Why did former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg elect to scarf down a plate of fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese with the Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s soul food restaurant in Harlem last April?
Why didn’t Buttigieg, when he was mayor, implement in South Bend his ballyhooed national “Douglass Plan” to confront the institutional racism that African Americans face in criminal justice, health care, education and housing? After all, residents of South Bend’s poor neighborhoods have struggles of their own.
When did it occur to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to call for a review of old evidence in the case of a 16-year-old black boy who may have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murder when she was chief prosecutor in Minneapolis?
Why did Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) conduct a 2016 presidential campaign that he has described on a black radio program as “being too white” and “too male”? Why didn’t he recognize it at the time? What prompts him to own up to the problem now?
What made former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg start with all the abject apologies for his stop-and-frisk program that aggressively targeted black and Latino men for police searches? Why is he now, at every turn, proclaiming his love and respect for women? (Was it something he said?)
Why is former vice president Joe Biden, instead of enjoying retirement and his grandchildren after nearly 50 years of public service, out on the stump clinging to African Americans, Latinos and Barack Obama as though they were life preservers?
The answer to each question may be in hand. The race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is well underway.
It is virtually impossible for a Democratic presidential candidate to get there from here without establishing a strong connection with African Americans and other voters of color.
Thus, the collard greens, the mea culpas, the grandiose spending plans, the high-dudgeon denunciations of all things deemed offensive to people of color — these are all part of the efforts of white Democratic contenders to get on the good side of those who constitute an indispensable part of the party’s lifeblood. Warren, Buttigieg and company face the challenge of getting it done while not appearing to be pandering, which, of course, is what they are doing.
One clue as to whether the candidate’s behavior is authentic or just shameless sucking up is the amount of evidence that collard greens consumption, public railing against racial disparities and all the breast-beating over things done or left undone were activities engaged in long before the hat got tossed into the ring.
Every good wish with that.
Another dead giveaway as to whether their love affair with minorities is authentic or concocted is found in the roles assigned by the campaigns.
Far too often, blacks and Latinos are given walk-on parts that serve symbolic gestures: Get ethnic entertainers and athletes into photo ops with the candidates; assume window dressing and essentially empty roles of “campaign adviser,” “mentor” or “press aide,” all designed to reinforce the candidate’s image as the best friend that people of color could ever have.
When, in fact, all of the strategic campaign decisions — the deployment of resources and staff, the hashing out of policy positions — are made in private rooms filled with white, self-assured hotshots.
Why the rant?
History teaches that black and brown voter loyalty is taken for granted: voters who represent only a means to an end. The objective of all the preelection courting is to convert as many minorities to a white contender’s camp as possible. Little more than that. Even Republicans try it — witness President Trump’s State of the Union message. Lucky for Democrats, the GOP remains so much worse at it than they are.
And so, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Biden, Sanders and Bloomberg will keep dropping in on black churches, making drive-by appearances with hip-hop artists, yukking it up on black radio and TV stations, and slipping in as many slang expressions as time will allow, while looking for any and all chances to get noticed downing those collard greens. (And use your cornbread to soak up some of that pot likker. That’s the best part.)
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.