'White First Lady' Joke: Inappropriate?

The White House has backed away from Robert De Niro's comments after Newt Gingrich's demands for an apology.

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Newt and Callista Gingrich (Marianne Todd/Getty Images)

A spokeswoman for first lady Michelle Obama said that a racially tinged joke by actor Robert De Niro at a campaign fundraiser Monday night was "inappropriate" after Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich demanded that the White House apologize. Gingrich says it was "utterly and terribly unacceptable" and suggested that it was every bit as offensive as Rush Limbaugh calling college student Sandra Fluke a "slut."

Brace yourself for the joke that the GOP presidential hopeful also said would "divide the country."

From the Hill:

While introducing the first lady at a New York City fundraiser, De Niro jokingly suggested that America isn’t “ready for a white first lady.”

“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now, do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” De Niro said, to laughter from the crowd. When someone in the audience yelled, “No!” De Niro continued, “Too soon, right?”

The actor later on Tuesday released a statement saying he had not meant to offend anyone with his comment.

“My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone -- especially the First Lady,” he said, according to reports.

There's no room in the 24-hour news cycle of sound bites to evaluate whether anyone was actually offended or to analyze the ways in which the impact of a racial joke is informed by our country's history and the context in which it's told. So it makes sense that the White House has backed away from the statement. But we wonder whether anyone was able to listen to Gingrich's comparison of De Niro to Limbaugh with a straight face.

Read more at the Hill.

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