“Racial Anxiety” And The Social Safety Net

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what aspect of current American political life is most depressing.

Children are taken from their parents at the border. Regulations meant to protect clean air and water are eviscerated. The President’s delusional mental state becomes more obvious–and frightening– each day. Congress does nothing about anything. (Case in point: despite polls showing 90% of Americans want them to protect Net Neutrality, the House refuses even to vote on the issue.) Trump attacks our allies and embraces our enemies….it goes on and on.

Perhaps worst of all, this Administration consistently panders to toxic attitudes that have always been there, but had mostly been banished from polite society. His rhetoric has encouraged the growth of overt racial and religious animus.

Nowhere has that animus been more poisonous than in debates around social welfare programs. The odious “makers versus takers” construct permeates the country’s already punitive approach to social programs, as the Guardian recently reported.

Endless paperwork. Dirty looks on the checkout line whether you are buying Skittles or pricey organic kale. Hours spent in tedious training for non-existent jobs. Urine tests, supervised by creeps. Unclear requirements, mandatory appointments without regard for lack of transportation or childcare, arbitrary deadlines that are undisclosed until you run afoul of them.

And, after all that, the skimpy benefits obtained don’t begin to cover expenses.

These are just a few of the ways the American social safety net aims to deter aid seekers, ensuring that unworthy “takers” don’t get unearned crumbs from the mighty “makers”.

And, as the article goes on to detail, it is about to get worse. Far from moderating efforts by the Administration to cut back most programs for the poor, Republicans in Congress are positively eager to cut the heart out of social programs. Their justifications smack of moral judgment and “deservingness,” and betray a deeply-held conviction that being poor is itself a sign of immorality–or at least prima facie evidence that bad choices must have been made.

In Trump’s America, one of those bad “choices” is having been born black or brown.

A recent study, highlighted by the Washington Post, confirms the racial “anxiety” at the root of efforts to cut social welfare programs.

White Americans are increasingly critical of the country’s social safety net, a new study suggests, thanks in part to a rising tide of racial resentment.

The study, conducted by researchers at two California universities and published Wednesday in the journal Social Forces, finds that opposition to welfare programs has grown among white Americans since 2008, even when controlling for political views and socioeconomic status.

White Americans are more likely to favor welfare cuts when they believe that their status is threatened and that minorities are the main beneficiaries of safety net programs, the study says.

(The irony is that these cuts actually hurt more white Americans, who–despite racist memes about welfare– comprise the majority of Medicaid and food-stamp recipients.)

In the reported study, researchers analyzed 10 years of data on attitudes toward race and welfare. Between 2008 and 2012 in particular, they found a rise in opposition to welfare. That opposition rose among all Americans — but it rose far more sharply among whites. White Americans also began scoring higher on racial resentment scales during that period. (I’m sure the fact that we had a black President was coincidental….not.)

In order to confirm the link between racial attitudes and positions on welfare, the researchers investigated further.

White Americans called for deeper cuts to welfare programs after viewing charts that showed they would become a racial minority within 50 years. They also opposed welfare programs more when they were told that people of color benefit most from them.

I keep telling myself that the re-emergence of these attitudes–attitudes of fear and resentment that largely explain support for this morally reprehensible President–are a temporary reaction. Loss of white privilege is threatening to people who grew up believing it was their due–especially if they don’t have much else going for them, but I keep telling myself this ugly time will pass.

I hope I’m right.


  1. The SPLC who works with the FBI on hate crimes noted that ‘white supremacy hate crimes’ grew 1,800% after 2008. And yes, it’s no coincidence that a black man was in the White House.

    This country was founded on slavery…many Americans fought and died over the justification of white plantation owners wanting to use slaves for work. White men killing white men. Not too many stories of the plantation owners fighting alongside their southern white comrades.

    The Southern whites motto since the Civil War has been, “The South Shall Rise Again”.

    I spent months in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. Their mentality about non-whites hasn’t changed much even though, as the Shiela correctly points out, white people utilize our social safety net as an entitlement for which non-whites are not allowed. “They’re using the system!” “They have babies in order to get more money!”

    In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Welfare Reform Act. To this day, you can murder a fellow human and still be entitled to food stamps. However, if you have a felony drug conviction, you have a lifetime suspension. No appeals. No fair hearings.

    Who do you think that law aimed at? Look in our prisons and you’ll find mostly black men with felony drug convictions.

    Michelle Alexander raised this point during HRC’s run for president. She rightly pointed out that the media was so good at propaganda, black people were still willing to support HRC over Bernie Sanders despite what she and her husband did to people of color during his presidency.

