So, this happened…
An op-ed titled “Pete Buttigieg is a lying MF,” penned by Michael Harriot for The Root on Monday, took Democratic presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg to task for remarks he made in 2011 during his first run for mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
In a video clip which recently resurfaced, Buttigieg said:
“Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them. You’re motivated because you believe that at the end of your education, there is a reward; there’s a stable life; there’s a job. And there are a lot of kids—especially [in] the lower-income, minority neighborhoods, who literally just haven’t seen it work. There isn’t someone who they know personally who testifies to the value of education.”
“Kids” from “lower income, minority neighborhoods” don’t have “someone they know personally who testifies to the value of education.” – Pete Buttigieg, 2011 South Bend Mayoral Candidate #MayorPete #PeteForAmerica #Pete2020 #Buttigieg2020 #Buttigieg pic.twitter.com/sd1bZDLoG8
— Resist Programming 🛰 (@RzstProgramming) November 24, 2019
In his essay, Harriot took offense that Buttigieg didn’t point out inequalities in the U.S. education system which stacks the deck against low-income students of color in terms of funding and post-college employment opportunities.
Harriot used a story from his childhood about having to jump a wide ditch in order to get to the one high school in his town from what he described as ‘the bad section of town.’
He contrasted himself with Buttigieg who was able to attend better schools because, being white, “he didn’t have to jump a ditch.”
In reference to the brief 2011 remarks by Buttigieg, Harriot wrote, “This is why institutional inequality persists. 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.”
He goes on to say Buttigieg didn’t “misunderstand” or “misstate” the issue. Instead, he called the mayor a lying motherf*ck*r” and characterized Buttigieg’s comment as knowing he had stated “a baldfaced lie.”
It would be simplistic to try and summarize the full op-ed here, but I encourage people to read it for themselves to form their own opinion about the charges leveled by Harriot.
It is worth pointing out, however, that Harriot takes over 1,100 words to express what he felt Buttigieg should have said in less than a minute during that 2011 television roundtable discussion with three other people.
There were many ways to react to the scathing op-ed. The mayor could have dodged the issue; he could have ‘put out a statement’ and hoped it would pass; he could have fires off an angry tweet.
in a moment of grace, Buttigieg picked up the phone and called the author of the essay. And he listened.
In a follow-up piece, Harriot reports Mayor Pete opened the conversation saying, “I don’t think I’ve ever been called a ‘lying motherf*ck*r’ before.”
During the chat, it appears the two were able to find some common ground or agreement on the issue of institutional racism in education.
“I conceded that the problems with institutional racism are so complex and go back so far that I’m not sure that anyone—a mayor, a governor or even a president—could fix them,” wrote Harriot. “Buttigieg, however, insisted that there are some things that people in power could do to make things more equal, a point I actually agreed with.”
Harriot shares that Buttigieg asked him if he disagreed with the point he had been trying to make back in 2011, that “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?” asked the mayor.
Harriot’s answer was both yes and no, saying, “The lack of confidence [in the system] doesn’t have anything to do with role models or support from parents, it’s because the shit is true!”
The writer concluded saying he felt for Buttigieg to reach out one-on-one was “brave and it symbolizes that he is willing to engage with people and voters on this issue.”
“I didn’t think that Pete Buttigieg was going to dismiss or ignore black voters,” he added. “But I think that in an effort to remain moderate, some candidates don’t want to be as confrontational about these necessary issues, because it does ostracize some voters.”
Harriot says his initial op-ed “wasn’t meant to inspire outrage” but rather “to make a necessary point about black voters and real issues.”
Near the end of the second article, Harriot writes, “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.”
In reading the follow-up piece, it sounds like the two had a productive talk.
Later, during a campaign stop in Iowa, Buttigieg told reporters about the 2011 remark, “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.”
The mayor went on to say his point of the remark was to underscore “the need for mentorship and the need for career pathways.”
“The problem is to the extent that that feels like it’s validating a narrative that sometimes blames the victim for the consequences of systemic racism, I understand why he [Harriot] was upset and I understand the perspective and largely agree,” he added.
In that I’ve listed this as an opinion piece, some thoughts I had watching this all unfold over the course of 24 hours:
Buttigieg’s difficulties in attracting black voters’ support have been widely reported and discussed. In the last Democratic debate, Buttigieg acknowledged the struggle saying he welcomes “the challenge.”
There were several ways the mayor could have responded to the op-ed and ensuing kerfuffle. The path he chose was to reach out directly to the person who raised the issues and, as Harriot writes, “listened.” I think that shows an openness to learning.
Reading Harriot’s first essay, it seemed to present the 2011 remark as the entirety of his thoughts on the subject. But as I mentioned earlier, the comment took place during a television roundtable with three others early in his political career.
Besides having a limited amount of time to expound on a very complex issue, he was fairly new to the idea of encapsulating sophisticated answers in a 60-second window. I’m not sure how much nuance you can include in that opportunity.
While I won’t even pretend to have the answers to solving the inequalities in education in the U.S., I do think role models and mentors are a good thing. Minority professional associations exist in great part for that reason.
And speaking of nuance, reading the enormous amount of comments on social media it was clear that some folks were chiming in after glancing at a headline without bothering to read either of the essays by Harriot. In today’s heated political environment, I urge people to actually read what it is being discussed. To do otherwise perpetuates vague opinions without knowing the facts.
I have no favorite in the current presidential cycle other than ‘voting blue no matter who.’ At this point in time, I see strong qualities in many of the leading Democratic contenders including (in no particular order) Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Bernie Sanders, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Buttigieg.
And we’re a long way from Election Day on November 3, 2020. Over the next 11 months, I think it’s important that in the process of choosing the Democratic nominee we don’t participate in a circular firing squad. My stance is if you think your choice is best, how about extolling their strengths rather than tearing down the other guy.
In light of the U.S. intelligence community’s certainty that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in part by sowing and supporting discord among American voters, yelling at each other only falls into the trap.
We can all have an opinion about who’s the best choice to become the next president, and lord knows I love people with opinions.
I think we all knew this could be a rough primary season. Here’s hoping candidates and their supporters can participate in our democratic process with civility and an ear for listening.
All of the candidates have their own experiences, skill sets, talents, and intelligence.
Other than Biden, whose years as veep give him at least some insight to the realities of responding to world calamities, everyone who sits in the Oval Office begins with some kind of learning curve. How a person handles a learning curve is important.
In this situation, Buttigieg chose to lean in, ask questions, and listen.
I think that’s a good thing.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of Instinct Magazine or its contributors.