A video from 2011 of Mayor Pete Buttigieg saying that many minority children and people from low-income neighborhoods haven’t seen people who value education resurfaced on Twitter Sunday (November 24).
“Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them,” Buttigieg said eight years ago, during a televised roundtable discussion when he was running for mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “You see a lot of parts of town where...”
“That's part of the motivation,” another participant responded.
“Yeah. 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,” Buttigieg said. “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.”
In response, people on social media were pretty furious. It spurred an op-ed in The Root that pointed out the idea that people simply need to “see it to believe it” effectively ignores plenty of the roadblocks people in “lower-income, minority neighborhoods” face while getting an education, including lower school funding and harsher discipline in classes. It also doesn’t take into account the disadvantages Black people and other people of color can experience after they receive that education, including a higher unemployment rate after graduating college and earning less money than their white peers.
The clip resurfaced after it came to light that Buttigieg’s team had used a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to illustrate the candidate’s plan meant to empower Black American voters, called the Douglass Plan after abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The team has since apologized and removed the image from the Pete for America website.
When MTV News reached out to Buttigieg’s team for comment, they directed us to comments the candidate gave to press on Tuesday (November 26), in which he said that he spoke to Michael Harriot, the writer of The Root story. (As of publish time, Harriot has not spoken publicly about such a conversation.)
“I reached out to the author and while obviously I think that some of the characterization of me personally is unfair, I do understand the concern,” Buttigieg said. “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 added: “I wanted to make sure I communicated that I'm very conscious of the advantages and privileges that I have had, not through any great wealth, but certainly through education, through the advantages that come with being white and being male, and that's part of why I know I've got to make myself useful as a candidate and as president.”
On Twitter, Buttigieg’s rapid response researcher Rodericka Applewhaite argued that visceral online reaction to a decades-old clip is harsh and could potentially be misconstruing what Buttigieg was saying. She pointed to Buttigieg’s plan that would “put more teachers of color in more classrooms around the country.”
But the public reaction is also a reminder of how poorly Buttigieg is doing to draw in Black voters especially. Take South Carolina: It’s the first Southern state to hold a presidential primary, and a Quinnipiac University poll found Buttigieg at 0 percent with Black voters in the state. Buttigieg only has six endorsements from current of former Black or Latinx elected officials, compared to former Vice President Joe Biden who has 154, Senator Bernie Sanders who has 91, and Senator Elizabeth Warren who has 43, according to the New York Times. Moreover, according to the Times, no Democrat in modern history has ever won a presidential election — let alone the party’s nomination — without a majority of Black voters.
And at the fifth Democratic primary debate in Atlanta, Georgia, last Wednesday, Buttigieg pivoted from discussing the ways the Democratic party has undermined and undervalued Black women voters. “While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate,” he said, referring to his own experience as a gay man. Senator Kamala Harris later called him out for conflating and comparing oppressions; Buttigieg has stood by what he calls “my sources of motivation and ensuring that I stand up for others.”