South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg claims that “neutral” policies are not enough to address racial disparities in the United States.
In a letter to the Charleston Chronicle, Buttigieg claimed that black Americans were “not yet fully free” and outlined several policies he would implement if elected president in 2020.
Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not deliver equality. Instead, we must actively work to reverse the persistent inequalities that have compounded over hundreds of years. They hold back our economy and corrode the American soul.https://t.co/1N5ASD2IHK
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) June 12, 2019
Buttigieg outlined real disparities seen between black and white Americans and prescribed several policies he believes would shrink those differences.
Here are five things to know about the mayor’s plan:
The disparities between white and black Americans are real, and it is bad for the country as a whole.
In his op-ed, Buttigieg broke down several disparities between white and black Americans:
Black Americans are not yet fully free when Black unemployment is still almost twice the national average, when the average Black eighth grader reads at a level far below their white peers, and when Black mothers are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. We lack true freedom when so many schools are almost as segregated as they were before Brown v. Board of Education. And, we cannot have freedom when identical resumes with stereotypically white or Black names lead to wildly different chances of being hired. These persistent inequalities have compounded over hundreds of years. They hold back our economy and corrode the American soul.
Replacing racist policies with neutral ones will not be enough to deliver equality. We must actively work to reverse these harms.
While Buttigieg claimed that black Americans are “not yet fully free,” he didn’t point to any laws that hold black Americans back, rendering them less free than other Americans.
He may have been trying to redefine “freedom” again, but his point that these disparities hold back the economy for all Americans is true, highlighting the fact that addressing racial disparities could help all Americans.
Buttigieg announced his plan to address racial disparities.
First, the mayor wants to ensure that more Americans are contributing to the country rather than wasting away behind bars. Buttigieg pointed to the disproportionate population of black Americans behind bars and said he would work to reduce the prison population by 50 percent, though he didn’t elaborate on how he would do that.
Second, Buttigieg wants to close the racial wealth gap in the United States. He suggests increasing federal investment into entrepreneurs who are black so they can grow wealth within their communities.
Third, he wants to ensure that as many voters who are black participate in U.S. democracy as possible. Buttigieg noted that he would ban voter ID laws to make voting more accessible.
Under President Donald Trump, some of Buttigieg’s goals have become a reality.
Unemployment among individuals who are black hit record lows and — in line with Buttigieg’s plan — businesses owned by individuals who are black increased by 400 percent from 2017 to 2018, as IJR reported at the time.
Additionally, Trump has been a champion of federal prison reform. His administration pushed the First Step Act, which allowed the release of many nonviolent federal prisoners and shortened the sentences of many others.
Beyond Buttigieg’s goals, the Trump administration also carved out “opportunity zones” in the Republican-led Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. As IJR previously reported, opportunity zones have resulted in more than $25 billion in private investment into low-income neighborhoods to create economic opportunity in areas that need it most.
Some of Buttigieg’s other goals may fail to make any real changes.
While the mayor claimed that banning voter ID laws would increase minority voter turnout, research has shown that voter ID laws don’t actually impact elections. As a Washington Post fact-check notes, there aren’t any discernable differences in turnout between states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, even though the latter has strict voter ID laws.
His plan is far more moderate than some other policies proposed by 2020 Democrats.
Although some of Buttigieg’s language was fiery, his proposal is moderate compared to some of the proposals from his fellow 2020 Democratic primary contenders.
Sen. Cory Booker‘s (D-N.J.) plan to close the racial wealth gap, for example, is to give all newborn Americans a $1,000 bond, with the option to increase contributions into their fund each year depending on the wealth of the child’s parents. As IJR’s breakdown noted, his could close the wealth gap, but funding the project could be tricky.
Like Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has a plan to get rid of voter ID laws, but the Texas Democrat takes it several steps further by calling for term limits on all federally elected officials — and Supreme Court justices — as well as a push to make Election Day a federal holiday.
Other 2020 Democrats like Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have hinted their support for reparations — or payments made by the federal government to certain Americans as a way to amend for historical racial discrimination — but no candidate has come up with a plan for how that would work and who would be eligible for repayment.