The Central Whiteness of Mayor Pete

Mattias Lehman
May 17 · 3 min read

Pete Buttigieg finally has a platform, after facing many long weeks of critique over having not a single policy up on his website. And you know what? It’s not bad, nor is it all that great. What is notable is the way he wants to reclaim values that Democrats have historically ceded to Republicans — Freedom and Security — as well as stressing a third value: Democracy. He sorts his platform between those three values, and the way he centers the issues highlights just how white-centric his political perspective is.

The War on Drugs and mass incarceration, for example, have been absolutely devastating to the freedom of black communities, with blacks 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. And it’s had a huge impact on democracy, with many of those voters unable to vote while incarcerated, and some still unable to vote even after they have served time (varies from state to state).

Pete chooses to frame it from a security perspective. According to his framing, our criminal justice reform should be framed not around freedom or democracy, but instead around how mass incarceration has failed to increase security.

“Security is not accomplished by racially discriminatory policing. Security is not accomplished by retribution or by discrimination. Mass incarceration has not made our communities safer, and studies have shown that states that have intentionally dropped their incarceration rates have not seen a rise in crime.”

Same goes for immigration. Our immigration system (and particularly our asylum system) is anathema to freedom, putting children behind bars and asking them to stand for their immigration hearing without legal representation.

Pete chooses to frame this from a security perspective.

Immigration reform and criminal justice reform are not about the security of our country. But framing injustices that violate the freedom of people of color from the perspective of security centers not racial injustice, but the perceived safety of white people. Even when talking about issues deeply relevant to nonwhite communities, Pete talks about them from the perspective of white interests.

I actually like what Pete is trying to do here: reclaim certain values. I’ve actually written about the importance of talking about not just “freedom from”, but “freedom to”, and stressing that freedom isn’t just inhibited by an overreaching government, but also by deep inequality created by corporate greed.

Now, obviously matching policies up to values is going to be an inexact science. Is ending The War on Drugs an issue of freedom (keeping people out of jail) or democracy (not disenfranchising them with felonies)? Is healthcare an issue of freedom from the burden of debt or an issue of security from the anxiety of sudden illnesses or injury?

And Pete has plenty reframings to like. Conceiving of gun violence as an issue of security (rather than the typical framing of freedoms and limitations) allows us to center the victims of gun violence — rather than the owners of guns — as the primary stakeholders.

But the way Mayor Pete has sorted some issues — particularly those he deems issues of security — underlies a deeply white-centric view, and raises questions.

Mattias Lehman

Written by

Democratic Party Delegate, Black Lives Matter, Proud Social Democrat, Aggressive Progressive —

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