Even if you are a senior writer for The Root, lying about someone for clicks should be out of bounds.
First, a preface. I am not an expert on the issues facing majority-minority school districts. I will not be analyzing the nuances of that policy discussion, trying to determine the reasons why minority students in majority-minority school districts often underperform. I am not going to argue about role models, funding levels, property taxes, white flight, or segregation. I will not argue about whether the Buttigieg campaign has the best solution for the problems those schools and students face. These are all difficult discussions, full of nuance which is hard to contain within a single blog entry.
What I will explore are the ways that Michael Harriot, when he wrote his piece on Pete Buttigieg entitled “Pete Buttigieg is a lying MF,” acted with a reckless disregard for the truth, and the ways he continues to do so. I do not know his motives, but it is an indisputable fact that he has repeatedly lied about Mr. Buttigieg, and I will show you how.
Harriot is a respected writer on The Root, a publication known for giving a platform to African-Americans to discuss news and opinion from their perspectives. He is, in fact, a long-tenured, senior writer on that platform, and has been featured in publications such as Ebony, Medium, Yahoo, RealClearPolitics, The Atlanta Voice, among others. I say this to establish that Harriot is a serious person with a widely-followed platform who knows what he is doing. He is not a hack writing for a niche rag.
And he knew better.
Harriot opened his piece by referencing a 2011 interview, in which Buttigieg gave an objectionable answer to a question about minority school achievement, suggesting that much of the problem arose from a lack of positive role models. His entire article expounds from this quote, marked directly from his November 25 article, as follows (with Harriot’s commentary and emphasis preserved intact):
“‘Kids need to see evidence that education is going to work for them,’ Buttigieg explained whitely, when he was running for mayor in 2011. ‘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.'”
I am, again, not an expert on issues of education or segregation. I will not analyze then-candidate Pete’s words for accuracy or completeness. Whether he was correct or not is irrelevant to the thesis of this article. Harriot continues:
“This is not a misunderstanding. This is not a misstatement. Pete Buttigieg went to the best educational institutions America has to offer and he—more than anyone on the goddamned planet—knows that everything he just said is a baldfaced lie.”
The first thing I would like you to notice is the tense of Harriot’s statements. No, he is not making the claim that Pete Buttigieg was wrong in 2011 his central point. He is, instead, claiming that this 2011 interview means that Pete Buttigieg is currently a lying motherfucker. That he is currently denying other issues contributing to a lack of minority student achievement. Harriot continues:
“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.”
Mayor Pete’s bullshittery is not just wrong, it is proof.
It 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. Get-along moderates would rather make shit up out of whole cloth than wade into the waters of reality. Pete Buttigieg doesn’t want to change anything. He just wants to be something.
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.
Harriot has now made the following claims:
1) That Pete Buttigieg currently believes minority achievement gaps could be solved by his metaphorical “vision board” instead of correcting the cited funding and employment disparities.
2) That Pete Buttigieg not only was, in 2011, but is currently using an appeal to individual role models to distract from the systemic issues facing people of color as they progress through an unfair educational system.
3) That Pete Buttigieg not only was, in 2011, but is currently choosing to “make things up” rather than discuss the realities facing these communities.
These are factual claims. Claiming that Pete Buttigieg is shying away from analysis of the facts of minority disenfranchisement, of systemic racism within school districts, failing to offer any honest attempt at systemic solutions and instead appealing to individualized fixes, offloading responsibility from our largely-white political class onto the largely-black victims of apathy, this is not a matter of opinion. It is, instead, a matter of fact.
Harriot is, again, a wonderfully gifted writer. He is accomplished, and has risen to dizzying heights in his career off of the eloquence of his beautiful prose, and the difficult truths he often tells to people not wishing to hear or understand them. But that success raises expectations. It raises the expectation that he will check his work against reality. That he will verify his facts. That he will check to see if the subjects of his articles, who he is making factual claims about, currently resemble the people he is portraying them to be.
And, it raises the expectation that he will open up a search window in his laptop and Google the current policy positions of a political candidate he is writing about.
