I got into a rather lively debate with a (former) Twitter follower of mine.
She had seen the title of my post entitled “Newt Gingrich Owes African-Americans an Apology” and had taken issue. Her response to the tweet announcing the blog post was “no he doesn’t.” She said I was playing “the race card” and that “it doesn’t work.”
Later in the evening, she and I started an exchange. I said that Newt had played the race card by referring to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” Though statistics show that more whites than blacks receive food stamps, what many “hear” when they hear “food stamps” is “black people are getting food stamps” because they are lazy and do not want to work. It’s an underlying thought in this country, and, I argued, Newt knows that very well.
I said that Newt was playing to his base. I also, erroneously, said that he had earlier said that “poor black children” don’t have a work ethic,” and my friend quickly corrected me and said he had only said “poor children.” She was right and I admitted it as such.
But she was angry. She said I was racist and that I was calling HER racist for saying that Newt Gingrich was playing to his base. And she said that people like me are the ones who keep the races divided. She “unfollowed” me.
She is not the only one who would agree with me, and clearly, not every African-American would agree with me. Just this morning, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and Roland Martin were talking about this very same thing with former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who vehemently rejects the idea that there is such a thing as racially coded language.
But that’s all right. Back to my little encounter with my Twitter friend, I was sorry that she “unfollowed” me because I enjoyed tweeting with her. She and I obviously have different ways of seeing things, but that’s good; one learns from talking with people who are different.
But what bothers me is that she really thinks that there is no such thing as racially coded language. She accused me of “race baiting,” and if bringing up that Newt was playing the race card to appeal to his mostly white, South Carolina audience, then that’s what I was doing.
But it seems a bit naive to really believe that there is no such thing as racially coded language. It has always been done. President Reagan, the GOP iconic hero, did it when he used the phrase “welfare queen.” I am quite sure that the image that most people had, black and white, was that of a black woman with too many kids who refused to work but who kept having children so she could get more money from the government.
It is a despicable image, and an inaccurate one. Yes, there are people of all races who abuse the system, and yes, it is true that if one keeps getting hand-outs, he or she might be less inclined to look for work, but that doesn’t apply to everyone or even to the vast number of people who are on public assistance.
Rick Santorum, at least, was forthright in his comments which were not all that complimentary toward black people. He said, outright, that he didn’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 make their own money…” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/03/rick-santorum-entitlements-black-people_n_1181212.html)
It was a straight up statement; you didn’t have to guess about what he meant. He later tried to back out of it and said he didn’t say “black” people, but he did. He was standing on the long-held stated and believed myth, again, that “black people” are lazy, that “black people” are the ones who are using and abusing the welfare system. It was insulting, but the language was not racially coded.
Gingrich, on the other hand, did use coded language when he said that President Obama is the “food stamp president.” He was more honest when he said that the “African American community should demand pay checks and not food stamps.” It is still insulting; it is still a statement that upholds and supports a myth that black people are the ones driving the growth of “big government,” and that is just not true. You can read what Gingrich said at (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/05/newt-gingrich-paychecks-food-stamps_n_1188193.html).
I will probably never re-connect with my former Twitter friend – she won’t have it – but I cannot let this discussion slip into nothingness. She called me a racist for saying that Newt was and is playing the race card and for sticking to my guns. That’s rather like one who has been beaten being blamed for the beating. African-Americans, and many whites, have “been in the storm too long” not to recognize when they are being targeted for someone else’s gain.
Newt Gingrich is a master politician and a very smart man. Trust and believe that he knew what he was doing when he said President Obama is the “food stamp president” to that roomful of white people in South Carolina. If saying that makes me a racist, then so be it. The truth is the truth.
A candid observation…