GOP Launches Race War to Boost the 1 Percent
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The recent vote of House Republicans to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program reflects a deep-seated and insidious racial resentment toward Americans of color. This racial resentment rears its ugly head within the provisions for the bill that demand that non-employed participants in the program get a job, job training or do community service activities. Though the bill in its current form will most likely die in the Senate, the fact that Republicans would even pass it should concern us.
Conservatives continue to lead under the aegis of a deliberate and willful ignorance about the long-term existence of a group known as the working poor, people who work long hours in low-wage paying menial labor jobs, and therefore cannot make ends meet. Moreover, there is a refusal to accept that the economic downturn in 2008 created conditions of long-term unemployment, such that people simply cannot go out and “get a job” just because they will it to be so.
I often wonder if government officials actually talk to real human beings about these policies, because if they did, they would find many people with a deep desire to work, but a struggle to find well-paying jobs. Some of those people would gladly take jobs that pay far less, but are frequently told that their education and years of work experience make them over-qualified.
This is not a race-based problem. The American middle class itself is shrinking dramatically each year in relation to a poor economy, an insistence on austerity measures from the right, and a capitulation to these measures on the left. However, the complete irrationality and utter severity of the legislation, and the total lack of empathy and identification that inform contemporary Republican social advocacy is tied to a narrative about lazy black people and thieving “illegal” brown people.
In 1976, Ronald Reagan invented the term “welfare queen,” to characterize the actions of exactly one person in Chicago who had bilked the welfare system out of a staggering amount of money. Buttressed by an underlying white racial resentment of the liberal pieces of legislation that emerged during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – laws that had attempted to change conditions, but could not change hearts and minds around racial inequality issues — white conservatives latched on to a narrative about lazy African-Americans stealing from taxpayers and living lavish lives financed by the welfare state.
That narrative has persisted well into the 21st century when Newt Gingrich derisively referred to Barack Obama as the “Food Stamp President” in the 2012 elections. Uninterrogated and misplaced racial resentment has been the most effective strategy for making white people support draconian social policies in the name of “taking the country back.” This is true, even though in sheer numbers, white people are the largest group of recipients of the SNAP program.
Fiscal conservative politicians (including some Democrats like Bill Clinton) have presided over a massive and systematic redistribution of wealth into the 1 percent since the 1980s. For African-Americans this means that we lost over half of our collective (and meager) net wealth, in just the last five years, due to predatory lending and the the machinations of big business. But it is easier to hate and regulate welfare recipients.
Since everyone knows that welfare queens finance their lives of luxury through the receipt of food stamps, which amounts on average to about $135 in groceries each month, cutting the food stamp program, a move that will take nearly 4 million people off the rolls in the next 10 years, is not merely a pragmatic measure or a “necessary evil,” but rather a deeply symbolic act that points to recalcitrant and entrenched racist attitudes on the right. It turns out, then, that African-Americans are not the only group of voters whose political behavior is motivated – at least, in part — by racial identity.