Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that tackling racial inequality is a “matter of national survival” during a speech before an audience of black business leaders in Chicago on Tuesday.
Buttigieg’s comments at a breakfast meeting of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition come as the South Bend, Indiana, mayor struggles to win over black support during the Democratic presidential primary. The mayor, despite being among the top five candidates in the polls and raising over $30 million so far in 2019, has seen little growth in support from black voters, as evidenced by the fact that 0% of national black voters said they supported him in a CNN poll released Monday.
“If we do not tackle the problem of racial inequality in my lifetime, I am convinced that it will upend the American project in my lifetime,” Buttigieg said at an event hosted by Rev. Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader and former presidential candidate who founded the coalition. “It brought our country to its knees once and if we do not act, it could again.”
He added: “I believe this is not only a matter of justice, but a matter of national survival.”
Buttigieg has repeatedly said that his struggles with black voters are partly because he is unknown in the black community after leading a small city of just over 100,000 people for eight years.
“When you’re new on the scene, and you’re not from a community of color, you’ve got to work much harder in order to earn that trust, because trust is largely a function of quantity time,” Buttigieg told CNN on Tuesday. “I’m committed to doing that work, but I think the most important question is will our policies benefit black Americans and all Americans and if that happens, and I can show that, I think the politics will start to take care of themselves.”
Buttigieg has tried to promote a sweeping policy plan – his so-called Douglass Plan, named after abolitionist Fredrick Douglass – aimed at combating racial inequality in policing, the economy, education and a host of other policy areas.
Buttigieg told the audience on Tuesday that as president he wants to work to triple the number of entrepreneurs from underserved areas and create a federal fund that would co-invest in businesses run by people color, particularly in low-income communities.
Buttigieg also gave more fulsome remarks about reparations on Tuesday, telling the audience, “Every dollar plundered a hundred fifty years ago costs the descendants of the victim a thousand today.”
And in a shot at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who recently argued reparations were not needed because no one who perpetrated slavery is around today, Buttigieg said, “Contrary to what some seem to believe, what this means is that the fact that some of this theft came a very long time ago does not make it better. It makes it worse.”
Buttigieg, so far, only supports studying the issue of reparations, but told reporters after the speech that the “spirit” of reparations “is something we can act on right away.”
The focus on economic issues, he said, is part of showing that so-called “black problems” are not limited to criminal justice reform.
“As important as criminal justice reform is, we must outgrow a policy debate that sometimes reduces the black experience to encounters with the justice system,” Buttigieg said. “For every mention of black victimization in the justice system, we should also be speaking of black empowerment through education and entrepreneurship. For every discussion of so-called ‘black problems,’ there should be just as much about ‘black solutions.’”
Buttigieg’s problems with issues of race have recently been brought to the forefront by an officer involved shooting in South Bend, where a black man allegedly breaking into cars with a knife was shot and killed by a white officer. The shooting stirred protests there, forcing Buttigieg to take time off the campaign trail and putting a spotlight on the lack of racial diversity in the South Bend Police Department.
Buttigieg has said he accepts responsibility for the issues and repeated that claim before the audience on Tuesday.
“We accept responsibility, I accept responsibility, for the work that is left to be done,” the mayor added.
Buttigieg opened his remarks in Chicago by paying tribute to newly elected Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the first black woman to lead the city, calling her “a trailblazer and inspiration.”
Lightfoot told reporters after the speech that her advice to Buttigieg about winning over black voters is the same as the advice she gives to former Vice President Joe Biden: “We cannot survive without our party recognizing the absolutely necessity that our urban centers have to have resources and support.”
“We cannot,” she added, “afford to have 2020 be one of those same old, same olds.”