Al Sharpton credited Sen. Kamala Harris for her criticism of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s claim that he can better understand black Americans because he is gay.
Buttigieg, 37, has struggled to earn support from black voters in key early states like South Carolina during his presidential campaign. He has argued, however, that his sexuality helped him to understand the feeling of oppression often felt by black Americans because gay men have not always had equal rights either.
“While I do not have the experience of ever having been discriminated against because of the color of my skin, I do have the experience of sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own country, turning on the news and seeing my own rights come up for debate, and seeing my rights expanded by a coalition of people like me and people not at all like me,” Buttigieg said during the CNN debate earlier this month.
That argument has been destroyed by many prominent black Americans, including his 2020 Democratic competitor Harris. After the debate, she told CNN, “What he did on the stage, it’s just not productive, and I think it’s a bit naive.”
Sharpton, a racial activist and MSNBC host, commended Harris’ response, telling the Washington Post this week, “I think Kamala had a point, and I understood what she was saying.” He said he appreciates the effort Buttigieg is making in the black community and admitted that he is “evolving,” but said the South Bend mayor still has a long way to go.
“Do I think he’s where he needs to be? No,” Sharpton said.
Earlier this week, Buttigieg was called a “lying motherf–ker” by the Root columnist Michael Harriot after video from the mayor’s 2011 campaign resurfaced showing him questioning whether poor children have parents who value education. Buttigieg called Harriot afterwards to hear him out and discuss how he can work to improve his image among black voters.
The South Bend mayor has climbed in the polls recently, even taking the lead in Iowa. Harris, 55, has struggled to climb above 4% in the polls. The RealClearPolitics polling average has her at just 3.8% support, while Buttigieg sits at 11% support.
Sharpton, 65, became a public figure during the 1987 Tawana Brawley case. He claimed that the black teenaged girl had been kidnapped and raped by a gang of white men. Without evidence, he alleged that assistant district attorney in Dutchess County, Steven Pagones, was in this gang. A court cleared Pagones of the charges and he eventually won a defamation lawsuit against Sharpton in 1998, who was ordered to pay $65,000 in damages.
He has since become a highly divisive figure with many on the right saying he is a race-baiter and many on the left singing his praises, including Harris who claimed Sharpton had “spent his life fighting for what’s right and working to improve our nation, even in the face of hate.”
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