does the Black community deal with major issues around homophobia and transphobia? Yes. Does every other community deal with these same issues, possibly even more so, around homophobia and transphobia? Yes! 

However, is it for white folks to call out said homophobia in the Black community as a guise to ignore the anti-Blackness of the Mayor Pete campaign? Hell no. Because Black queer folx do a damn good job handling the conversation without the need of white queer people to punch down on our community while not holding their own communities accountable. 

And let’s be crystal clear here: It is a white president backed by a white Senate that has resulted in most of the anti-LGBTQ policies over the last three years. Buttigieg has also faced discrimination in his home state of Indiana, following Mike Pence’s approval of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people and same-sex couples under the guise of religion. 

Here is where we have to break down some myths, accept some truths, and call out everyone who is playing in Black LGBTQ folx' faces: White gay men have often chosen their race over their sexual identity, only to weaponize their identity.

In a piece I wrote for AfroPunk back in April titled “White Entitlement Does Not Belong in Black Spaces,” I discussed Mayor Pete’s struggles to protect other marginalized groups. 

"Mayor Pete has had a meteoric rise while being mediocre at best. His policies either harm the marginalized or simply don’t exist, while he also tries to play the 'not all Trump supporters are racist.'" 

I watched Buttigieg emphatically say that inmates shouldn’t have the right to vote. And as I stated in a tweet, "White gay men are still white men who hurt marginalized people." There is no common ground to understand the shared oppression. While his marginalization captures headlines, ours continues to be ignored or deemed disposable. There is power, there is privilege, but there is no accountability.

If we want to begin to chart why Buttigieg is struggling to get Black voters, let's begin with his record in South Bend of protecting the police while not creating a sustainable plan for safety and support of the Black community. 

In addition to polling at nearly 0 percent with Black voters in South Carolina, he is also polling at nearly 0 percent with Black people in his home state of Indiana. Over the summer of 2019, an unarmed Black man was killed by a white cop in South Bend. This was following the fact that Pete fired the city’s first Black police chief and saw the percentage of Black police officers cut in half on his watch.

And as activists called for justice, the mayor continued to call President Trump a racist while ignoring his own anti-Black record since he became the mayor of South Bend in 2012.

Race relations in South Bend are abysmal, and the mayor has been part of the problem, not the solution. This is intersected with the fact that his plan as a presidential candidate to help Black folks with his "Douglass Plan," named for Frederick Douglass, is something he struggles to articulate when questioned about it.

And we saw a tweet from a high-level adviser on his team that dog-whistled, again, that Blacks are the problem. 

Lis Smith, a senior adviser to Buttigieg, quoted a tweet referencing the media bias of his coverage from white publications knowing there is no road to a presidency for a Democrat with no Black support. 

Anyone Black knows that historically, white folks have referred to Black folks as “you people,” a racist dog whistle implying that we are less than the "those folks" Smith was referring to. And if the senior person running his communications is any indication of the Buttigieg campaign, her tweet was confirmation that Buttigieg's campaign is tone-deaf when it comes to race, and it is not looking to make improvements.

So is homophobia impacting why certain Black folks are not taking to Buttigieg? I’m sure, but using that to whitewash over all his shortcomings on race is a poor straw man defense. Buttigieg continues to act like many other white politicians before him who opted to place blame on Black communities for issues they are the victims of.

And if he thinks this tactic will work, then he is greatly mistaken. 

George M. Johnson is a Black queer award-winning writer whose work has appeared on Vox, NBC, BET, and several other outlets. George’s debut YA memoir, All Boys Aren't Blue, will be out April 28, 2020.

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