Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The narrative about welfare

Newt Gingrich doesn't understand why calling food stamps an African-American issue is insulting:

JUAN WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic, and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

GINGRICH: No, I don’t see that.

He doesn't understand why because he doesn't know that, as the link points out, most black people aren't on food stamps. Nor are most of the people on food stamps black people. So why would food stamps be a black person issue instead of a white person issue, or more specifically a child and old person issues?

The reason is because Republicans, and Democrats to a certain extent, have built a narrative about food stamps, welfare, and welfare-type programs in general which says that these programs are mostly about white people just giving black people things. The first thing many people think of when they hear welfare is the derogatory term "welfare queen". But just like with food stamps, white people make up most of welfare's recipients. This is in part because the media frames these issues in ways that focus on black people. And I'm sure that plays a significant role in the narrative Republicans construct.

But that narrative exists because it goes to the core of two things Republicans are about, resentment and suspicion of people that aren't like them. Even if you told Republicans that most of welfare and food stamps go to white people, not to mention kids and the elderly, they would still not like it. Why? Because they don't like the idea of the gov't explicitly handing things away to people, especially people they think don't deserve it. They don't think poor people deserve handouts because they are blind to structural barriers in society. Everything to them is all about the individual. But combine that with the fact that some of those poor people are black and you get an even heightened sense of suspicious because they are different than the good, deserving white people who work hard and don't need the gov't to help them out.

Fear of different looking people, resentment, and hostility towards anything the gov't does to help people other than themselves is why Republicans and Gingrich don't understand why it's insulting to black people to frame the issue of food stamps or welfare in terms of just black people. That's why they get called racists. And when that happens they just hunker down and feel more resentment because they have also internalized a narrative about racism which states that the only true racism that still exists is the kind where white people are unfairly called racists. So liberals need to stick to the facts when confronting people like Gingrich and stay away from the name calling.

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