CBS NEWS: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, one of the two-dozen Democrats running for president, believes hesitation by some white Americans to speak frankly and openly about race and socioeconomic privilege is a major roadblock in elusive efforts to enact comprehensive criminal justice reform and address racial disparities in the U.S.
Buttigieg said white Americans "can't be defensive" when talking about race and warned that foreign adversaries are using "racial inequality and division" as a national security weakness.
ED O'KEEFE, CBS NEWS: Thank you Mr. Mayor for doing this. Let's talk about some stuff that's going on today or that's in the news right now. I imagine you've seen what the president tweeted earlier today some of your Democratic colleagues in Congress today saying essentially they should go home to where they came from. Obvious outrage from a lot of Democrats about that but curious your reaction to his decision to once again interject in party politics and to say what he said.
BUTTIGIEG: Well, it's wrong, it's racist and it fundamentally misunderstands America. One of the reasons we set up this country, one of the things we celebrate in freedom and democracy of the United States is you can criticize your president. You can criticize the ways in which the country falls short of its values.
And that makes you more, not less, loyal to this country whether we're talking about naturalized citizens or many of the people he was talking about who were born right here in the U.S. When you become a citizen, you are an American and questioning somebody's Americanness because they disagree with you — is about one of the most un-American things I can think of.
ED O'KEEFE: In the plan you released last week — the Frederick Douglass Plan — you had alluded to that white Americans especially have to talk about systemic racism.
BUTTIGIEG: That's right.
ED O'KEEFE: President may have just presented you a great opportunity to do so, but why is that conversation perhaps more important for white people to have?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, for too long this has been talked about as a kind of specialty issue, something that people of color talk about and something that white politicians talk about with people of color and not the rest of the time. Systemic racism is something that diminishes all of us.
Of course its worst effects are for its victims, but our entire country is held back through the inequality and the mistrust that it creates. The mistrust of institutions. The mistrust of a country that has not served everyone equally, and I am not just talking about far off historic harms like slavery. I'm talking about housing, unemployment and criminal justice discrimination that is taking place in our lifetimes, in living memory.
And I think the challenge for white America is to realize that we can't be defensive about this. When somebody is saying that we are benefitting from living in a system that creates privileges associated with systemic racism, we can't kind of retreat into this idea that, "We're being personally attacked, so we're not going to want to talk about that." Or that, "Hey these were distant historic problems, we can't be held accountable for dealing with that." No.
The force that has come closest across American history to actually ending America was white supremacy. That was the Civil War. And I am worried that in different ways we may not be able to imagine, in the 21st century, if these inequalities keep getting worse, then that could once again threaten to unravel the American project. The levels of inequality we're seeing — much of it driven by racial inequality — are something that very few countries can survive intact.
And if we don't all come together to deal with this — not as an issue for some, but as an issue for us all — then I worry that the entire American project will be weighed down.
ED O'KEEFE: You say that this is a conversation that white people need to have and not be defensive about it. That's going to be music to the ears of black, Latino, Asian people in this country who, as you said, you know, obviously want to hear about this and believe it to be true.
It's going to be a tougher sell though among white Americans who think things are fine. Or, why are they talking about this again? Or the gentleman that you had an interchange with a few weeks ago who suggested that if black people just stop committing crimes, there won't be a problem. I mean, that's what you're up against if you try and have this conversation.
BUTTIGIEG: But we've got to have this conversation because time's running out. The reality is we can't separate the chaos of our politics, the division, the wrongfulness coming from the White House but also through our communities from all the pernicious effects of systemic racism. As long as this is two different countries for people of different races, which, if you look at the statistics on things from life expectancy to income to experiences, even for the exact same offense with the criminal justice system, it really is like two countries.
As long as that happens, then we don't have the strength of being one country. And if you want to know whether this impacts you, white or not, think about the fact that foreign adversaries are now using racial inequality and division as a national security weakness, pitting Americans against each other over this and treating it as a wedge that can weaken America. And they're right, this is a deep weakness in an otherwise strong, and robust American system. It's why we got to deal with it in our lifetime.