Despite a crowded field of Democratic heavyweights for the 2020 presidential race, African-Americans should not dismiss candidate Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old married gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
With intelligence and thoughtfulness, Buttigieg talks concerns such as Black entrepreneurship and building trust between communities of color and law enforcement. He took a moment last week from his busy campaign and duties as mayor to talk with EBONY about reaching out to Black voters in South Carolina, and addressing the issues of neglected neighborhoods and reparations.
Editor’s Note: The transcript of this conversation has been condensed for space and clarity.
Reporter Jessica Floyd: How do you plan to rally the Black vote in South Carolina? There is a large Black evangelical community. Whe are you going to share your platform with them?
Mayor Pete Buttigieg: I’m really looking forward to our upcoming trip. I think it will be our first opportunity since the exploratory was rolled out to really engage South Carolina and the African American community in South Carolina in particular. I think a lot of the engagement has to be around substance. So, the attention that we need to pay on issues around inequality that disproportionately affect people of color goes to everything from education to economic policy and then, health care. But I also think it is important to spend time engaging the community. So, I’m looking forward to spending some time with Mayor Benjamin in Columbia and hopefully coming back in the future and getting to know people in the churches as well as in the neighborhoods. I found [in South Bend] that one of the most important [ways] of engaging the Black community is quality time. We’re going to spend as much time as the circumstances allow, making sure that we have a sense of how this message will resonate best among voters.
Floyd: What is your track record? What have you been able to do to lift the Black community?
Buttigieg: For us, it’s had a lot to do with entrepreneurship, making sure that we are supporting businesses that that can help be ladders of opportunity for people in our community. We just opened a new center in a historically African American neighborhood that we think will be able to play a role. We’re also thinking very intentionally about the city as a purchaser, and we’ve ordered up a disparity study that will allow us to eventually set goals when it comes to diversity with contracting.
We’re also making sure that we’re serving neighborhoods that have felt neglected and have often been neglected, often been on the short side of redlining. It’s one of the reasons why when we did a major investment in our parks and public spaces, we started with a huge investment in the Charles Black Center, which was in a neighborhood that had felt marginalized and left out.
We’ve also been very intentional about policing. I think for any mayor, diversity, building up trust between police departments and communities of color is vital. We have worked on efforts to do civil rights training, implicit bias training, as well as recruiting in minority communities to make sure that our department better reflects the community that it serves. We’ve been on a journey through a lot of these divisive issues that have affected different diverse communities and have especially touched Americans of color. We’ve felt that in our city.
I think I would not have been reelected with 80 percent of the vote and 78 percent in the primary, including winning all of the minority-majority districts in our city, if we hadn’t found a way to build bridges on these issues and really demonstrate that we wanted to build an inclusive community as well as an administration that’s served all well and address some of the inequities that have caused a lot of people to feel left out of the economic growth that is happening in our city, just as it has in our country.
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Floyd: Is intersectionality a vehicle that helps your candidacy when compared to the other White and male candidates?
Buttigieg: I think so. Everybody brings a different profile and a different life experience, but I think the conversation around intersectionality is helping us find new sources of solidarity. Obviously, as a member of one minority community, it doesn’t mean that I personally understand the experience of others. I have no idea what it is like personally, what it is like to be a transgender woman of color, but I know that I need to stand up for her, just as others have stood up for me.
I think if we can use our identity as a source of solidarity, especially at a time when the White House is trying to use identity and race, in particular, to divide us within our economic interest groups, I think we can put forward a better kind of politics that will lead to better outcomes whether it’s for people of color, or whether it’s for the country as a whole.
Floyd: Where do you stand on the issue of reparations?
Buttigieg: I think that we need to be intentional about reversing inequities, racial inequities in our economy, and in our communities that did not just happen on their own and did not just happen by accident. They are a legacy, in some cases, of slavery and past institutional racism but also racism in the here and now. We’ve got to act on them.
I have not yet seen a sort of cash-based proposal that is fully explained in terms of how everybody would be able to believe that that is fair. But what I know is that if we are intentional in the way we design our policies to target them, either to the geographies or to the segments of our society where we know the greatest racial inequities persist, then we will be able to at least partly reverse the inequalities that result from discrimination. That goes to everything from how we direct federal funds, and the appeal of things like the 10-20-40 plan from Rep. [James] Clyburn [of South Carolina], to putting a greater emphasis on wages because we know that women of color stand disproportionately to benefit from policies like an increased federal minimum wage to taking maternal health and infant mortality more seriously knowing that it is at crisis level in the African American community relative to how it shows up when you just look at the population as a whole.
So many of the racial inequities in the justice of our society can be addressed when we are more intentional about supporting our most vulnerable Americans but it’s actually one of the main reasons why it’s been hard to build support for some of these measures that we know are the right thing to do.
Floyd: How are you going to bring diversity to your campaign?
Buttigieg: We are growing our team and are here to build a team that reflects our country. We’re looking forward to building a team that makes good on so much of what we’re saying needs to happen in the country when it comes to inclusion.
Jessica A. Floyd is a candidate for her master’s degree at Medill-Northwestern University focusing on politics. You can follow her on Twitter @JessAFloyd.