When Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich first called child labor laws "stupid" and suggested that poor kids should be put to work in their schools, his remarks outraged the public. After all, the government created child labor laws because hundreds of youth were abused, maimed and killed when they worked long hours during the industrial revolution. But before long, the controversy over Gingrich's Dec. 1 remarks during an affair at the Nationwide Insurance headquarters turned racial. Everyone from the all-female panel of ABC's "The View" to "The Daily Show" to Forbes magazine took Gingrich's comments about poor children to mean poor black children. Here's what Gingrich said:
"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal."
Opponents of this argument questioned why the term "working poor" exists if no one in impoverished communities works for a living. As holes were poked in Gingrich's argument, he finally made reference to the high youth black unemployment rate, making it clear he wasn't just talking about poor communities in general but poor black communities.
Gingrich's comments show that he's completely out of touch. Has the former speaker of the House ever spent an extended amount of time in, say, South Los Angeles or Chicago's Southside and discovered the challenges that poor black people face? Is he familiar with research showing that job applicants are not only discriminated against by race but by the zip code in which they reside? This means that those who are both poor and black face fierce barriers to employment. Still, to argue that no one in these communities works unless it's illegal is a gross and irresponsible generalization. Many people in the black middle class today were raised in poor homes, but they clearly had the work ethic necessary to climb the socioeconomic ladder.
Both of my biological parents were poor children. My mother, raised in Tennessee, remembers not having indoor plumbing as a small child. Yet she and my father, raise in Nigeria, are both law-abiding, working members of the middle class. When Newt Gingrich made his racially insensitive remarks, he erased the experiences of people like my parents and countless other poor black children who went on to make something of their lives.