Academics Say Newt Gingrich's Policies Are Harmful to Black America

Academics Say Newt Gingrich's Policies Are Harmful to Black America

Newt Gingrich has risen to Republican Party front-runner status. But his candidacy has drawn sharp criticism from several African-American academics.

Published December 14, 2011

Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful, has seen his political prospects rise dramatically in recent weeks with an enthusiasm from his party’s base that has made him the front runner. 

But the former Speaker of the House of Representatives is receiving far from glowing reviews from Black academics who criticism him harshly as a candidate with dangerous views.

“We in the African-American community should be scared out of our wits,” said J. Phillip Thompson, a professor of urban politics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“He is clearly someone who will do whatever it takes and say whatever he feels he has to say in order to win, without any ethical considerations,” Thompson said.

For example, Thompson said that he was particularly disturbed by Gingrich’s recent statements that schoolchildren from poor neighborhoods should work to replace unionized janitors in their schools. Speaking at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Gingrich said that students in poor neighborhoods have “no habits of working” or earning income “unless it’s illegal.”

The remarks drew sharp criticisms by union leaders and civil rights groups. Nonetheless Gingrich has steadfastly stood by his proposition, saying that it represented an effective way of teaching fiscal responsibility to young people in low-income neighborhoods.

“We’re already at a point right now in this country where we’re more polarized than ever,” Thompson said. “A candidate like Gingrich only creates a far more polarized society.” Thompson is the author of the book Double Trouble: Black Mayors, Black Communities, and the Struggle for a Deep Democracy.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a professor of African-American history at Ohio State University, said that Gingrich has advocated policies that were harmful to Black and working-class Americans ever since the former congressman championed his Contract With America.

The contract was a document released by the Republican Party during the 1994 Congressional elections and championed by Gingrich. It eventually served as a basis for a wide range of legislation, from welfare reform to shrinking the size of government.

“Gingrich has been the champion of the idea that we need small government, since the government has propped up poor and working people who he believes don’t need to be propped up,” said Jeffries, the author of Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama's Black Belt.

“This is not the kind of thinking that’s going to help people who are struggling in a time of economic stress,” Jeffries said. “And he is inclined to make disparaging remarks about working-class and poor people. He has a rather Darwinist view of American society: That somehow poor people are poor because that don’t know any better. He’s committed to very strident rhetoric.”


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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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