On Monday, conservatives piled upon Secretary of Transportation (and former presidential candidate) Pete Buttigieg for saying something that sounded, on its face, completely strange: He claimed that some roads in America were racist. His comments were, naturally, taken out of context, and he admittedly wasn’t speaking as clearly as he should have been. But the thing is: Buttigieg was completely right. He was referring to certain parkways in the New York City metro area that, when they were designed in the first half of the 20th century, were made to block transportation to low-income and non-white people. But that didn’t stop conspiracy theorist and dangerous zealot Tucker Carlson, from trying to own him with some ahistorical jabs.
Transportation @SecretaryPete: " If an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach, […] in New York was designed too low for it to pass by, that that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices." pic.twitter.com/0XWkDZehYM
— The Hill (@thehill) November 8, 2021
Buttigieg’s comments came during a press conference, where Grio reporter April Ryan asked him how he and his team planned to “deconstruct the racism that was built into the roadways.”
Ryan didn’t specify what she was talking about, but Buttigieg picked up on it right away:
“I’m still surprised that some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids to a beach—or it would have been—in New York, was designed too low for it to pass by, that that obviously reflects racism that went into those design choices … I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality.”
Buttigieg didn’t go into specifics, either, but while the GOP was making hay over his purportedly bizarre comments, others in the know caught on, too. He was referring to something made famous in The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, journalist Robert Caro’s seminal biography about the “master builder” of New York City. Published to great acclaim (and a Pulitzer) in 1974, the epic tome paints the notorious public servant (who was really an unelected despot-of-sorts) as an idealist who soured into a petty, bigoted monster who doomed his city, particularly its low income residents, to a special kind of hell.
Moses did do a lot for New York City. As park commissioner (one of 12 positions he held over his decades-long tenure), he built numerous beautiful parks, as well as beaches that stretch across the south of Long Island. He just didn’t want the poor or non-white to go to them. Had he simply made fares and tolls high, that wouldn’t have been enough. Fares and tolls could be lowered later, and the people Moses hated could one day travel freely to his precious property. So he came up with something closer to permanent: He built roads with bridges too low to carry buses, which would have been used by the city’s cash-strapped, including much of the city’s Black population.
This quote is being mocked by some large-following people on the right, but it's straight from The Power Broker, the famed book on Robert Moses. https://t.co/ihxFC8T6Lm https://t.co/1RhOyJapBq pic.twitter.com/mbXZ6I15xe
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) November 8, 2021
So Buttigieg was right — he just didn’t speak as clearly as he could have, explaining to those not in the know that he was referring to one of countless harrowing details in a famous doorstop.
But sure enough, Tucker spent part of his show mocking Buttigieg for saying something that was historically accurate.
Inanimate objects, like roads, can't be racist. That seems obvious, though apparently Pete Buttigieg doesn't know this. pic.twitter.com/XabGgEa8jx
— Tucker Carlson (@TuckerCarlson) November 9, 2021
After referring to people who know history and may have even read a book that runs over 1200 pages “the dumbest people in the world,” he insisted that “roads can’t be racist,” because they’re “inanimate objects.” (Like nooses.) And he played dumb for his audience, knowing they’d like it.
“Here we have news, according to the Department of Transportation secretary, overpasses in New York were designed to keep buses of Black and Puerto Rican kids from getting to the beach,” Carlson told his audience. “And here’s the amazing part, those very same overpasses somehow allowed buses full of white kids to get through. How does that work?!”
It works in that it also targeted low-income white people, but Carlson was on a roll, saying that “thank heaven he’s got a trillion dollars to get to the bottom of the racist road problem.” He then let out his signature high-pitched laugh.
Then again, what do you expect from someone who slams Critical Race Theory even though he admits he doesn’t understand it? For everyone else, you can always crack open a book.
(Via The Daily Beast)