A White House press briefing ignited a snark-filled social media debate when a reporter asked Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about racism “built into” roads and how it could be deconstructed.
Buttigieg was fielding questions about the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was passed by Congress last week when April D. Ryan, a White House correspondent for theGrio, was called on.
“And also, can you give us the construct of how you will deconstruct the racism that was built into the roadways,” she asked Buttigieg and referenced a previous article from theGrio on the topic. “Can you talk to us about how that could be deconstructed?
Buttigieg had previously said racism was “physically built” into highways.
“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 that 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,” Buttigieg responded.
“I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that simple reality,” he added. “And I think we have everything to gain by acknowledging it and then dealing with it, which is why the Reconnecting Communities — that billion dollars — is something we want to get to work right away putting to work.”
The exchange was met with scorn by conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
“The roads are racist,” he tweeted. “We must get rid of roads.”
“You see, we Hispanics are very, very tall, and we need rich, woke Dems to raise the bridges for us,” he said in a followup tweet. “Without Pete’s condescending help, there’s no way we can get to the beach.”
Radio host Chris Krok also weighed in, saying “Can’t you just FEEL the racism when you drive on some of these roads? I know I can.”
Others said the critics were oversimplifying the issue, with many linking the discussion to Robert Caro’s book “The Power Broker,” which outlines New York City master builder Robert Moses’ alleged orders to build bridges low to prevent easy travel to and from Long Island beaches.
“I read The Power Broker years ago and still get mad at Moses every time I drive through NYC,” one user wrote. “Some of the damage may never be undone. And for those questioning – Moses relentlessly targeted POC. Multiple examples in the book.”
“A lot of America’s highways were built during the height of segregation,” comedian Wyatt Cenac said in response to the video clip posted by The Hill. “so the ‘surprising’ thing would be if this was the one area where white people were like, ‘you know what, we can’t build a highway around all these [insert slur]. That would be rude.’ ”
Pressed about the deconstruction issue, Buttigieg said at the briefing the approach would “vary by community” and wouldn’t be one size fits all.
“Sometimes it really is the case that an overpass went in a certain way that is so harmful that it’s got to come down or maybe be put underground,” he said.
Other times the answer may be to add rather than subtract, he said.