In 2011, Pete Buttigieg was nearly a political unknown. He had, in 2010, unsuccessfully run for state treasurer as a Democrat. In a red state, in the middle of the Tea Party’s rise, he was crushed. He had never held executive office, having a résumé consisting largely of consulting experience for McKinsey and academic accolades as a Rhodes scholar and a Harvard graduate. He had – as Harriot notes – primarily attended private educational institutions throughout his education, and simply did not have significant exposure to the public school system, let alone schools with a majority-minority population.
In 2019, Pete Buttigieg is a candidate for President. He has eight years of direct political experience under his belt as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana – a post-industrial community with sizable black and Hispanic populations, smack dab in the middle of the Rust Belt. While he did not oversee the local school district directly, mayors generally gain experience with all of the local issues of their communities. Would it make sense that this person would evolve in his experience, from a politically naive newcomer to the Presidential candidate most of us are familiar with?
Let’s find out. Does Pete Buttigieg currently advocate for “role models” as his primary solution for minority educational underachievement, the way Harriot’s quote makes his 2011 position out to be?
Pete’s archived issues page does not even mention a perception that minority students lack role models from their community. That is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact. The man known as Mayor Pete, at the time Harriot chose to call him a “lying MF” in his viral piece for failing to mention systemic issues plaguing minority educational achievement, does not talk about individual responsibility. He does not talk about a lack of role models, or a need for black elders to demonstrate to their children and grandchildren that school can be a pathway to success.
Instead, prior to any topical criticism on the subject, his campaign writes about nothing but systemic issues. I do not know, and cannot judge, whether his policy proposals capture the full scope of the problems facing members of the black community, and of other people of color, as they fight through an often segregated and even racist school system. But I can judge for myself that his proposals – which mention increasing funding for Title I schools (schools with large numbers of low-income students, which happen to have majority-minority student populations), providing incentives for people of color to seek a career in education, increases in funding for local STEM programs in majority-minority areas, and increases in funding for historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s), seem to any reasonable observer to be at the very least serious attempts at addressing some systemic issues facing minority school achievement.
This, a sub-section of his “Douglass Plan,” which seeks to address racial justice, cannot be described by any human being speaking with honesty as an attempt to “make shit up” rather than “wade into the waters of reality.” This information was publicly available as early as July, easily found by anyone with a search engine. Title I funding increases were even specifically mentioned in an answer during the August Democratic debate.
In short, Harriot knew, or should have known, that Buttigieg was making an attempt, at the time, to propose solutions to systemic problems within minority education. He chose intentionally to ignore that, just as he accused Mayor Pete of choosing intentionally to ignore the systemic issues he was actually attempting to address, in favor of his wish to write a factually dishonest hit piece.
But that’s not all. Harriot is still lying about the candidate.
Apart from claiming, somehow with a straight face, that he did not mean to inspire outrage (how do you start a reasonable discussion by calling someone a lying MF, again?), Harriot recently had Pete on a podcast by The Root, posting it with this lead-in:
He said it.
And all it took was an 8-year-old viral video clip, his campaign polling at zero percent among black voters and someone calling him a “lying motherfucker.”
Whether or not you believe a straight-laced, white, gay man from Indiana is serious when he says that white supremacy is an existential threat to America, he’s been saying it for months.
But that doesn’t matter, if you don’t bother to check. And Harriot, as before, didn’t.
I’ll leave you with this thought. Black voters have been the most loyal demographic to the Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party should do everything it can to take their concerns – whether about racial issues or no – seriously. Candidates should be held to account when they misstep, when they speak with inelegance or ignorance about issues important to these voters, and we should listen to people like Harriot when they speak up. We should all sit, and listen to what he has to say, and when he says that something is unacceptable.
However. Being a black writer doesn’t mean Harriot should be held to a different factual standard than everyone else. And being a black writer does not mean he is immune from being held to account when he falls short. The issues of understanding, ignorance, white privilege, and racism Harriot describes exist and are real in our society. But the person he was describing in that article was nothing more than a snapshot of an interview from 2011, an interview with a man that had no political experience and little public school experience, working from ignorance. He was not, and is not, a “lying MF.”