A smattering of media figures attacked Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday, suggesting that he used racist language when he called for a president who had their roots in the “American Heartland.”
“It is a dog whistle,” former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien tweeted. “And maybe Mayor Pete isn’t aware of that. There is nothing more virtuous about a vision honed in the Heartland. Again—he should sit with his staffers of color and have them explain this to him.”
The controversy came as Buttigieg’s campaign reportedly disseminated a questionnaire for staff members of color, asking them whether they experienced “microaggressions” in the workplace. The survey was the latest indication that Buttigieg might be encountering issues with his ability to connect with minorities.
Buttigieg had originally tweeted that his roots in the “heartland” were an antidote to the ineffective politics of Washington, D.C.
“Heartland is code. And I’m over it,” tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “It erases the legitimacy of the experiences and reality of Black mid-Westerners and cloaks white mid-Western communities in a gauzy innocence and authenticity.”
Comedian Andy Richter similarly tweeted: “I’m from the supposed Heartland, and in a political context ‘the Heartland’ does not mean not-Washington. It means the place where white people run things.”
Richter added that Buttigieg was “far too naive to be President” if he didn’t realize the purported symbolism of his comments. The controversy came as Democratic candidates prepared for the caucuses in Iowa, the first in the primary season and often understood to be part of the “heartland” of the U.S.