Op-Eds Speaking Truth to the Powers-That-Be

The GOP and the Black Strawman

GOP candidates have been running against the “Black Strawman.”

They have created a position, easily refuted by facts and evidence, which plays to basest fears, and the generational racial bias of the Republican party. This fear and bias is nothing new in this country, but the current position pushed by the GOP primary front-runners has a hit a new low. These candidates, Newt Gingrich in particular, have been using stereo types of the Black community to appeal to their base and in some places it appears to be working.

Merriam Webster defines a Strawman as: a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted.

When that is pointed out to them that they are drawing upon racial stereotypes to appeal to a narrow-band, narrow-minded subset of voters, they draw from a playbook, which Newt Gingrich authored during the Reagan Revolution back in the 1980s, that is still in use today: It is everyone else who is playing the race card, not them.

Republicans are tolerant. After all, Herman Cain was a presidential candidate. They have Allen West in Congress.  He’s black, right? Michael Steele was the party chairman, for two years.

As a Black woman, it makes me worry extensively that racism is on the upswing again as candidates like Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul pander to those fears to martial votes for their flawed candidacies.

As an American woman, it makes me sad that even after all this time we still can’t quite come together.

Anyone who follows politics knows that it is not a pleasant game.  Politics is rough. The primaries get ugly when there is no clear front-runner, and much of what is said by each is cookie-cutter partyspeak

Candidates are smeared, lied about and asked questions that are highly invasive of the privacy of themselves and their families. They are asked to campaign relentlessly for months on end, shaking hands, eating the local specialities, and having the occasional protester drop glitter on them.  They are kept isolated and away from the comfort of family and friends for grueling months on end.

Just ask Mitt Romney. He has been campaigning since 2007 with no real Presidential success.

The candidates have to share their views with enough of the electorate to try to align their views with enough of the voters to win a majority.  Some politicians, like Mr. Obama, try to convince those who disagree with them to see it their way. Some, like Mr. Romney, are willing to change their views to suit voters.

All of that said, how far do you go to pander to voters?  Do you cater to their better angels, or do you exploit their fears and hatreds?

The recent GOP debates in South Carolina make me wish that we had let them secede. Clearly, in a state that flew the Stars and Bars, the Confederate flag, over their Capitol until the 21st century, there is some sort of racial disconnect. I doubt that such a statement would have gone over as wildly in California. At least I hope not.

People who aren’t of color watching the debate may not know what Newt Gingrich means when he says that President Obama is a “food stamp” President.  That his speeches about the poor needing more of a work ethic, not welfare and food stamps, and his call for poor children to replace their union high school janitors are the kind of shadow racism that still grows on the American body politic like a cancer.

It’s not a positive, uplifting message.  He is not saying that we, as a society, need to get poor people back to work. When Gingrich speaks of the white poor and middle class, he speaks of expanding the tax base, so more people can spend and the economy starts to pick up.  It’s win win for that part of America.  Why not for Black, Latino and Asian America, Mr. Gingrich?

There are more people on welfare and food stamps now than four years ago because of the economic shock of the housing bubble and subsequent Wall Street collapse in 2008.

Food stamps and racism go hand-in-hand. Chris Kromm,  Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies and the Publisher of Southern Exposure in reports:

“While food stamp use has grown more rapidly in other areas, the South — which came into the recession with a higher number of recipients — still claims a disproportionate share…”

Poverty in Southern black communities is still an extension of the same social and political inequality that has never been balanced in the South, whose white populations fought to preserve slavery,  then fought political and social equality for minorities since the Reconstruction. Yet interestingly, the largest concentrations of white food stamp use are also in the South. Kromm continues:

“So who gets food stamps in the South? Recipients are concentrated in two very distinct regions: Appalachia, which is majority white, and the Black Belt, counties with high African-American populations running from Virginia to east Texas.”[1]

Who has the highest rate of food stamp use in the country? West Virginia.  Over 17% of their white citizens receive food stamp assistance.  With 8.6% unemployment as of December, 2011, which is down from the 9.8% that was a high last year, more people were forced into poverty in 2008.  Even President Obama’s own mother,  who is white, was a food stamp recipient for a short time. 

