At the November 20th Democratic debate, Pete Buttigieg touted his “outsider” status as the secret weapon that would help the Democratic Party defeat Donald Trump. He argued that although he doesn’t have the “Washington experience” of his opponents, he has other experience that qualifies him to be president.
The fact that Mayor Pete can stand up on Oprah Winfery’s Sound Stage at Tyler Perry’s studio and say that he doesn’t meet or even need what many people would consider to be the basic qualifications for holding the highest office in the land ain’t nothing but white privilege.
Society appreciates white men who are “outsiders” to a system coming in to “shake things up” but balks at the idea of black women and other people of color doing the same. White men are allowed to be “innovative” and “creative” while everyone else must color inside the lines, lest we be told that we don’t know how to do our jobs. People are okay with new ideas and a new ways of thinking as long as it is a white man pushing it. Everybody else is patted on the head and sent away until a white man comes around saying the very same thing.
What kills me super dead is that white folks–especially white men–get the privilege of showing up wherever they want with little experience and lots of loud opinions and people will make time to listen for them. I cannot tell you how many times in my career that I have had to convince people that I know what I’m talking about concerning something that I was being paid to know or had dedicated years of study to be able to have an informed opinion about only to be over talked by a white man who was loud and wrong. Not to mention all the times that I have had to fight to be given a title or perks concominant with the level of work that I was doing because people questioned my level of knowledge or experience.
Black people are passed up for jobs and promotions all the time because we supposedly don’t have the right “experience.” What this really means is that we don’t have the kind of experience that resonates with white people. The catch-22 that many of us find ourselves in is that we are locked out of the experiences that provide opportunities to network and get our ideas in front of people. Our papers aren’t accepted to journals. We’re not invited to speak at the conferences. Our experience working within our community is not seen as valid.
So when we show up we’re told that we don’t have the right level of experience or the right kind of experience, but we’re locked out of the systems and institutions that would give us those experiences. And on the chance that we happen to have the right doors open for us, it often comes at the expense of our racial identity and dignity. Our acceptance into these spaces is predicated on our ability to not only live up to white standards, but to perform whiteness.
So many smart, hard-working, creative people of color are passed over for mediocre white men who have all the right connections and “experience.” And when they don’t have the requisite experience, the powers that be are still willing to “take a chance” on them because their “pluck” (read: sense of entitlement and presumptuousness) shows that they “might have what it takes.”
Most of the time, the “creative” and “innovative” white people are saying and doing things that black folks have been saying and doing all along.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat at tables with white men trying to convince them that this, that, or the other thing is what their organization needs to do in order to be successful only to be met with skepticism and having to fight to even be heard. I cannot tell you how many times that a white man has come along behind me and offered up the exact thing that I suggested and was treated as if he made all the difference in the organization. There are times when I have had to push to be given the authority and power that my position entailed only to have a white man come in behind me and be trusted with the keys to the kingdom.
So when people like Pete Buttigeig–and Donald Trump before him–stand up in front of an audience of millions and say that their lack of experience is actually an asset, I start to see red. If Kamala Harris were still working as a proseceutor, you can guarantee that she would not have made it to that stage. If Corey Booker were still Mayor of Newark (which is twice the size of South Bend where Buttigieg is mayor), he would not be anywhere near that stage either.
That Pete Buttigieg, a young white man who is mayor of a small city, has found his way onto a national stage is the very definition of the privilege of inexperience. Black folks must prove that we deserve to be anywhere that white people are, but white men’s inexperience can be spun and contorted into an asset.