The 2008 election of Barak Obama to the United States presidency gave many of us hope that, indeed, American issues of race—and how it relates to politics—had somewhat diminished. We knew that we weren’t yet a “post racial” society, but we believed that Obama’s election marked a giant leap forward. Fast forward to 2012: the presidential race is heating up and Republican candidates are trying to establish ground in a crowded field. Comments by some of the presidential hopefuls clearly demonstrate that, although voters may have been able to look beyond race, our candidates are having a hard time doing the same.
Republican Presidential candidate and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, while speaking on the campaign trail about so-called entitled programs like Medicaid and food stamps, commented that he ‘want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money’. Santorum has backed off of those statements, saying he was misheard. But we know better.
To add insult to injury, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently stated that he was going to travel to the NAACP convention to “tell the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”
Santorum and Gingrich, with their statements, have put black face on programs that provide necessary assistance to the needy. This harkens back to Ronald Reagan who, while running for president in 1976, spoke of the mythical welfare queen who, in his descriptions, was African-American and a drain on society.
Like Reagan, Santorum and Gingrich are flat out misinformed. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of entitlement program beneficiaries are White. More than 60-percent of welfare recipients are White—33-percent are Black—and Whites receive 34-percent of federal food assistance while African-Americans receive 22-percent.
Far too often, race baiting in political campaigns has been used as a way to appeal to the latent racist sentiments of voters. By playing off of people’s fears, candidates try to grow their popularity and, hopefully, sweep into office. We’ve come too far in society for politics to revert back to these tactics. While Obama’s history-making victory may have shown how much we’ve grown, these recent developments show just how much more work we have to do.