Column: One pillar of American racism is also propping up Fox News

Kamala Harris speaking at a lectern with the Marine flag behind her
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
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I swear, every time I hear Newt Gingrich spout off, I think of the brilliant 2020 book by Isabel Wilkerson, about the eight core beliefs that uphold a caste system. The pillar of “inherent superiority vs. inherent inferiority” is the one that keeps Gingrich on TV.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

Conservatives have known he was full of it since his first campaign in 1974. Back then Gingrich touted a campaign slogan — “Newt’s family is like your family” — though it was common knowledge he was cheating on his wife.

“Jackie was kind of frumpy,” Gingrich’s first press secretary told Mother Jones. Gingrich reportedly told his campaign treasurer that his wife was not “pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer.”


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So when Sean Hannity of Fox News wanted someone to criticize the credibility of Vice President Kamala Harris, the natural choice was of course … Newt Gingrich. A man who faced ethics investigations and was forced out as House speaker. A man who avoided paying more alimony and child support when he had a $4-million book advance coming his away. Yes, Fox News … America is just dying to hear what Gingrich has to say about credibility.

“Kamala’s hopeless because she’s Kamala,” he quipped this month. “Anybody who watches her knows the idea of her being president makes Biden look good, which is really hard nowadays. You have to start with the idea that she has imprinted on the country, permanently, that she’s a very shallow, uneducated and uneducable person. Other than her weird laugh there’s no significant part of her.”

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Harris graduated from Howard University and has a law degree. Her mother left India to come to the United States in 1958 to study biochemistry. Her father is an economist who taught at Stanford. They both earned doctorates in their respective fields from Berkeley.

Gingrich called the vice president both “uneducated” and “uneducable” not for the sake of truth and honesty but to protect the pillar of caste that would be threatened by the truth about Harris. The one identified in Wilkerson’s book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” as “inherent superiority vs. inherent inferiority.”

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Citing 1942 observations from the Yale scholar Liston Pope, she wrote in the book: “A caste system has a way of filtering down to every inhabitant, its codes absorbed like mineral springs, setting the expectations of where one fits on the ladder. The mill worker with nobody else to ‘look down on’ regards himself as eminently superior to the Negro. The colored man represents his last outpost against social oblivion.”

For 50 years, Gingrich’s political positions have gravitated to whatever the polls said they should be. What has been consistent is his willingness to demean. That sharp tongue was something that became a hallmark early on in his political career and was on full show when it came time to talk about welfare reform during the 1990s. His policy debates were opportunities to use dehumanizing rhetoric to refer to anyone he deemed “less than.” And by proxy, Gingrich supporters were also able to look down on those who needed assistance.


Even after leaving Congress in scandal, and even after his well-documented mistreatment of women, Gingrich somehow still communicates to his audience: “We are inherently better.” And that’s why he felt comfortable saying the nonsensical things about Harris that he did. He knows he’s lying, but his lies bring comfort to those who cling to that pillar of the caste system.

Ava DuVernay adapted “Caste” for the big screen in 2023 with the movie “Origin,” which recently started streaming and landed in the Top 3 on Hulu. It does a beautiful job of transforming Wilkerson’s reporting into a compelling narrative about our shared humanity — the joys and the pain. And it does so in desperate pursuit of understanding and healing as opposed to showcasing trauma with a punitive tone.

During last season’s cinematic commercial hurricane that was Barbenheimer, “Origin” did not get the attention it deserves. In its second life, I’m glad it is finding more viewers.

Voters who see this film very well might think about the upcoming election in a different way — seeing the various ways caste continues to manifest in America and the eight pillars on which it stands.

Gingrich is a smart man. He has a doctorate in European history. He chose his line of attack against Harris strategically, not to critique policies of the Biden administration but to prey on the discomfort a lot of people have about the idea of a Black woman being president. And to prop up that “inherent inferiority” pillar of America’s caste system.

While neither major party would pass a purity test, there is only one party that keeps putting a microphone in front of people like Gingrich … and it’s not because the audience wants to hear the truth.