Several years ago I was mentoring a new manager in my division. Her secretary was my former secretary, and where I had no issues with the secretary’s work ethic or performance, this new manager did. So, I got them both in my office one morning to do some mediation.
Normally, I wouldn’t mention gender and/or race, but in this instance it was important. The new manager was a white female, born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who admitted she didn’t see a person of color until she went to college. The secretary was an African-American woman, born and raised in the District of Columbia. She was the mother of two boys, both of whom had the same father, the man to whom she was married.
We started off with the typical mediation scenario, and we were making some progress toward improved communication. Then, the new manager decided she’d make an attempt to find common ground with the secretary.
“My family was on welfare and got food stamps, too,” she said, “and my sister has children out of wedlock.”
It truly wasn’t said with malice, but it was ill-spoken. After figuratively peeling the secretary off the ceiling–from which she had loudly proclaimed, “My family has never been on welfare, I’ve never had food stamps, and I’m married, and my mother and grandmother were married!”–I dismissed the secretary and tried to explain to the new manager what she had said was inappropriate. I asked her why she said it.
“Well,” she said, “I just assumed…” And we all know “assume” makes an ass of you and me.
This event was in the 1990’s, a decade past the welfare-queen lies of Ronald Reagan, but this woman, much like Newt Gingrich today, didn’t bother to check the facts.
Most of the people on welfare and food stamps are white because, well, more people in America are white. (Not for long, but that’s another story.) That’s the same reason most out-of-wedlock births are by white women. Yet, the Republicans have perpetuated the myth that black people are only interested in lining up for handouts from the government–your taxpayer dollars–that they don’t know how to work and don’t want to work, that they have no concept of a traditional family. The saddest thing is, some people still believe that.
Because of the ruined economy given us by the Republicans and their pro-rich people policies, we have a high unemployment rate and, as a result, more people than ever on food stamps. When you have a family to feed, you get over what everyone has told you is a stigma, and you’re grateful for the means to put food on the table.
Yet, Gingrich turns that statistic around to say, “Obama has put more people on food stamps than any other President in American History.” Wink, wink. You know what he means–black president, increase in food stamp recipients… Wink, wink. The South Carolinians in the debate audience Monday night got it. Gingrich received a standing ovation for his blatant racism. And he did it on purpose. He knew his audience. He knew he could get away with it, and he did.
The manager I was mentoring I can excuse–she was ignorant. Gingrich’s cynical play to the people who refuse to acknowledge the Civil War is over is unforgivable. Without ever resorting to typical racist language, Gingrich has shown us his true color–and it’s lily white.
Gingrich sees himself as a focal point in history–his words, not mine. He has done nothing to earn that distinction. Like the crass racism he exploits, he needs to be but a footnote to history. And a small one, at that.