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Race and GOP Primary Politics

Op-Ed By Karen Hudson Samuels

DETROIT - Racially charged rhetoric took center stage at the GOP Presidential debate Monday night as Newt Gingrich defended his recent remarks on food stamps and poverty before a cheering audience in South Carolina.

Panelist Juan William, asked Gingrich if his comments that poor children lack a strong work ethic and that blacks “should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps” might be perceived as insulting to all Americans and blacks particular.

In a word, Gingrich, said “No. I don’t see that”. The auditorium erupted in prolonged applause and not one candidate on stage spoke up to counter the remark. Not one.

Gingrich, who has called Obama the “Food Stamp President” went on to say that more people have been “put on food stamps” by the President than at any point in history. There was no mention of the deep recession that has impacted social welfare programs and decimated the middle class, the newest face of food stamp recipients.

Using catchphrases, like “Food Stamp President” to defeat Barack Obama brings to mind past racially incriminating phrases. The “Welfare Queen’ tagline was used by Ronald Reagan in his 1976 campaign. The phrase faded from use when investigative reporters tried but were never able to track down the “Welfare Queen”.

In the 2012 campaign season, remarks that typecast people based on their on race or economic circumstances, cannot not be tolerated. Politicians who play on people’s prejudices must be held accountable to the facts. We in the media must take the lead in setting the record straight. And so here are the facts.

Most Americans receiving food stamps are white (33%), black (22%),disabled (20%), children (17% ) and the elderly (8%) as reported on MSNBC’s Politics Nation. The average food stamp recipient receives a $133 per month, hardly a paycheck. To qualify an individual must have no income or earn a near-poverty level income.

This last point is key, it means many food stamp recipients are receiving paychecks in jobs that pay at or near the poverty level. Increasingly this includes people, both black and white, who have slipped from the ranks of the middle class as their incomes have been cut or their jobs eliminated.

Regarding Gingrich’s suggestion that children in poor neighborhoods have no role models or work ethic and that schools systems should fire their unionized janitors and give the jobs to school children to learn the value of a working for an honest wage.

The fact is nationwide, unemployment stands at 8.5% (as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in December 2011). This means 91.5% of Americans are working, whether it’s in high paying, low paying or part-time jobs – so there are role models, just not enough of them.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorim on the debate stage Monday spoke on voting rights for felons. "This is Martin Luther King Day,” he said. “This is a huge deal in the African-American community, because we have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately high rates, particularly with drug crimes, in the African-American community.” He challenged Romney to state his position on the issue, Romney conceded “I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote."

Santorim may favor felon voting rights but he also told a predominately white town hall audience during the Iowa Caucus, that “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” He later denied saying “black people” and had simply misspoke.

The fact is 8% of the total U.S. population receives welfare assistance according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Within this group 39% of the recipients are white, 38% black are and 17% are Hispanic. African Americans pay taxes that support social welfare programs like everyone else, therefore, they are entitled to their own money, it is not “somebody else’s money.

We cannot dismiss or minimize the impact racially charged statements by thinking Republicans as just playing to their conservative base. Typecasting minorities, the poor and African Americans as a drain on the system is ugly and just plain wrong.



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