It’s been about four days since Newt Gingrich made his famous comment about black people and food stamps at a town hall meeting. He told the audience:
“I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”
Gingrich set off an internet firestorm with that comment, adding to his frequent reference of Barack Obama as a “food stamp president.” Many were quick to call Gingrich’s shot at making food stamps a black issue baseless, citing 2010 census numbers that show about 26% of food stamp recipients are African American, while 49% are white, but when you look at the fact that black people make up only 12% of the population, it’s clear a higher percentage of black people are receiving aid and that’s not a good thing.
On the surface, Gingrich is absolutely right. The African American unemployment rate is nearly double the national average and reports show that black women have been hit the hardest during the economic downturn. So should black people demand paychecks? Absolutely. Is Newt Gingrich assuming that we’re not demanding paychecks? Absolutely.
The issue with white politicians who want to put forth suggestions about what black people should or shouldn’t be doing or policies aimed at the African American community is that there is always concern about the motivation behind them. When you look at Gingrich’s statement, he assumes black people are satisfied with food stamps. You can almost picture the welfare queen image he has in his head. And while I won’t say there aren’t some black—white and Latino—people who aren’t content with just collecting a check, let’s not make this a black issue, and let’s not assume that this is true for the majority of these recipients.
Overall, Gingrich’s comment brings up a larger question of whether white politicians should be concerned with issues facing the black community. Black America is typically reluctant to hear anything from the perspective of an outsider, and when that outsider is a white republican it can be especially hard to give their words any credence. But if there aren’t some white politicians who want to suggest more for black people who will? Despite the fact that the highest-ranking government official in the United States is black, his stance is clearly one of serving all Americans, not putting special emphasis on the needs of the black community. After the president, who else can go to bat for black America in a way that will be meaningful? Al Sharpton?
By no means do I think Newt Gingrich has an altruistic goal of saving the black race from itself. I’m sure he’s far more concern with reducing government spending than helping black people get on their feet. But I do think black people may need to make allies with some white politicians and help shape the issues that are facing the black community to get them on the radar of people in positions of power that can actually make a difference without belittling or marginalizing the black community even more. Newt Gingrich probably isn’t that person but that doesn’t mean his words should automatically be dismissed.
Are you reluctant to listen to white politicians’ suggestions for the black community? Do you think we need the assistance of white republicans and liberals to improve unemployment and other important issues facing black people or can we do it alone?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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