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Pete Buttigieg says he understands the concern over past remarks on minorities and education

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday that he understands the criticism he has received for comments he made in 2011 about the challenge...
Pete Buttigieg

(CNN) — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday that he understands the criticism he has received for comments he made in 2011 about the challenges facing minority communities in education.

During a 2011 public television broadcast while he was a candidate for mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg said children “need to see evidence that education is going to work for them … 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 the value of education.” Those comments, which resurfaced on social media this week, drew sharp criticism online, including in an essay by Michael Harriot titled “Pete Buttigieg is a lying MF” published on the African American-oriented website The Root.

“What I said in that comment before I became mayor does not reflect the totality of my understanding then, and certainly now, about the obstacles that students of color face in our system today,” Buttigieg told CNN at a campaign stop in Denison, Iowa. “I believe I was speaking about the need for mentorship and the need for career pathways, but the problem is to the extent that that feels like it’s validating a narrative that sometimes blames the victim for the consequences of systemic racism, I understand why he [Harriot] was upset and I understand the perspective and largely agree.”

Buttigieg said he had spoken with Harriot.

“Well, I reached out to the author, and while I, obviously, I think that some of the characterization of me personally is unfair, I do understand the concern,” Buttigieg said.

Harriot did not respond to CNN’s request to comment.

In his essay on The Root, Harriot wrote that Buttigieg’s 2011 comment “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.”

“This is why institutional inequality persists,” Harriot added. “Not because of white hoods and racial slurs. It is because this insidious double-talk erases the problem by camouflaging it.”

Buttigieg, who has struggled to gain support from black voters, said Tuesday that during their phone conversation Harriot “went into a lot more depth about, I think, the concern of this perspective that makes it sound like, you know, it’s all the fault of students of color or somehow, their families … when the reality is there are so many barriers that our systems put up.”

In response to a question about how his campaign is being received by black voters, Buttigieg said: “I think that we have a responsibility to make sure dialogue makes clear both what is in my plans and what is in my heart, and I have confidence that as we continue to do that, we will be able to gain support.”

Buttigieg also hinted that his campaign is making changes to its black outreach strategy, telling reporters, “Well, you’re certainly going to see increased engagement and new forms of engagement, and a lot more to come.”