    “Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” ~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

  2. “White Americans are more likely to favor welfare cuts when they believe that their status is threatened and that minorities are the main beneficiaries of safety net programs, the study says.”

    What was the income level of all these “White Americans” who were part of the study? Speaking for myself as a white, barely above poverty level income American who does not qualify for any social services due to my $277.62 monthly retirement in addition to my $805 monthly Social Security check; I fully support social services for those less fortunate than myself…regardless of race, religion or nationality. Others in my basic economic position, white and black, are of the same attitude; it appears to be only the wealthy who fear losing. It is primarily due to using the inheritance from my father to pay for my home that I can keep my bills paid, making me more fortunate than many struggling to survive. The actual level of social services income is merely a stipend to offer assistance; there will always be those undeserving and unqualified who “slip through the cracks” who seek and receive social services. They take nothing from the wealthy who are the complainers and currently our elected national “leaders” whose wealth is so vast, it is to them high numbers listed on many pages of their financial reports which lay dormant for them to read while collecting more money. They lose nothing due to the provision of social services to the now millions in need in this country, touted as the richest nation in the world.

    “White Americans called for deeper cuts to welfare programs after viewing charts that showed they would become a racial minority within 50 years. They also opposed welfare programs more when they were told that people of color benefit most from them.”

    I have read reports that whites in this country are already nearing the minority level; it will not take 50 years to reach that point. I have also read reports that Christianity is not the prevailing religion in this country due to the number other recognized and accepted religions. The white wealthy elected leaders are using the Bible as their playbook but not to level the field but to maintain their lofty financial positions. The numbers are close but the only ones actually threatening action to prevent social services assistance to the needy are the actual minority of wealthy, white, professed Christians who fear losing some of their vast wealthy much more than becoming a racial minority…and it is clear which one race they fear becoming the majority.

  3. I remember 2010, when old white people went to town hall meetings and told their Congressman, “You tell the government to keep their hands off of my health care!” I often wondered what they would say if the Congressman replied, “Okay, we’ll put an end to Medicare, since you asked so nicely.”

    Now those frightened old white people have gotten just the government they wanted. We are facing cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and pensions of government retirees. All of this is in addition to radical cuts in CHIPS and SNAP. I hope God lets me sit in the gallery at judgement day for those people.

  4. What I just can’t figure out is why we white folk are such, um, *orifices*. It goes way back beyond the social safety net. Even the push of the western national border to the Pacific was based on racist beliefs. Todd correctly points out the nation was built on slavery (and after slavery ended the criminalization of being black).

    How the hell can we eradicate this from our national DNA? Racism is learned. Punishing racists (by canceling TV shows or suspending anchors for a while) does nothing but drive the racism back underground and out of sight.

    Sadly, we see this societal racism in Europe as well, so it’s not an American problem. But I still have to wonder, where did we white folk get the idea that we were superior to anyone? And how has that idea persisted even though many other groundless notions have fallen over time (flat earth, earth-centered solar system, etc.).

    Oh, wait, the flat-earthers and anti-heliocentrists are gaining strength.

    What Truman Capote (I think) once quipped must be true: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant, even though the population is increasing.

  5. I think racism is a function of tribalism, that ancient instinct that evolved among the small, social groups necessary to ensure survival as a species. When skin color began varying, it became the main delineator between larger tribes. The point is that racism will ALWAYS be that instinctive behavior.

    On the other hand, socially conscious people, desiring to live in harmony with other skin colors, made the intellectual leap over that primitive mind set to embrace the differences rather than fear them. This is where Republicanism in general, and Trumpism in particular fails the test of human advancement in our society. As mentioned, some form of racism (even though there really aren’t any sub-species of humans that define them as a separate, biological race) exists everywhere. So, it’s a matter of which societies choose to overcome those primitive instincts to become more harmonious.

    We, in the United States, were making real progress until Barack Obama was elected President. From that moment on, despite the idealism of this opportunity for still more advancement toward non-racial harmony, the white haters came screeching out of their caves to harken the days of the antebellum South and re-define regression. Republicans, of course, embraced that neo-outrage and made political hay from the bloc that mostly votes. Donald Trump is the culmination of that seething, institutionalized fear and hate.

    Please don’t give me the crap about how racist the Clintons were. They were merely politicians exploiting a voting bloc, though to a much lesser extent than any Republican. Republicanism is a long throw backward toward the days when we Americans generally feared black people and still wanted them subordinate. Progress be damned! Republicans aren’t about progress. They’re only about money, money for white people, power and winning elections for the sole purpose of keeping white authority and wealth intact.

