An African-American woman who says she was one of the supporters standing behind South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a recent speech claimed the campaign asked her three times “to move away from my friends” to be featured for the photo op.
The woman, Essenam Lamewona, claimed to be one of the women featured in the front row behind Buttigieg. She said on Twitter that her placement was due to “tokenism.”
“That’s me in the front on the right of Buttigieg! I was asked 3x to move away from my friends in order to be placed in pictures #tokenism,” she said. Her account has since been set to private.
Breitbart reported that some prominent celebrities had been skeptical of the supporters stationed behind Buttigieg. Actor Jeffrey Wright suggested that “Stacking black folks behind your candidate at the speech is basically ‘Fuck you, black America, you’re an idiot.’”
He also quote-tweeted a picture from Buttigieg’s speech and asked, “Iowa’s the new black or what going on back there?”
CNN political commentator Keith Boykin added, “Out of the 100 or so supporters standing behind Pete Buttigieg right now, every single one of the black people seem to be strategically positioned directly behind Pete so they’ll all be in the camera shot.”
Hollywood film executive Franklin Leonard offered “My compliments to whomever had the discipline to stage, by my count, six young black women supporters directly behind @PeteButtigieg for his #IowaCaucuses speech tonight.”
If what Lamewona said is true, it would not be the first scandal involving race for the Buttigieg campaign.
In November last year, The Intercept reported that Buttigieg’s policy outreach to black voters – “The Douglass Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America” – contained a stock photo of Kenyans and claimed to have support from members of the black community, some of whom didn’t know their names had been added and some of whom weren’t even black.
The top three “supporters” – Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine, Rehoboth Baptist pastor and state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, and chair of South Carolina’s Black Caucus Johnnie Cordero – all said they Buttigieg campaign inaccurately portrayed their sentiments.
Devine said “the way they put it out there wasn’t clear, that it was an endorsement of the plan, and that may have been intentionally vague,” as she endorsed the plan, not Buttigieg himself. Thigpen said he made it clear to the Buttigieg campaign that he “was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter – actually co-chair of the state, and I was not seeking to endorse their candidate or the plan.” Cordero added that he “never endorsed that plan” and didn’t know how his name was attached.
For good measure, the photo featured on the front of the policy document was actually of a woman in Kenya, who didn’t understand why her photo was used.
“Am the ‘woman’ featured on that photo by githiri Nicholas. what’s the meaning of the message accompanied by the photo? Have no idea of what’s happening…” she told the Intercept.
Buttigieg’s campaign has so far not responded to the controversy involving the staged supporters.