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Newt Gingrich: White people ‘don’t understand being black in America’

'It took me a long time ... for me to begin to get a sense of this.'


Aaron Sankin


Posted on Jul 8, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 11:46 am CDT

Former House Speaker and rumored Donald Trump running-mate Newt Gingrich has some thoughts about the rash of racially inflammatory shootings that have sparked passions across the country. 

During a conversation with his progressive former Crossfire cast-mate Van Jones broadcast on Facebook Live on Friday, Gingrich delivered an opinion that may strike many as surprising as coming from the architect of the conservative takeover of Congress in the mid-1990s: “It’s more dangerous to be black in America.”

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“It’s both more dangerous because of crime, which is the Chicago story, but it is more dangerous in that they’re substantially more likely to end up in a situation where the police don’t respect you and where you could easily get killed,” Gingrich told Jones during their 23-minute conversation. “Sometimes for whites it’s difficult to appreciate how real that it is, that it’s an everyday danger.”

Gingrich’s comments come in the context of a pair of shootings of African-American men by police—Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota—that triggered massive protests across the country. 

At a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas on Thursday evening, held in protest of these police shootings, a sniper opened fire on police, killing five officers and injuring seven.

Gingrich tied together the sense of constant danger many African-Americans feel with a similar sentiment expressed by law enforcement officials of all races. 

“They have the same sense of threat that every time you walk up to a car they could be killed. Every time you walk into a building where a robbery is in progress, you could be killed,” he said. “The police actually lead lives that are as much on the front line of saving civilization as our military, but we don’t quite have the same sense of awe and the same sense of respect. And yet, they put their lives on the line every day.”

He continued:

“It took me a long time … for me to begin to get a sense of this. If you’re a normal, white American, the truth is, you don’t understand being black in America. And you instinctively underestimate the level of discrimination and the level of additional risk in a way that you have to have a corrective. But the minute you starting getting the corrective … like Black Lives Matter … which initially people reject because it’s not in their world. If you are African-American, you are raising your teenage boys to be very careful obeying the police because literally their lives are at risk, and they can see it on television. If you are a normal Caucasian, you don’t see that. That’s not part of your experience.”

Gingrich’s comments reflect a view that is becoming a consensus across American society—that structural racism plays a significant role on how African-Americans are treated by law enforcement. A survey taken in 2015 showed that 88 percent of blacks and 59 percent of whites believe African-Americans are treated unfairly by police.

The flip-side of that sentiment—that the dangerous reality of police work is misunderstood by black people—is also a majority opinion. The survey found that 67 percent of whites and 52 percent of blacks agreed with a statement about the misunderstanding between the African-American community and police. 

Despite high-profile killings of police officers that gained widespread attention in recent years, such as the attack in Dallas and a 2014 incident that saw a man deliberately target two NYPD officers, there’s been a long, consistent decrease in the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in the U.S. since the early 1970s. 

While Gingrich’s comments about race may appear to be out in front of many members of his party, they’re actually well within the range of the broad consensus of Americans of all races. Even so, Gingrich’s seeming acceptance of the concerns of anti-police-violence protesters wasn’t uniform across all of his media appearances following the Dallas shooting.

Speaking as a guest on Fox & Friends on Friday morning, he blamed liberals and the agitation of the Black Lives Matter movement for inciting the violence in Dallas.

“My argument is the policies that have driven us apart, the policies that have trapped African-Americans in all too large numbers in poverty and in hopelessness [are] the ideological policies that say, ‘black lives matter,’” Gingrich said. “Well, baloney! All American lives matter, of all backgrounds. And we ought to challenge the Hillary Clintons and the Bernie Sanderses to say that American lives matter. All American lives.”

“We’re in the eighth year of a president who could have brought us together, a president who could have worked in the African-American community to make people feel better about themselves, a president who could have offered visionary changes in the policies that have failed for the last 50 years,” he continued. “And he didn’t do any of that.”

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*First Published: Jul 8, 2016, 5:55 pm CDT