By Coby W. Dillard
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that he would welcome an invitation to attend an NAACP convention, and that he would use the opportunity to explain “why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”
Expectedly, his statement was immediately held up as another racist Republican rant, and was criticized by NAACP president Ben Jealous as being “divisive.”
But is Gingrich making a larger point, beyond the number of black Americans on food stamps and other forms of public assistance? Is he trying to say that our community needs to do more than just politically settle, accepting what leaders and groups tell us at face value?
The facts surrounding Gingrich’s statement show the fallacies of it. More white Americans receive public assistance than any other racial group in the country; this is to be expected, as white Americans make up a majority of the nation’s population.
In fiscal year 2009, black families comprised 33 percent of the participants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program (the “food stamps” of Gingrich’s statement), while white families comprised 31 percent and Hispanic families comprised 28 percent.
However, when these statistics are viewed through the percentages of America’s racial makeup – 75 percent white, 13 percent African American, and 15 percent Hispanic or Latino – there’s no doubt that minorities receive public assistance disproportionate to their numbers in the country.
Considering the reality of those numbers – and not focusing on the statement that prompts the consideration – should cause concern. Not just to us as individuals in our community, but to those who claim to “lead” it as well.
We should be calling to task those individuals and organizations who want to have status in our community, and asking them what specific actions they are taking to help reverse some of these numbers.
That includes not only challenging ourselves, but organizations such as the Urban League and Congressional Black Caucus – and yes, the NAACP. It’s easy to do a press release or hold a convention to decry the Republican Party or the Tea Party movement for their lack of knowledge and appreciation of how national problems affect our communities – a legitimate complaint – but shouldn’t some of that same effort and enthusiasm (and yes, financing) go towards dealing with the problems we face in our communities every day?
With black unemployment at 15 percent, almost 40 percent of our population in prison, and 33 percent of our families receiving public assistance, it’s past time for the black community to demand better. We have to stop accepting at face value the statements of those who rush to “defend” and “protect” us against Republicans and the Tea Party, and begin to demand that equal enthusiasm be applied to the all-too-real issues of our community.
We have to begin to see through the rhetoric that blames African American problems on external entities, and begin to look inside our houses, churches, and the offices of our officials to ensure that our interests are met and our issues addressed.
That is the Republican challenge. Will we accept?
Coby W. Dillard is a local Republican activist and the co-founder of the Hampton Roads Tea Party. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.