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Harris Calls Buttigieg Campaign's Stock Photo of Black Woman a 'Mistake'

Harris Calls Buttigieg Campaign's Stock Photo of Black Woman a 'Mistake'

Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg

The Buttigieg campaign's use of a random stock photo of a Kenyan woman for a plan to address racial inequality is the latest in a line of gaffes around the black community. 

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has experienced a recent jump in his presidential poll numbers in the battleground state of Iowa as his gaffes around people of color also continue to rise. Buttigieg, who has been scrutinized for protecting police in South Bend and failing to protect people of color in his town, has most recently come under fire after his campaign used a stock photo of a Kenyan woman to announce his Douglass Plan to combat racial inequality. The gaffe was exposed just a few days before Buttigieg's scheduled appearance at Atlanta's historically Black Morehouse College on Monday.

Now U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who is a fellow Democratic presidential hopeful, and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota have commented on the campaign's mishandling of the rollout of the Douglass Plan, especially in light of Buttigieg's history of problems with the Black community.

Harris, who was recently asked to weigh in on the assertion that the reason Buttigieg, who is gay, isn't polling higher with Black people is that because the community is homophobic, responded to the news of the use of a stock photo at first by shaking her head and laughing.

"I don't have words to describe that," Harris said. "I'm sure someone agrees that was a big mistake."

Even the Kenyan woman who is the subject of the photo, which was up for several weeks but has since been removed, was bemused by the campaign's use of a non-American to promote Buttigieg's plan to address racial inequality.

"What's the meaning of the message accompanied by the photo?" the woman in the photo told The Intercept's Ryan Grim. "Have no idea of what's happening..."

"The Democratic nominee has got to be someone who has the experience of connecting with all of who we are as the diversity of the American people and is going to have to have the ability to speak with and speak to the issues that impact everyone," Harris said in response to questions about the photo. "My experience is that when you have actually had the experience of working with folks you have a better ability to represent."

"Each nominee is going to have to speak to their experience and speak to their capacity and ability to be relevant to the diversity of who we are as a country because the Democratic nominee is not only going to have to have the ability to go toe to toe against Donald Trump but is going to have to have the ability to unify the party and the country," Harris said. "And you can't unify folks if you don't understand who they are and their specific needs and the right that they have to be represented based not on a stock photograph but who they actually are."

Rep. Omar, who was born in Somalia, simply tweeted in response to the news of the Buttigieg campaign using a stock photo, "This is not ok or necessary."

While some on social media have responded to the ire over the use of a stock photo to promote Buttigieg's racial equality plan as "fake outrage," others have pointed out the fact this his campaign also manufactured endorsements for the plan in South Carolina, where he was polling below 1 percent with Black voters.

Last month, an op-ed ran in the HBCU Times, which covers news about historically black colleges, saying, "There is one presidential candidate who has proven to have intentional policies designed to make a difference in the Black experience, and that's Pete Buttigieg."

The piece was signed by 400 supporters of his plan, led by three well-known Black South Carolina Democrats: Columbia City Council member Tameika Isaac Devine, state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, and the state party's Black Caucus chair Johnnie Cordero, according to The Washington Post.

"We are over 400 South Carolinians, including business owners, pastors, community leaders, and students. Together, we endorse his Douglass Plan for Black America, the most comprehensive roadmap for tackling systemic racism offered by a 2020 presidential candidate," the op-ed continued.

APostinvestigation, however, revealed that "Buttigieg persuaded hundreds of prominent black South Carolinians to sign onto the plan even if they are not supporting his candidacy."

Devine, Thigpen, and Cordero have all said the Buttigieg campaign was either vague or misleading or flat-out used their names without their ever having endorsed either his plan or his candidacy. Cordero's name has been removed from the piece.

"His campaign then trumpeted these signatures in a way that forced figures such as Devine, for one, to clarify that she was not endorsing Buttigieg," Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Amy B Wang wrote in the Post.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg's husband, Chasten Buttigieg, has also been scrutinized this week for a 2017 Instagram pic of his husband posing at a Holocaust memorial monument in Berlin with merely the caption "This Guy." The photo appears to fit into a strange trend of men posing for Grindr pics in front of the memorial.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist