Beto O’Rourke has the saddest story of the 2020 campaign thus far. After nearly beating Ted Cruz for his Senate seat in the midterms, the buzz around O’Rourke and his fledgling presidential campaign was palpable... until it wasn’t.
Now, O’Rourke is stuck at the bottom of the polls, and after a disappointing showing at the first debates, will do anything to get the spotlight back. We wouldn’t have guessed that would include admitting that both he and his wife are the descendants of slaveholders... but here we are.
“I was recently given documents showing that both Amy and I are descended from people who owned slaves,” the post begins bluntly.
O’Rourke goes on to say that the two slaves owned by his great-great-great grandfather were women named Rose and Eliza.
Ownership of other human beings conferred advantages not just to Andrew Jasper and Frederick Williams, but to Jasper’s and Williams’ descendants as well. They were able to build wealth on the backs and off the sweat of others, wealth that they would then be able to pass down to their children and their children’s children. In some way, and in some form, that advantage would pass through to me and my children. [...]
In the aggregate, slavery, its legacy and the ensuing forms of institutionalized racism have produced an America with stark differences in opportunities and outcomes, depending on race.
It’s true that the privilege and wealth of O’Rourke and his wife’s ancestors has been passed down through the generations, and it’s perhaps even noble for him to acknowledge that. America is very much still living in the shadow of chattel slavery and segregation. But pointing that out sure an odd pitch as a dude running for president. Vote for me, the guy who has generational wealth!
“I benefit from a system that my ancestors built to favor themselves at the expense of others,” O’Rourke writes. “That only increases the urgency I feel to help change this country so that it works for those who have been locked-out of—or locked-up in—this system.”
O’Rourke goes on to list the policies he’d support as president to address racial inequality, including universal healthcare, funding majority-minority public schools, criminal justice reform, and supporting reparations.
That all sounds good. But if your only argument for your candidacy is that you understand the oppression of people of color, why would we choose a white guy who says he really gets it to enact these policies over, you know, an actual person of color???
O’Rourke is proposing many of the same policies supported by candidates like Cory Booker or Kamala Harris. Outright admitting he’s the descendant of slaveowners is a bit of a curveball, but if the only substantive difference between O’Rourke and his competitors is that he’s white, saying “I understand the history of racism” might not be the selling point he thinks it is.