GOP leaders say whites unaware of challenges facing black Americans

Story highlights

  • "If you are a normal, white American, the truth is you don't understand being black in America," Gingrich said
  • Marco Rubio said Americans who are not black "will never fully understand" the experiences of those protesting police brutality

Washington (CNN)Following one of the most tense weeks between police and black communities in recent history, several prominent Republicans said most white Americans don't understand the challenges that come with being black in America.

While the lawmakers did not go as far to endorse the positions of activists who protest against racism and police brutality, the politicians acknowledged that many black Americans have a different lived experience.
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday that "normal white Americans" don't understand "being black in America."
    "It took me a long time, and a number of people talking to me through the years, to get a sense of this: If you are 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," he said on CNN political commentator Van Jones' Facebook Live stream.
    Jones and Gingrich discussed this past week's shootings in Dallas, Louisiana and Minnesota.
    Gingrich added that white parents do not have to teach their children how to interact with police the way black parents do, the Republican said.
    "It is more dangerous to be black in America," Gingrich said. "It is more dangerous in that they are substantially more likely to end up in a situation where the police don't respect you and you could easily get killed. And sometimes for whites, it is difficult to appreciate how real that is and how it's an everyday danger."
    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Americans who are not African-American "will never fully understand" the experiences that many protesting police brutality vocalize.
    "Those of us who are not African-American will never fully understand the experience of being black in America," the former presidential candidate said Friday at news conference in Doral, Florida. "But we should all understand why our fellow Americans in the black community are angry at the images of an African-American man with no criminal background who was pulled over for a busted taillight who was slumped over in a car seat dying while his 4-year-old daughter watches from the backseat."
    Rubio was referring to the death of Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a police officer after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
    "All of us should be troubled by these images and all of us need to acknowledge that this is about more than just one or two recent incidents," Rubio said. "The fact is that there are communities in America that are telling us they fear interacting with local law enforcement. How they feel is a reality that we cannot and should not ignore. And as we work through this, it will require us to ask and answer some very difficult and uncomfortable questions."
    And Ben Carson, a former presidential candidate himself who is black, told CNN that there needs to be more discourse between white Americans and black Americans to better understand the challenges minority communities have with law enforcement.
    "Everyone works with people and lives around different people from them. Engage them in conversations," he told CNN in a phone interview.
    Black and white Americans "should start talking to each other instead of getting in their respective corners and throwing hand grenades at each other," he continued.
    And police could do a better job of understanding why people from black communities are anxious about interacting with law enforcement, the retired neurosurgeon said.
    "We need the police to understand that a lot of people who grow up in a minority community, they see stuff, they hear stuff," Carson said. "And that colors their response. And you may sometimes have to handle an individual like that a little differently, understanding the anxiety that your presence produces for them."
    "That's simply a matter of training and understanding where a person is coming from," he added.
    Sen. Tim Scott -- the only black Republican in the Senate -- said he, too, has had unpleasant run-ins with police that many people who are not black would not understand.
    "As Newt and others have said, for many black Americans, the challenges we face are not well-known outside of our communities. I have been there myself -- I've been pulled over multiple times in a year for nothing more than driving a new car," the South Carolina senator told CNN Friday. "To me, this symbolizes just how important it is moving forward that Americans actively reach out to folks who may not look like them. Stand in someone else's shoes, and learn how the world looks from their perspective. We can learn so much just by having the conversation, and as we look to rebuild lost trust we have to make this a priority."