The b.s. that passes for news is enough to give a person the information superhighway version of road rage.
Hardly a word of substance had been uttered about moms until Hilary Rosen‘s statement that work-at-home mom of five Anne Romney never worked “a day in her life” became ammo in the war over women(s’ votes). Now one can barely turn on the TV without seeing the clip of Mitt Romney’s January 2012 quote about forcing women on welfare to work so they can experience “the dignity” of labor.
BTW: Earth to Romney! There’s no “dignity” in forced labor.
But what really frosts me is how a few words directed at a super rich, white work-at-homer with plenty of financial cushion to ease the pain could incite such furor, while downright mean, not to mention racist and untrue things are regularly said about poor women of color and nary a word is spoken in their defense.
Case in point: in order to justify cutting welfare and punishing low/no-income women in general for the “irresponsible” act of having children while poor, policy leaders exploit and amplify the societal stereotypes of poor women of color as lazy, sexually undisciplined layabouts making babies to get benefits.
For instance, remember what was said about black women on welfare by Ronald Reagan? He fabricated a story about a black welfare queen whose criminal gaming of the public benefits system was making her rich at our expense. This iconic image has survived for more than 30 years, delivering the message that “our hard-earned (therefore, deserved) money” is going to women of color who are either playing us or are just hopeless dependents with poor work ethics. And the assault didn’t end there.
In 1996 the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton, ending welfare as we once knew it and replacing it with Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), a program with a 5 year lifetime limit and a work requirement. So much coded and not so coded racism was drummed up between the Reagan and Clinton years in order to justify this eventual reform that by 1996, the public didn’t know fact from fiction.
Folks thought that the black teen pregnancy rate in the 80s and early 90s was skyrocketing out of control, and that black illegitimacy was a major problem, especially because they’d been convinced that receiving public assistance was a disincentive to work.
In 2002, Francis Fox Piven addressed the racism that drove welfare reform by citing a 1995 National Center for Health Statistics report that challenges some of the arguments about black illegitimacy rates and teen pregnancies used to promote reform.
Here are a couple of highlights:
- In 1993 the rate of non-marital births among white women over twenty was 42% versus a black non-marital birth rate in the same age group of 25%.
- The non-marital birth rate of white women under twenty was 18% versus 11% for black women in the same age group.
And, by the way, then as now, the teen birth rate was dropping. The out-of-wedlock rate was increasing as a percentage of a smaller number of teen births in general, but they played us there too, in order to raise the specter of a potential welfare boom.
Still think we’re post-racial? We may be post-conscious, but certainly not past creating public policy based on less overt but no less effective forms of racism.
Oh, and note to leaders of both major parties: women of all colors will have won the war against them when politicians stop treating their issues like ammunition and their bodies like battlefields, and political leaders start acting like women are people.
I don’t mean just folks, I mean the people who still carry the primary responsibility of raising children with limited services such as daycare, many of whom must also work outside the home where they make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. A little respect is in order here.