“Really poor children, in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they 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 is illegal.” Thus spoke Newt Gingrich, spiritual guru of Christian fascist Americana, on the campaign trail in May. Gingrich’s stagecraft set the tone for the GOP’s campaign propaganda of the 1%. This theme was echoed by Mitt Romney when he blasted Obama for being a sugar daddy for “minorities,” women and young people by doling out special gifts in exchange for their votes.
When I referenced Gingrich’s comment during a training last spring with a group of African American and Latino teachers, it was clear to them which “really poor children” he was talking about, and it wasn’t Alfalfa and Spanky from the Little Rascals, Appalachian white children or Honey Boo Boo from the hit reality show of the same name. These were not the children that Gingrich exhorted to work as unpaid janitors in their under-resourced overcrowded inner city schools. And poor neighborhoods rife with illegal activity are not the mythic trailer parks and Bruce Springsteen blue collar salt of the earth suburbs where the majority of the nation’s white welfare presumably recipients live. Poor, in the mind of mainstream America, means “ghetto” (as my students say) which translates into black, shiftless, on welfare, scamming for a handout, devoid of the bootstraps American work ethic, and usually en route to jail. Aside from Gingrich, the word poor was virtually excised from the political vocabulary during the primaries and never passed the lips of either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. As the wealth gap between black and Latino America and white America deepens poverty has been sucked up into the narrative of American exceptionalism.