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Dehumanizing the Poor for Fun and Profit


Those of the ilk of rancher Cliven Bundy and billionaire Donald Sterling believe there’s a place for African-Americans. And, Sterling said in a taped conversation, that place certainly is not in photographs with his girlfriend posted on Instagram.

Bundy, who is stiffing the federal government for $1 million in grazing fees, would contend the best place for African-Americans is in cotton picking trade schools, where they’d be taught a skill that would enable them to secure positions as slaves.

For Sterling, Bundy and their amoral company, the good old days were pre-emancipation, when white men like them were men, and federal law said black men were, well, only three-fifths human. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, told his girlfriend she should not bring black people to his team’s basketball games. Bundy told a reporter he thought black people were “better off” as slaves. Crucial to this bigot-think is reduction of some people to subhuman status. That’s how Republicans see poor people: subhuman, three-fifths people. And that is the primary reason that the GOP last week blocked a measure to raise the minimum wage.

When Republicans talk about low-wage workers, they use the language of bigots. Fast food cashiers, home health aides and hotel maids, Republicans say, are stupid and unskilled and lazy. Also, the GOP contends, minimum wage workers are teenagers, not whole humans, merely children. Republicans say these subhumans deserve paltry wages.

Here, for example is House Speaker John Boehner, a GOP leader, belittling low-wage workers: “A lot of people who are being paid the minimum wage are being paid that because they come to the workforce with no skills.”

He is saying it’s OK to pay those people less money than needed to live because, in his mind, they are lesser humans – sub-beings with, according to him, no skills.

These are people who get to work every day, who perform duties prescribed by their employers, and whose production provides profits for the companies employing them. The firms hiring grocery stockers and waitresses and car wash attendants need these workers to execute specific tasks so that the corporations can make money and pay their CEOs millions of dollars. Only when these workers are denigrated as subhuman can CEOs and Republicans justify paying them sub-living wages.

If a Republican had a conversation with a minimum wage worker, he’d discover they’re smart, hard-working, adults. The average minimum wage worker is 35. In fact, 88 percent are older than 20. These are not children.

Forty-four percent have attended some college.  About 8 percent held bachelor’s degrees in 2012, and 37,000 had advanced degrees. 

Many tell stories of grueling, back-busting lives in which their dedicated work is essential for the support of spouses and children and elderly relatives. Twenty-eight percent of them support children. Some live in their parents’ homes, but not because they’re teens gleaning spending money. Sometimes the low wages leave them with only two choices: parents’ home or public housing. And sometimes it’s because they’re also caring for invalid parents.

But Republicans don’t know that. And don’t want to. The average net worth of the 41 GOP Senators who opposed the first minimum wage increase in half a decade is $6.26 million. They don’t deign to chat with the $15,000-a-year chauffeurs, maids, waiters, nannies and housekeepers who serve them hand and foot.

The GOP so opposes speaking with humans they disregard as “lower class,” that they bar them from testifying at government hearings on poverty.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the failed GOP vice presidential candidate, has refused to allow actual poor people to appear at a hearing he is conducting this week on poverty – just as he did at his previous hearing on poverty. He will, however, hear from this guy: Bishop Shirley Holloway, founder of the House of Help City of Hope, who has said, “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”