Newt and Co. Endeavor to Persevere Against, Uh, Robert De Niro?

Robert Chanate

Who knew Robert De Niro was a racist? I always thought of him as a progressive minded actor who has been in some great movies. That is until I heard Newt Gingrich admonishing him for a joke told at a fundraiser.

For those who don’t know about it, here’s a recap of De Niro’s joke.

A few days ago, De Niro was hosting a fundraiser to support the reelection of President Obama to a second term. As he opened the night’s events, De Niro told a few jokes. One of the jokes was about the possibility of a new first lady, should the Republican candidate -- still undecided among Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich -- defeat President Obama in the November election. Said De Niro “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white First Lady?” As all but one of this country’s first ladies have been white -- Michelle Obama being the one exception -- De Niro was obviously being sarcastic.

One of the Republican candidates, Newt Gingrich, was offended by the joke and called on President Obama to apologize. Said Gingrich “What De Niro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him, I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney, I think that Robert De Niro's wrong. I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn't have to describe it in racial terms.'

That’s quite an expression of pain from Newt. I imagine his first reaction was to scream in agony, just like Don Ciccio when young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) stabbed him in the chest to avenge the death of his parents and brother.

As a Native person, I can’t help but feel compassion for Newt, his fellow Republican Presidential candidates and their wives. When a group of people have been historically oppressed like the Republican Party, it’s understandable the words of an actor would inflict a pain so great that only an apology from the President of the United States would provide a salve.

Sadly, we Natives are more than familiar with racial slurs. Redskins, guteaters, wagonburners (I sorta like that one), Prairie Nigger, etc. People of Color all have racist terms to describe and dehumanize them as well. As Gingrich pointed out, De Niro was engaging in this ugly racism by using probably the most offensive racist term in the English language: White. Calling someone White is definitely not okay especially when the person doing it is also White.

Some might say that Newt is doing his people a disservice by taking on the role of victim but what else is he to do? Republicans have been marginalized in American politics and access to media outlets, money and political power is virtually nonexistent. Much like our ancestors, Newt has nothing but his personal courage and a strong voice to counter the powerful forces of racial terror. For us, it was Custer. For Newt, it’s Robert De Niro.

Still, I wondered if maybe Newt was overreacting to the jests of Robert De Niro. Could it be that Newt was being overly sensitive and maybe even whining about a comment that might be ultimately harmless?

Trying to put myself in his shoes, I thought of how I might take the jests of Robert De Niro. I don’t think I’ve ever been mistaken for being a white guy but there are rumors that I might have a white family member somewhere in my family tree. Because I might have a distant White ancestor (there’s that terrible word "white" again) I feel this qualifies me to understand their history and what might be offensive to them.

After thinking it over, I had to admit I wasn’t offended by the De Niro joke. I also asked two of my White friends if they were outraged by De Niro’s remark and they said “No.” Furthermore, I saw some White Woman on TV saying Newt shouldn’t be so thin-skinned and his party had bigger problems to worry about. That settled it for me. If my two friends weren’t offended, and the TV lady wasn’t offended, and I wasn’t offended, then Newt should get over it.

Then again, I could be wrong about this and history will judge both me and Robert De Niro most harshly.

Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at and He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO. He is also co-authoring a new book with Gyasi Ross coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called “The Thing About Skins,” and the website and publishing company for that handy, dandy book is (coming soon).

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bertkaulaity's picture
Submitted by bertkaulaity on
Comrad, it's I Bert Kaulaity also Kiowa from Mountain View Oklahoma, it does my heart good to hear that the evaders, true wet backs, covered wagon ancestors receive just a smear of what we put with every day. Red, Yellow, Black, and White is a verse in a childs bible song that I love and know at least they got the colors in order. I'm going to read that book so keep up the good work!!!!;0)

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
The comment made was to show how hypo-critical the statement made by DeNiro was in relation to everyone else (who is not liberal or regressive) in making statements of a similar fashion. If a 'Re-publican' made a statement as "is American ready for a black first lady (even in jest), the TV News channels and regressive would be up in ARMs". The racism is hypo-critical on the part of Liberal Democrats where they seem state in uni-son...."some people are more equal than others"!...... I like De Niro as an actor, but shame on his politics...

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
Why are the Indigenous stuck inside a "box"? Our leaders make decisions based on "colonialistic" parameters rammed down their throats with no leeway by the state and federal governments whose only aim is to get rid of the Indigenous in order to finish stealing whatever little natural resources and lands are left to them. I blame the so called Indigenous "journalists" who refuse to bring up that subject. I feel that ICT is run by whatever corporations funds it, and so ICT will refuse to print anything critical to the thieves and murderers who stole, and continue to steal whatever the Indigenous have left. Look up the definition of the word colonialism and think of the centuries the European and then American gov'ts have invaded weaker countries to enable freebooters, thieves, murderers and corporations to steal their resources and lands. With the enslavement, murder and genocide of the Indigenous people. Theft and Murder. Even now America has 900 bases in 130 countries, actively working with the CIA, military intelligence and private mercenary armiies to destabilize countries to enable coups, assassinations to topple governments and set up and prop up despot 2 bit puppet dictator regimes. With the aim of opening up resources for foreign conglomerates to steal. Democracy eh? Capitalism eh? When are the Indigenous going to call it for what it is. Colonialism and Theft and Murder?

laura's picture
Submitted by laura on
You are missing the entire point of Newt's complaint! How sad that the nation does not see what's happening. DeNiro's comment was one of many public comments that serves no purpose but to fan the flames of racism and keep everyone focused on skin color instead of real issues that we collectively face. The more Democrats can distract the public with class warfare and racism, the less they have to address the important issues like gas prices, taxes, unemployment, healthcare, etc. As a tribal member of mixed race, I was offended by DeNiro's comment because of the divisiveness that attitude perpetrates, and I think that's the general complaint from those 'evil white Republicans' as well.