South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) called The Root writer Michael Harriot this week after an op-ed Harriot wrote about the presidential candidate’s past comments on minorities and education went viral online.
In the viral opinion piece, which is titled “Pete Buttigieg Is a Lying MF,” Harriot took aim at comments Buttigieg made in 2011 that recently resurfaced.
The remarks came during a televised discussion Buttigieg participated in during his campaign for local office at the time, according to CNN. In one clip of his comments that has been making the rounds online, Buttigieg says that children “need to see evidence that education is going to work for them.”
“You’re motivated because you believe that at the end of your educational process, there’s a reward, there’s a stable life, there’s a job, and there are a lot of kids, especially the lower-income, minority neighborhoods, who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t somebody they know personally who testifies to the value of education,” Buttigieg, a leading 2020 Democratic candidate, continued in the clip.
Harriot wrote that the mayor’s comments prove “men like him are more willing to perpetuate the fantastic narrative of negro neighborhoods needing more role models and briefcase-carriers than make the people in power stare into the sun and see the blinding light of racism.”
“This is why institutional inequality persists,” he wrote. “Not because of white hoods and racial slurs. It is because this insidious double-talk erases the problem by camouflaging it. Because it is painted as a problem of black lethargy and not white apathy.”
The op-ed sparked viral reactions from many social media users and prompted the phrase “Pete Buttigieg Is a Lying MF” to trend on Twitter.
I have had to redraft this tweet 3x because #MayorPete well-meaning ignorance is so upsetting. I went to an all Black elementary school. Underfunded & all that. The problem isn’t with us. Its with people who think it is. https://t.co/e2JI64R59U
— Maya Wiley (@mayawiley) November 26, 2019
This is powerful writing that I encourage everyone—most especially white Americans—to read.
— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@TheRaDR) November 26, 2019
“Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want to change anything. He just wants to be something.”
— brittany packnett cunningham (@MsPackyetti) November 26, 2019
This is a remarkable essay. If you’re a Buttigieg supporter, I would encourage you to read this for the feedback. As white Americans, our lazy misperceptions of communities of color result in negligence, erasure, and violence.
Pete Buttigieg Is a Lying MF https://t.co/6EWmgd8vyK
— Charlotte Clymer️ (@cmclymer) November 26, 2019
In response to some of the backlash generated from his past comments, Buttigieg told CNN later on Tuesday, “What I said in that comment before I became mayor does not reflect the totality of my understanding then, and certainly now, about the obstacles that students of color face in our system today.”
He also said he reached out to Harriot afterward, telling the network that while he thinks that “some of the characterization of me personally is unfair,” he understands “the concern.”
In his conversation with Harriot, Buttigieg said the author “went into a lot more depth about, I think, the concern of this perspective that makes it sound like, you know, it’s all the fault of students of color or somehow, their families … when the reality is there are so many barriers that our systems put up.”
Harriot also wrote about the call in a piece published later on Tuesday. In the roughly 18-minute call, he and Buttigieg discussed educational inequality in the country, among other issues, he said.
“We have to disabuse ourselves from the notion that the problem with educational inequality is because of an esoteric lack of support,” Harriot said he explained to Buttigieg in the call. “That’s a lie. And a man as educated as yourself knows it’s a lie. And to regurgitate that narrative publicly is not just dangerous, it is malpractice.”
Buttigieg reportedly said in the call that he thinks “there are some ways to attack these issues with policies that might solve these issues, but would certainly help.”
“But do you disagree with the point I was making?” he also reportedly asked Harriot in the call. “Sometimes children don’t get to see the possibilities. Do you think the lack of positive examples of educational success can lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the system?”
“No…well, yes,” Harriot said he responded. “But the lack of confidence doesn’t have anything to do with role models or support from parents, it’s because the shit is true!”
“Every study and data point shows that racism is baked into the education system,” he also recalled telling Buttigieg in the call. “If your goal was to fix the problems in America’s schools, why would you even mention ‘confidence?’ A president can’t fix confidence. And you can’t say: ‘Black kids don’t have confidence in the system’ without pointing out all of the reasons they shouldn’t have confidence in the system.”
Later in his piece, Harriot said that he told the mayor that his initial “article wasn’t meant to inspire outrage.”
“Its purpose was to make a necessary point about black voters and real issues. There is no way that I can know if he is genuinely interested in engaging black voters, attacking discrimination or crossing the racial divide,” he wrote. “There are an infinite number of candidates who have waded into black barbershops or sashayed into black pulpits to assure us that they were on our side when they were only interested in our vote.”
“The only thing I actually know about Pete Buttigieg is that he is a white man. But Pete Buttigieg listened, which is all you can ask a white man to do,” he added.
The backlash over Buttigieg’s comments comes as a number of polls have consistently shown the mayor struggling to gain support among black voters, with some polls placing his support from the voting bloc at zero percent.