Decades of Distortion - Page 4

Racism And Wage Work

The impact of this rhetoric and its racist underpinnings is evident in the 1967 amendments to the Social Security Act, which for the first time placed mandatory work requirements on AFDC recipients. As more white women moved into wage work, at least on a part-time basis, and that became more acceptable,94 and as the states were finally required to open the welfare rolls to women of color,95 the image of "productive" became more complicated. In the rhetoric of the Right, "good" (i.e., white) women were still relegated to their calling as mothers and homemakers;96 although for many "liberal" women, their self-definition and the resulting partial societal understanding of them now included a career.

However, African American women had always been expected and required to do wage work in US society, predominantly as domestic and agricultural workers.97 Thus as the new image of welfare recipient was constructed as African American, it was only to be expected that they (unlike white women) should be required to work.98 Note the assertion in Human Events that relief recipients were not willing to take crop picking work in California.99

Thus the images in the Congressional debate were of unmarried illiterate women with a massive number of children and a lack of appropriate parenting skills.100 Most of these women lived in inner-city slums, particularly the largely African American neighborhood of Harlem.101

This is only one example of the Right's two-sided attack on women. On one hand, a woman's "natural place" is in the home; she finds dignity and security beneath the authority of her husband;102 and day care is opposed because it keeps children away from their mothers.103 On the other hand, a woman without a man (i.e., a single mother welfare recipient) should be in wage work. The implications of these two arguments, as manifested in welfare policy, are racially based. 104 A similar tension exists between the Right's commitment to limited government intervention in individual's lives and the recommendations regarding welfare policy as a mechanism for economically mandating "intact marriages."105

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