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Later On

The Other Side of the Tracks: A Socially Speaking commentary

January 10, 2012

By Perry Redd


There has been a flurry of racially insensitive rhetoric swirling around the politisphere.  We’ve always known there are racists in the midst, but election time seems to embolden the venom that lies within the fangs of the latent ones.  I want to take this opportunity to remind you so that when they come calling for your support—and vote—that you not only tell them no, but tell them why.

Now, let me exercise full disclosure here: President Obama is not guaranteed my vote come November.  I’m no longer a registered Democrat.  I’m still highly disappointed that he elected not to close Guantanomo, he chose not to prosecute the purveyors of the financial crisis we’re in, and his compromises with the Republicans empowered them and hurt the people.  I will vote, but one thing for sure, I won’t vote for the Republican candidate.

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum is quoted as saying, ”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”  Santorum was addressing entitlements at a town hall in Iowa, as he does at almost every campaign event, but it’s unclear whether the GOP candidate actually said “black” people or simply stumbled on his words.

When asked for an explanation by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Santorum neither confirmed nor denied his wording, only saying that he didn’t recall.  Like most Republicans do, he gave a disingenuous excuse: “I haven’t heard the context of the question,” he explained. “I haven’t heard it. All I can say is that I don’t single out any one group of people. That’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t divide people by group or race or class.”  Well geez, the entire country has watched the video!  How many words can you replace “black people” with?

Santorum was speaking on his opposition to Obama’s economic plan; how he sees more people being dependent on social programs.  He then launches into Black people? He was talking about people, period; how did black people even get into the conversation?  I’ll tell you how.  When Republicans pander to the conservative, traditionalist base, and they’re desperate, they must identify the common enemy; this will always be Black people. But later, he added, “I condemn all forms of racism.”

My chief reason for not voting Republican lies within their dangerous domestic agenda to balance the national budget on the backs of the poor and working class. Their insistence on not raising taxes on the richest Americans while ignoring the rising tax burden on the working class is yet another reason.  But for me, as a Black American male, I strongly despise their persistent racial attitudes and belief system as a reason not to even consider voting Republican.

I went in search of definitive findings that demonstrate which race benefits the greatest from welfare programs (there’s no doubt which race needs them more).  Being that race is the most sensitive political issue that can ever come up, those results are virtually unattainable.  That’s part of the systemically divisive paradigm.

But I did find Martin Gilens’ book, “Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Policy.”  In it, he contextualizes public perception of this public policy.  In almost every program area, the majority interviewed believed that spending should be increased. The data indicated that the general support for social welfare is not limited to just programs benefiting large numbers of Americans, such as social security and education but also for more targeted populations, such as the poor.  According to those surveyed, 71% believe that spending should be increased to fight poverty.

The results seemed to indicate that Americans do support social welfare programs, but when asked about whether welfare spending or support for people on welfare should be increased, Americans indicated they were strongly opposed to these general programs. 63% believe welfare spending should be decreased and 71% indicate spending for people on welfare should be decreased. These two results are essentially contradictory – Americans support helping the poor but don’t support welfare, the primary program designed to help the poor.

The question Gilens poses is how do we account for these perceptions of welfare recipients as undeserving and the racial attitudes, in particular, the attitude of Blacks as lazy. To understand how the poor have been portrayed in the media, Gilens traces the media representation of the poor over the past forty-five years in Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report as well as television news coverage for three historical periods, 1968, 1982-83 and 1988-1992.

From 1950 through 1964, the poor people portrayed were predominantly white, but from 1967 through 1992, blacks averaged 57 percent of the poor portrayed, almost double the proportion of blacks among the poor in the U.S. In addition to an increase in the portrayal of blacks in pictures of poverty, during the period of 1972-1973, when there was general widespread public opinion of problems with welfare, Blacks were represented in 70 percent of the stories indexed under poverty and in 75 percent of the stories indexed under welfare.

It’s widely held that roughly the same percentage of the Black and white populations receive welfare assistance, respectively…about 39%.  But since Blacks are only 12.2% of the U.S. population and whites make up 63%; of their respective numbers, Blacks receive more welfare benefits.  What’s always left out of the conservative’s attacks on black recipients is how the system has iced Blacks out of the job market, thus promoting wealth disparity and a imbalance in the unemployment rate; how the dismantling of unions strips Black workers of job protection; how the criminal justice system instantly disenfranchises a significant portion of Blacks or how under-funding for education promotes lower earning potential for America’s Black population. 

This misrepresentation in the media contributes significantly to Americans’ opposition to welfare. Republican candidates running for president take advantage of this disingenuous representation of the poor. The deserving poor—the elderly and the working poor—are typically portrayed as poor white individuals, whereas poor blacks have appeared mostly in stories about welfare abuse or the underclass. The stereotype of blacks as lazy is an image that has prevailed throughout American history, and as stated earlier, this perception was found to be a strong determinant to non-black’s opposition to welfare.

What I know is, after the primary, when the Republicans choose their nominee, that nominee will then revert to a reality in his rhetoric that seeks to court the Black vote.  Later on, they will act as if none of this misrepresentation was ever spoken.  I hope you’ll play the video—not only in your mind, but in your community groups, meeting halls and special events—to remind all who will be affected of the true intentions of the persons clamoring for the job of chief executive…and the one charged with looking out for your interest.


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