The Racial Resentment Behind GOP's Cuts in Food Stamps

The House Republicans' recent vote to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program is a demonstration of their animosity toward Americans of color, Brittney Cooper argues in a piece for Salon. 

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Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, August 2013 (Boston Globe/Getty Images)

The House Republicans' recent vote to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program is a demonstration of their animosity toward Americans of color, Brittney Cooper argues in a piece for Salon. Cooper describes how the Republican Party, beginning in the Kennedy era, intentionally manufactured the myth of a lazy African-American subgroup that does not want to work and is instead taking advantage of government-assistance programs. That idea drums up racial resentment among low-income white people and causes them to vote against their own interests, Cooper explains.

The recent vote of House Republicans to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program reflects a deep-seated and insidious racial resentment toward Americans of color. This racial resentment rears its ugly head within the provisions for the bill that demand that non-employed participants in the program get a job, job training or do community service activities. Though the bill in its current form will most likely die in the Senate, the fact that Republicans would even pass it should concern us.

Conservatives continue to lead under the aegis of a deliberate and willful ignorance about the long-term existence of a group known as the working poor, people who work long hours in low-wage paying menial labor jobs, and therefore cannot make ends meet. Moreover, there is a refusal to accept that the economic downturn in 2008 created conditions of long-term unemployment, such that people simply cannot go out and “get a job” just because they will it to be so. ...

In 1976, Ronald Reagan invented the term “welfare queen,” to characterize the actions of exactly one person in Chicago who had bilked the welfare system out of a staggering amount of money. Buttressed by an underlying white racial resentment of the liberal pieces of legislation that emerged during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations – laws that had attempted to change conditions, but could not change hearts and minds around racial inequality issues — white conservatives latched on to a narrative about lazy African-Americans stealing from taxpayers and living lavish lives financed by the welfare state.

That narrative has persisted well into the 21st century when Newt Gingrich derisively referred to Barack Obama as the “Food Stamp President” in the 2012 elections. Uninterrogated and misplaced racial resentment has been the most effective strategy for making white people support draconian social policies in the name of “taking the country back.” This is true, even though in sheer numbers, white people are the largest group of recipients of the SNAP program.

Read Brittney Cooper's entire piece at Salon.  

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