Gingrich’s comments promote mammy-ism

Newt Gingrich is known for putting his foot in his mouth, so it’s no surprise he’s come out on the side of child labor and criticizing poor children as a lot who have “no habits of working.”

In an interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper, who questioned the candidate on some Republicans who have concerns about him, Gingrich defended his comments about “stupid” child labor laws and also gave his two cents on how to instill middle-class, mainstream American values into the minds of what he believes to be society’s bottom dwellers.

“Look,” Gingrich said, “at a time when you have up to 43% black teenage unemployment, you have entire communities that are devastated, you have neighborhoods where nobody has worked and nobody has any habit of work, I’d be delighted to — that’s why I want to challenge Obama to 7 three hour debates — I’d be delighted to have a conversation about our current approach to children.

“Young children who are poor ought to learn how to go to work,” he continued. “What I’ve said is, for example, it would be great if inner city schools and poor neighborhood schools actually hired the children to do things. Some of the things they could do is work in the library, work in the front office. Some of them frankly, could be janitorial.

Gingrich notes that “the first counter-attack is ‘Do you realize how hard janitorial work is and do you realize how dangerous it is?’ So I come back and say, OK, what if they cleaned out the bathrooms and what if they mopped the floors? What if in the summer they repainted the school? What if in that process they were actually learning to work, learning to earn money, they had money on their own, they didn’t have to become a pimp or a prostitute or a drug dealer, they had money on their own? They had the dignity of work, and learned how to be around adults who actually wanted to mentor them and help them?

“Now that’s not a casual comment,” Gingrich said. “It actually grows out of a lot of thinking over many years of trying to figure out who do we break out people trapped in poverty who have no habits of work.”

I said to him, “Democrats could very easily take that comment and say ‘Newt Gingrich wants inner city kids to become janitors at age 10.’”

“Right,” Gingrich said, “and the correct answer is that’s a lie. Newt Gingrich wants inner city kids to learn how to have a job at which they earn some money as the first step in the rung in the ladder up.

Gingrich continued, “this all started  when people on the Left laughed about and derided what they call hamburger flipping jobs. I did an entire thing in one of my courses on the number of people whose first job was at McDonald’s who are now very successful multi-millionaires. And my point is, any work that gets you in the habit of working beats no work.”

As an aside, Gingrich did give his assessment on how out of touch President Barack Obama is with the black community. I wonder how many conversations he’s had with black folks to get the pulse of black America…

Anyway, Gingrich’s comments aren’t surprising, as they are a reflection of how mainstream, hardworking Americans feel about the poor, particularly poor people of color.

Aside from Gingrich’s comments being completely nonsensical, they are also elitist, racist and, quite frankly, inaccurate.

As someone who grew up on food stamps and had a mother who once went on welfare, I am all too familiar with the value of work. I watched both my mother and father take side jobs along with their full-time employment to make ends meet. During my teenage years (just 10 years ago), I watched my mother each Saturday for go to her employer’s house and clean. Cleaning her employer’s house was humiliating for my mother as she was a part-time domestic for a comfortably middle-class white woman. I remember her once saying, “My mother would turn over in her grave” if she knew I was cleaning a white woman’s house.

I can remember my father during the weekends going to people’s houses to lay carpets, paint and do other minor renovations. I even remember him talking about starting up his own business in which he would do that type of stuff on a full-time basis.

Gingrich appears to be out of touch with reality, as poor children generally grow up learning not to take money and work lightly. Poor children are well aware of the grim reality they face each day when they go to bed hungry, watch their parents choose food over medicine and wonder if they will come home to find their electricity or water turned off.

The Republican presidential candidate’s beliefs are racist and elitist in nature. His comments imply poor children should be groomed to embrace vocational job skills rather than pursue attending a traditional four-year university to prepare for a more professional career path. Gingrich’s comments promote a racist belief that poor black children should be trained to take care of and serve the needs of white people. His comments reinforce a philosophy promoted by whiteness that black people should stay in their place and embrace a modified form of mammy-ism, which stipulates the sole purpose of black bodies should be to serve, care for and entertain mainstream America.

Mammy-ism implies that people of color, particularly black folks, are only worthy to perform service-sector jobs set up to pander to society at large. So, it’s not surprise Gingrich alluded to poor black children cleaning and painting school facilities during the summer or working in the school’s library or front office. In his mind, black children don’t need to use their spare time to hit the books to ensure good grades, as whiteness brainwashes him to believe that black children’s otherness automatically relegates them to catering to the needs of mainstream America.

What Newt Gingrich fails to recognize is in the black community, poor children historically have been working from the time they’ve learned to walk. Not only have they done what they can to bring money into their households, whether it’s selling drugs or doing legitimate work, they’ve also babysat younger children in the neighborhood for working neighbors, taken care of their own siblings  and have made sure their homes are cleaned and dinner is cooked for their working parents. Poor children recognize the value of working as they often don’t have the luxuries their middle to upper middle-class counterparts often take for granted.

Gingrich’s comments should cause one to examine how his presidency would impact the education of poor black children. Any candidate who promotes the assignment of poor black children solely to jobs that sustain the racial glass ceiling is one who has no interest in dismantling a system created by whiteness to advance the success of those who look like them at the expense of bodies relegated to the category of otherness.