Could Mayor Pete Be Any Whiter?

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LGBTQQIAA+ media discourse is aflame this week with the simmering debate around one Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Democratic Party presidential primary candidate.

As the in-house homo at the Babylon Bullpen, I couldn’t resist because for months, I have secretly chomped at the bit, waiting in the wings for this one to bubble over into the public square.

Now that this moment has made its apotheosis, mine heart swelleth in such harmony only perhaps the strains of St. Whitney offer reflection of this unencumbered thanksgiving:

The framing of the conversation is presented as a new iteration of an age-old debate within queer activist circles, assimilation versus liberation, liberals against radicals, white collars opposing rebels. Ostensibly this is true, those currents are coming to the surface again after being made dormant by a quasi-armistice initiated by Bill Clinton’s 1992 election, the development of the HIV/AIDS medication cocktail that transformed the illness from an immediate death sentence into a long-term healthcare maintenance issue, and the struggle to gain legalized same sex marriage. For roughly 25 years, queer politics existed within the margins of an integrationist logic, not unlike how the Black civil rights struggle from the 1950s and early ’60s is framed in popular retrospective media by the integrationist logic of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as opposed to Malcolm X’s Black national liberation theology matrix.

But that really does not justice to the issue, instead it truly boils down to one thing, whether Euro-American LGBTQIA+ folks want to be accepted as white or not.

This is about an age-old failure of so-called white self-professed radicals and their persistent, consistent, unfailing habit of bailing on their BIPOC siblings in the community as soon as those of the vanilla variation become beneficiaries of white supremacy. The struggle for gay civil liberties over the past 25 years was not about the liberation of all members of the community, it was about the white ones begging to be allowed to participate in hegemonic white privilege with their straight peers. Marriage equality probably helped out a lot of BIPOC people in a number of ways that are incalculable here.

But the right to participate in a legal contract derived from liberal democratic property law and inheritance rights is the opposite of BIPOC liberation. (And just so the matter is clear, I highly recommend reading this extraordinary condemnation of misogyny and homophobia by Huey Newton to grasp the realities of straight support for LGBTQIA+ liberation within the Black Power movement or, alternatively, reference anything ever written by Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, or James Baldwin.)

Image by DonkeyHotey/CC BY 2.0

I don’t know Mayor Pete from a hole in the wall. He could be a very nice person (though the ongoing revelations about his ghastly municipal policies pertaining to BIPOC residents of South Bend make me want to vomit). Regardless, its is undeniable that his presidential bid is grounded in several theses:

  • I am a likeable, awe-shucks Middle American boy next door politician whose persona and charisma hearkens back to a nostalgic halcyon period of recent American history that was epitomized by the sitcom Happy Days;
  • My politics are undeniably moderate and based around an explicit dearth of discussion about class and how that is color-coded by racism in this settler colonial state;
  • I am a military veteran and a Democrat, a big deal considering the last Democratic president who was also a vet was Jimmy Carter;
  • I belong to one of the whitest northern mainline Protestant churches in American history, one that has supplied the technocratic class that operated elite universities, financial institutions, civil service agencies, and large private enterprise corporations dating back to the Colonial era, when state-sanctioned apartheid and human slavery was the status quo of the entirety of the European project in this hemisphere;
  • Oh yeah, I also like having sex with dudes!

While not as blatantly attenuated to the hard-right white nationalist current that the Trumpian hordes salivate for with Pavlovian reflex, Buttigieg still caters his appeal to the remaining vestiges of the postwar McMansion social contract, which includes redlining, blockbusting, and de facto racial segregation in the fine print. Dale Peck brilliantly described him as “a neoliberal and a Jeffersonian meritocrat,” a white-collar non-union middle/upper management type whose vision of social organization is explicitly opposed to the well-being of the working class. It is an inverted Marxist dialectic where the class chosen by History (with a capital H) is not the proletariat but instead the petit bourgeois middle class.

Class in America has been color-coded since the European invasion. W.E.B. Du Bois elaborated on this in The Souls of Black Folks, saying “…The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Dr. Tony Monteiro elaborates further on this class analysis. “Du Bois’s notion of double consciousness reflects a dialectical relationship, a unity and struggle of opposite forces in one dark body. We literally have the worldviews of two civilizations in conflict and struggle within the black mind. This double consciousness is a manifestation of a clash of civilizations, a contradiction that will be resolved by the decline of European hegemony and the transformation of human civilization. The working out of the dialectic within the consciousness of the black individual is a struggle between the hegemon of the modern world, the other (the African past), and the human future. Pregnant within the conflict in each black person is the future beyond European hegemony, an historical movement from the Age of Europe to the Age of Humanity.”

Buttigieg’s candidacy is symptomatic of the imperial decline of America. After the Emperor was revealed in the buff with the quagmires of Afghanistan and Iraq, the global community realized that it was possible to simply move on and leave the violent, white supremacist, pathetic, and infantile republic to drown in its own filthy sludge. Trump and Buttigieg are not necessarily cognizant of this (which would suggest a kind of conspiracy theory a la Oliver Stone) but their premise is that they can restore this unipolar global hegemony, returning America to the throne of the empire. The nature of white supremacy’s inter-connection to class is therefore a reflection on the micro level of the struggle against Euro-American imperialism on the geopolitical stage. The Du Boisian reformulation of class analysis, predicated on the proposition of European collapse, is a guiding light that affords us the ability to understand these developments.

When the Stonewall uprising exploded in 1969, the movement for Gay Liberation (as it was known then) was adamant about taking inspiration from Black Liberation. It was a project that created a group working to struggle as a distinct group of Others alongside their BIPOC peers to eliminate not just discrimination but the entire system.

Mayor Pete is just way too white for that kind of thing.

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