Food stamps aren’t a race thing. They’re a poverty thing.

Mr. Gingrich and the other candidates can’t speak to that, of course.  Republicans have been operating on trickle down economics, giving the rich a break so they will employ the rest of us, since Gingrich became the Speaker of the House in the 1980s. In that time, we went from 19.5 million manufacturing jobs, a primary source of living-wage work for poor people, down to [2]  Construction, another big hiring point for the poor, is still off by 2.1M jobs. [2]

Using children of any color to clean the school they attend would only add to adult unemployment of poor people with limited education who may not have the means or skills to obtain higher paying work. Of course Mr. Gingrich’s point isn’t about labor. It’s about reinforcing stereotypes to stuff the strawman.

In early January, Gingrich said: “I will go to the NAACP convention, and tell the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.” [3]

That one seems to bring sharp perspective.  Now it’s offensive.

The amazing thing is that Republican politicians and their political commentators claim not to understand why that is offensive, just as Gingrich’s dismissal of Juan Williams questioning of this racial “code” at the GOP debate on MLK day was offensive.  Gingrich doubled down and took Williams to task, spurring a standing ovation of the crowd in South Carolina.

The problem with the coded language of Gingrich and the other Republican candidates to their base is this: It is not so coded.

Clearly, anyone within the sound of his voice could tell what and whom he was talking about.

The Black community remembers Reagan’s “welfare queens” of 1976.  It is fair to say that the Black community is over having to prove that it is not just us that are ever in need of aid.

Not all blacks, but many, and rightfully so, mistrust what the GOP’s claims of “race blindness.”

Talking about racism has become the racism. You may have been unfortunate enough to have heard Rick Santorum’s statement:

“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”[4]

Later, he tried spinning it with CNN’s John King, saying that he was speaking about the “Blah” people.  All of these candidates use the code, but none will come clean on the race narrative in the Republican primary, which is sad in this day and age.

Those same people decry racism as being over because we have a black President.  Yet they fail to realize that it is because we have a black president that the GOP hopefuls cynically want to tap that massive racist sentiment to mine voters.

Mr. Obama has been racially slurred since the 2007 campaign leading up to the general election.  They can’t use the “N” word, so they use the “K” word, Kenyan, to describe him as an other or an outsider.

He was harassed to show his longform birth certificate for months.  Until the capture of Osama bin Laden, the hate machine spread the rumor that he was a Muslim or a Muslim sympathizer. Rush Limbaugh even recently called Mrs. Obama “uppity,” a word common to the lexicon of the racist part of white America.

Every time that Gingrich refers to Mr. Obama as the “food stamp” President, know the code: It’s pure racism.

Perhaps South Carolina’s current make-up of joblessness and poverty has given them Gingrich as their star.  Perhaps it is that there are a disproportionately high number of Blacks on food stamps in that state.

Using the “Black Strawman” to win  over your electorate by playing to their primal fears is deplorable.

The “Black Strawman” appeals to racists, to the myth-believers of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps America, and to the selfish who don’t think that anyone else in their community is their problem.

Given the huge turnout for Obama by the Black community, the GOP has cynically written off our vote. Then again, why on earth would we trust any of you, given the things that you have been going around making people believe about us?

It’s not just a violation of the interests of Black Americans.  Prolonging racism as a political ploy hurts all of America and keeps us from finally being united in the way that we can and should be. 

Another great read/watch on this subject.

About LPB

This is a "what's going on in the world" type of blog. Any and everything that interests me could make the cut! Politics, current events, fashion, television...we'll just have to see how I'm feeling that day.

One comment on “The GOP and the Black Strawman

  1. Pingback: Will Republicans Take This Pledge? Leave Racism Out of Campaign 2012 « truth-2-Power

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