November 30, 2019

Last week, Michael Harriot (senior writer at The Root) wrote a devastating takedown of Mayor Pete Buttigieg's outlook on race, as evidenced by comments he made in a 2011 roundtable consisting of himself and three older white men. In that roundtable, the men discussed what they considered problems in Black communities as stemming from a lack of positive Black role models, combined with a shortage of evidence that education would work for them.

Even if you look at this interpretation in a generous light, it's a lie. Even if you want to cape for Buttigieg, and say, "Well, he was SYMPATHIZING with the fact that no matter how hard Black kids work, they're still being discriminated against when they graduate! The trope that Black communities don't have reason to value education is a lie. The fact that they DON'T value education is a lie. And not only did Harriot lay waste to that lie in his viral piece, "Pete Buttigieg is a Lying MF," the article prompted a call from the Mayor himself, and a follow-up piece from Harriot that continued to pull no punches.

Harriot was interviewed in person by the venerable Joy Reid, and destroyed that trope even further.

REID: Let's talk about the piece that you wrote that went everywhere. I got texted by about 400 people. Here's a little piece of it. And you said, "This is why institutional inequality persists, not because of white hoods and racial slurs, it's because this insidious double talk erases the problem by camouflaging it, because it's painted in a problem of black lethargy and not white apathy. Pete Buttigieg is standing over a dying man, holding the oxygen machine in his hand and telling everyone, 'Nah, he doesn't need CPR, he's just holding his breath.' Negligent homicide is still homicide." It was a scathing article. What happened when the mayor called you?

HARRIOT: Well, so, some of his surrogates reached out to me and asked if I was open to having a conversation. I said yes. And he called me. First thing he said was, "Well, this is the first time I've ever been called a lying MFer," so that, you know, set the tone for the conversation, which mostly consisted of kind of, to be honest, me ranting and him trying to fit a word in in explaining. But I think we came to a conclusion that, you know, we can't discuss these kinds of disparities without mentioning racism and institutional inequality, because to be honest, everyone in this race, and especially someone as educated as Pete Buttigieg, knows why these problems exist. And so, the fear of black voters is that when they get into these annals of power and they get into these rooms and they'll start talking about fixing the education problem in America, this is what will happen. They'll say, well, you know, they need some role models, or maybe they just need some, you know, some after-school programs, when we know it's a problem of institutional inequality that fits into the history of racism in America.

They both gave Mayor Buttigieg props for reaching out to Harriot, and for listening. Still, it's heartbreaking to hear about the struggles of how Black people are dismissed even once they reach the halls of power, with the wave of a white hand and the offer of an after-school program here and there. Then Reid brought up the inevitable defense of the mayor's remarks by a writer in The Atlantic, who wondered if perhaps Harriot had taken them out of context. Because, of course white people will leap to the Mayor's defense, despite the fact that Harriot spelled out that he'd watched the entire hour-long roundtable and understood very well the context of Buttigieg's remarks.

REID: Let me read you what the sort of, you know, kind of rebuttal to that was for John McWharter. We've had him on the show a couple of times. John wrote for The Atlantic, called it "The Woke Attack on Pete Buttigieg." "Harriot is assuming that Pete Buttigieg must have meant that the lack of role models is due simply to some pathology among black people, when actually, almost anyone who publicly talks of role models in this way intends, via implication, that the lack of role models is due to larger societal factors." What do you make of that critique of what you wrote?

HARRIOT: Well, first of all, the reason I called it a lie is because there are no lack of role models in Black communities. Black women are the most educated group of individuals in America, right? So, in Black communities, I would assume that there are Black women present who are raising these kids. And so, how could there be a lack of role models? And if you talk to anyone, any Black child who grew up in these communities, they'll tell you they've seen -- first of all, if they go to school, they have teachers, and there are people in Black communities, there are preachers, there are people who live in Black communities because, unlike white communities, Black communities aren't as homogenous. There's teachers who live next to garbage men, who live next door to people who work at McDonald's, because that is the way redlining worked for most of the history of this country. So first of all, that's a lie. I mean, I don't know what else to call it.

And the other thing is, right, when we attack these problems, right -- and if you even mention the lack of role models before you get to the 54 other things that precede that, that are more important than lack of role models -- we talk about school funding. We know that poor white -- poor white children get $1,500 on average per student more than poor Black students, right, than the average black student. So, we know that black schools are underfunded. We know that the way that schools are funded in America is based on community wealth, which is insane to me, right? So, to not even address these factors and talk about role models, even if you think that there is a little truth to that, is in and of itself a malpractice, if not an outright lie.

How can you argue with that? Statistics back him up. Facts back him up. How can any white person cite a lack of role models when there are Black teachers, nurses, clergy members all around them? How do you cite a lack of role models without citing all the barriers white America has erected to Black success without perpetuating a de facto lie?

Then, Reid and Harriot combine forces to blast Buttigieg's comments into oblivion, where they belong.

REID: I guess when I saw the clip of him, the thing I thought about was that when he said it, I believe that the President of the United States was a Black man named Barack Obama. I mean, every Black child on earth had a role model, excuse me, literally sitting in the White House at the time.

HARRIOT: We've seen the biggest Black role model in America, which is Barack Obama. So, that narrative couldn't exist. That was in 2011 when Pete Buttigieg made these comments, so Barack Obama -- he was president then. So I don't understand where that came from.

Except we do. We understand exactly where that came from.

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