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Beto O’Rourke and the Privilege of Public Rage

His cathartic reactions to the mass shootings and the subsequent praise demonstrate a power that female politicians do not have

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty

BBeto O’Rourke is angry. Actually, Beto O’Rourke is pissed off. As a Texan and native El Pasoan his state has been at the center of the last two mass shootings. When asked by a reporter following the El Paso shooting in early August, “What can the president do to make things better?” Beto showed he’d had enough. His response made headlines: “What do you think? You know the shit he has been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the f — k?”

Beto’s rage was palpable and also safely wrapped in White male privilege.

The headlines that Beto has received since his initial reporter pushback and then following yet another shooting in Texas — this time in Midland and Odessa, have been mostly positive with the Statesman going so far as to call his F-bombs “tactical deployment.” While dropping F-bombs at town halls and on cable news is usually not the norm, Beto is making clear that we are no longer living in normal times. “Not sure how many gunmen. Now sure how many people have been shot. Don’t know how many people have been killed, the condition of those that survived. Don’t know what the motivation is. Do not yet know the firearms that were used or how they acquired them. But we do know this is f — ked up,” O’Rourke said in the video. Beto is all of us — exasperated and outdone by the consistent inaction on gun reform and the rounds of “thoughts and prayers” from Republicans that refuse to do anything to make the country safe for all Americans and not just those with guns.

Beto’s rage was palpable and also safely wrapped in White male privilege.

PPolitico magazine wrote a column entitled “Can the F-Bomb Save Beto?” The question posed in this piece is center to the 2020 election and the handling of Trump in general: Should leaders confront the rawness and norm-shattering nature of President Donald Trump’s political style with something similar?” Part of this consistent and utterly frustrating narrative about “electability” is couched in which “man” will have the “chops” to match Trump.

Imagine, just for a moment, that Kamala Harris, the lone Black woman in the 2020 presidential race, reacted like Beto. There isn’t a Black woman that you can ask if she has ever been labeled as angry in her work environment, school, etc. and the response be a “no” by the majority of women asked. Black people are seen as aggressive and a problem to be “fixed” at the jump. It’s why we can watch countless videos of White criminal aggressors and murderers being handled with kid gloves by the police and yet unarmed Black people are gunned down at an alarming rate. So, while we can all feel Beto’s rage and understand the merits of his arguments and questions hurled back at reporters we know all too well that neither Kamala Harris or even Elizabeth Warren could act this way without taking a major hit in the media and the polls for the matter.

This is entirely where the “electability” conversation stems from. The treatment of Hillary Clinton in the press during the 2016 election scrutinized every hair, outfit choice, and word used by the secretary of state, all while letting Donald Trump spread his racist and xenophobic vitriol without so much as a pushback — “but her emails, right?”

The reality is that every single one of the top candidates are in fact “electable” and whether it be their policy acumen or their ability to seize the stage at a debate like Kamala Harris did, all of them could go to toe-to-toe with Trump. The real question is whether or not they can do so as full people or as caricatures of themselves. Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, and Al Gore all failed at the authenticity test and it became a part of the demise of their presidential dreams. Mitt Romney and Gore were considered too stiff and unable to really connect with the American people, while Hillary Clinton over the past 30 years of her political life was labeled as “hawkish”, “cold” and “unlikable.” Unfortunately for Democrats their base needs to like them or want to have a beer with them in order to turn out to vote for them.

Consequently, when you are both a woman and Black the bar is raised even higher. It will take the first woman candidate to say “no, I don’t bake f — king cookies” to begin to blaze that trail, but with more women than ever currently running for president and the third Black woman to take up the fight — maybe, just maybe, we are headed down the right path.

is the host of #WokeAF & #PMMood & co-host of the podcast #democracyish. She covers all the news and happenings at the intersection of politics and pop culture.

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