Pete Buttigieg to Visit Black Church Whose Pastor Said, ‘President of This Country Is Racist’

Democratic presidential candidate, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg prepares to exit a church pew during Sunday service at the Kenneth Moore Transformation Center October 27, 2019 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Many presidential hopefuls campaigned in the early primary state over the weekend, scheduling stops around a criminal justice …
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg will visit a black church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, on Sunday, attempting to improve his support with that early primary state’s black community. North Carolina will be part of the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, just four days after neighboring South Carolina holds its primary on February 29.

The influential and highly partisan William Barber II, a compelling orator and founder of Moral Mondays as well as a group called Repairers of the Breach, is the leader of the church in Goldsboro that Buttigieg will be attending.

Last week, for instance, Barber attacked President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling them both racists:

“There is no question that the president of this country is racist,” Barber wrote in an article published last week at Medium:

His outbursts on social media illustrate that clearly, as do his policies at the border, attempts to end Medicaid expansion, Medicaid work requirements, travel bans, restriction of SNAP benefits, refusal to embrace living wages and judicial appointees. All of these policy positions have a disparate impact on people of color and poor and low wealth people, thereby hurting America and the promise to establish justice. However, anti-racists in this country have a bigger challenge than Trump, and that is his right-hand man, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. By not speaking out against the president’s racist rhetoric and policies and by consistently pursuing an extreme legislative agenda, McConnell is bolstering Trump’s white nationalism and must also be named as a racist.

Barber has a more welcoming message for Buttigieg.

“Barber wrote in a tweet that Greenleaf Christian Church, where he is senior pastor, is happy to welcome Buttigieg and “anyone else who wants to worship the God of love & justice.” He also shared a video of the announcement he made during that day’s church service,” the Charlotte Observer reported:

Barber told the congregation that presidential candidates often ask him if they can come by, and he said “the church is open to everybody. You can come. You can always come and worship. I wish Trump would come. I’d love to preach with him sitting right there, yes I would.”

Barber said Buttigieg asked to come but won’t speak during the service. Instead, since he missed an event Barber’s group Repairers of the Breach held about poverty that other Democratic candidates attended, they’ll discuss poverty on Dec. 1 after the service.

Buttigieg, the gay 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has struggled to secure support from black voters, despite his strong showing in recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Black voters are expected to account for an estimated two-thirds of votes cast in the February 29 Democrat primary in South Carolina, while the percentage of black voters in the Democrat caucuses in Iowa and Democrat primary in New Hampshire barely reaches single digits.

A poll of South Carolina Democrat primary voters released in October showed that Buttigieg has no support among that state’s black voters.

Buttigieg’s visit to Barber’s church comes at a time when his campaign is struggling to secure support within the black community.

On Monday, a writer at The Root criticized comments Buttigieg made in 2011 about education in minority neighborhoods, highlighting the political problems he has with the black community.

Michael Harriot referenced an obscure 2011 video in which Buttigieg said, “There are a lot of kids, especially in the lower income minority neighborhoods who literally just haven’t seen it [education] work. There isn’t somebody they know personally who testifies to the value of education,” which formed the basis for a highly critical article.

Buttigieg, then 29, made the comments during an interview that aired on South Bend, Indiana, public television station WNIT’s program Politically Speaking in November 2011 during his successful campaign for mayor in that city.

Buttigieg, the Democratic mayoral candidate, appeared on the program with Republican candidate Wayne Curry and Libertarian candidate Pat Farrell.

“Does there need to be an attitude adjustment in our schools so that students that we have are better motivated to learn?” moderator James Wensits asked the three.

“The kids need to see evidence that education’s going to work for them,” Buttigieg said in his response.

Buttigieg continued:

You’re motivated because you believe 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 in 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.

Although Buttigieg’s comments were not viewed as particularly controversial by either the moderator or the other two candidates at the time, Harriot took strong exception to Buttigieg’s 2011 comments in the article published at The Root on Monday.

In an expletive-filled essay, Harriot asserted that Buttigieg “knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie”:

Majority-minority schools receive $23 billion less in funding than majority-white schools, according to a recent study by EdBuild. Black students in Indiana, the state where Buttigieg serves as mayor, and across the country, are disciplined more harshly than white students. But even though Buttigieg has never attended a school with more than 10 percent black students, he thinks he knows what’s stopping black kids from achieving their educational dreams.

Apparently, it’s not the fact that the unemployment rate for black college graduates is twice as high as the unemployment rate for white grads. Black college graduates are paid 80 cents for every dollar a white person with the same education earns. White people leave college with lower debt and higher earnings. White kids get more resources, more advanced classes and have access to more technology. But Pete says it could all be solved with a vision-board.

Buttigieg easily won the November 8, 2011, election to become one of the youngest mayors in the country and the second youngest mayor ever in the city with just over 100,000 residents, winning 74 percent of the vote.

Watch the full interview below. Buttigieg’s answer begins at the 27:30 mark:


Buttigieg’s comments, Harriot argued in his article, “proves 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.”

“Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want to change anything. He just wants to be something,” Harriot added:

This is not just a lie of omission, it is a dangerous precedent. 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. 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.

On Tuesday, Buttigieg called Harriot to discuss the article. Harriot reported a portion of what they discussed:

Pete Buttigieg didn’t want to tell me his side of the story. He didn’t excuse himself by explaining that the comments referenced by the article were made years ago. He didn’t even try to explain his plan for black America.

“I think the context was important, especially the fact that it was before I took office,” Buttigieg said.

But mostly, he just wanted to listen.

For 18 minutes and 45 seconds, we talked about educational inequality, poverty and institutional racism in America and how to fix it.

“Every study and data point shows that racism is baked into the education system,” I explained. “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.”

Buttigieg’s dust-up with Harriot is unlikely to change black voters’ attitudes toward Buttigieg, as Harriot noted on Tuesday:

And, as I told the mayor, the 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. 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. I am not smart or prescient enough to tell the difference.

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.

Unless, of course, he wants to fight.

The Buttigieg campaign is hoping Sunday’s visit to William Barber II’s church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, will fare better than his exchange with Harriot.


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