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Good on Pete Buttigieg for calling out America’s racist roads

The transportation secretary was right to criticize America’s racist infrastructure policies — even as it riled up some willfully ignorant conservatives.

Conservatives had a conniption Monday over Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s acknowledgment that racism has historically played a role in the layout of America’s cities. 

Buttigieg was asked during a news conference how the administration plans to counteract racist urban planning that has included highways that cut through Black and brown communities, poorly maintained roads and streets with no sidewalks

“I’m still surprised that some people are surprised,” Buttigieg said Monday about objections to comments he made in April calling out racist infrastructure policies. “I don’t think we have anything to lose by confronting that reality.”

As he’s done in the past, Buttigieg cited the racist city planner Robert Moses as an example of the scourge he was referencing. Moses held several public offices in New York throughout much of the 20th century, and he deliberately enacted policy that forced out Black and brown people from white neighborhoods. 

It’s no surprise Republicans — many of whom support efforts to whitewash history — threw a tantrum over Buttigieg’s acceptance that racism exists. 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pledged to address the historically racist urban planning of America's cities. Justine Goode / Getty

“The roads are racist,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted. “We must get rid of roads.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican, chimed in as well. 

“I heard some stuff, some weird stuff from the secretary of transportation trying to make this about social issues,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “To me, a road’s a road.” 

They weren’t the only ones.

Republicans do this thing where they try to get you to second-guess things you feel and observe. The belief is that if they scoff enough at something — racism or a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, for example — they’ll shame you out of believing it happened. But unfortunately for them, they can’t mock the truth away. 

American cities have been built in ways that disfavor Black and brown people. That disparity has often been perpetuated by governments — local and federal — and those same institutions bear responsibility for fixing the communities they’ve broken. 

Don’t let Republican denial fool you: Infrastructure inequality has been discussed for several years, and there have been talks about solutions for just as long. 

Buttigieg on Monday discussed the Biden administration’s “Justice40” initiative, a promise to put 40 percent of the government’s climate and clean energy investments toward communities that are overburdened and underserved. He also mentioned the administration’s $1 billion “Reconnecting Communities” program, which seeks to serve communities that have been harmed by highways cutting through them. 

Look, for people like Cruz and DeSantis, there’s even this fun piece from Curbed — chock-full of pictures — that reimagines public spaces and roads in a more equitable way.

At this point, anyone denying the racism embedded in America’s infrastructure is being willfully ignorant. And the country can’t afford to wait on them to act. That’s a wait America’s roads can’t bear.

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