One of my paper topics is deals with the inherent racism involved in the formation of welfare policy and reform. For the most part I am proud of my country, but there are times where I do research and I feel absolute shame. Not necessarily for the decisions of my forefathers--though many decisions they made were deplorable, but what hits me the most is to realize that some things never change.
As far back as the early 1800's, this country was trying to figure out what to do with women and children who were abandoned by their husbands/fathers. The political leaders, even back then, divided women in to classes: the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. Women and children were often exploited in sweat shops for low wages, in an attempt to provide shelter and food.
In the 1860's, during Reconstruction, legislators were concerned with what to do with black women and their children. Slave owners forbid African American men and women from marrying, fearing insurrection if they allowed this. Families were split, children sold off, and with the south freed, this was a huge problem for the south. So legislatures, in their infinite wisdom, started declaring certain freed slaves to be "married" so as to not have to provide for the black women and her children. Shameful.
I would like to say that it improved over time, but it did not. 100 years later, Democratic Senator Daniel Monhiyan publishes the Monhiyan Report which blames welfare on the black matriarch single women. 20 years after that, Reagan campaigns on the Welfare Queen, and the Media begins to picture black single mothers as the face of Welfare. In 1994, Congress promotes welfare reform and attacks illegitmacy as the social ill that drives all other social ills, drugs, crime, illiteracy, and so on................
I'm ashamed of this in so many ways. Maybe because to some extent in 1994, I bought into this myth to some extent, without knowing the ramifications or even the racial undertones that laced the debate. I did not know the barriers, the issues that face the black single mother. I identify with the stigma of being a single mother, but by virtue of the color of my skin [white] I would have been crowned deserving in the 1800's, and certainly not villified as a welfare queen schemer in the 1980's.
The tone of the welfare debate must change. The politicians must begin to realize that if they are serious about welfare reform, that they have it backwards. That education is the key to a hand up out of welfare. This is not about "deserving" for every person deserves to thrive and survive in this country. There is no magical thing that makes some one "less." I wish there was a way to change the debate and the way people think about this subject. I wish there was a way to open eyes to the fact that the history of this debate, and the continued lack of support for education is only leading to more poverty and more racial bias.