    In short, Republicanism is driving the nation to the cliff of ruin, just as the Romans did to their empire. It took the Romans almost 300 years to destroy themselves from over-reach, but we’ll be finished in a mere fifty years (from 2009) because we simply didn’t reach far enough.

  6. Racism is racism. Racism can never be overcome if one is willing to overlook the racism emanating from their very own tribe.

  7. Sorry we have no money for Universal – Single Payer Heath Care, or free higher education tuition to help lift people up.
    A Dr. Strangelove project to militarize space is now underway.

    ‘Space force’: Trump orders new branch of US military. Donald Trump said on Monday he would direct the Pentagon to create a “space force” as a new branch of the US military to shore up American dominance in space. Trump insisted: “When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space. So important.”

    Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator for Florida, home of Cape Canaveral. He tweeted: “The president told a US general to create a new Space Force as 6th branch of military today, which generals tell me they don’t want. Thankfully the president can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important missions at stake.” https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/18/space-force-donald-trump-orders-new-branch-of-us-military
    The Democrat response by Senator Bill Nelson does not call this stunningly stupid idea out as a waste of time, money and efforts, and the trashing of the idea of peaceful space exploration. Senator Nelson is committed to the political commandment of -Thou shalt not criticize the Military.

    It is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could possibly sink to such a depth of complete thoughtless mentality and then have Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Mike Pence, the new Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, join him.

    Well on second thought I can understand the intellectually vacant Mike Pence nodding and smiling like a bobble head.

  8. Thank you William for the book referral:

    Summarized and excerpted from Democracy in Chains. Nancy MacLean

    Most people do not know that the attack on Social Security and efforts to limit it, roll it back and privatize it are an organized plan springing from a radical philosophy.
    The political philosophy is one articulated by the Noble Prize-winning economist James Buchanan (1919-2013), funded by the Koch brothers, and from a plan organized and executed by the CATO Institute. It is much more radical than conventional Conservatism in that it seeks to assert private property rights as the highest value, insulate them from the reach of government, and take back what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands and much more). The philosophy sees government as theft and redistribution of the wealth of the capitalist class. It seeks to go well beyond “limiting” government to rolling back its programs. When theses efforts are thwarted it seeks to at least sow chaos and division within the political arena paralyzing government. It relies intentionally on stealth because the majority would never support the premise of the political philosophy and it is not in their economic interest to do so. It also focuses on “changing the rules” because it can never gain permanent democratic support as reflected in political parties and politicians who rely on voters’ support to gain and maintain power.

    Beginning in the 1980s this secretive group began a program attacking Social Security. It was motivated by the reasons above, including importantly, a desire to take back a large largess of public funds and return it to the private sector. The public would then be forced to buy private goods from the same funds to the profit of the capitalist sector.
    They realized Social Security was an across the board popular program so it was essential to begin to weaken its support. Here is how the strategy works. (Unbelievably this is documented in Buchanan’s papers, correspondence with Charles Koch, and CATO programs)

    First, they must alter the beneficiaries view of Social Security’s viability. This will weaken its support and “make abandonment of the system look more attractive.” When a politician frets about whether the program will be there in the future, is he really speaking about preserving the program or rather trying to diminish its reputation.

    Second, divide and conquer. For those on the program assure them that their benefits will not be diminished, thus taking the strongest advocates out of the debate. For those close to becoming beneficiaries, frustrate them with the program by casting doubt on its viability, extend the age eligibility, cap or roll back their expected benefits. For high income earners, lift the earnings cap so they see it as a progressive tax and an income transfer program. Further, make comparisons to meager returns compared to private savings pay back. And for younger workers remind them they are providing “a tremendous welfare subsidy to the aged” in what may be falsely portrayed as essentially a Ponzi scheme.

    Finally, you must find a powerful ally and draw them into the battle: the financial sector!

  9. Monotonous…

    One doesn’t need to be the Amazing Kreskin to know there’s always enough money when the MIC wants more monies. Hell,the post wrt Dan Coats a few days ago was along the same lines. Coats pleads there’s a real cyber security issue that needs to be addressed (meaning: cyber security budget needs more funding for contractors).

    Since the establishment is yelling fire in the theater wrt cyber-security, and so much talk about DEMOCRACY and the saving of it, I wonder why no one among the establishment –Republican and/or Democrat– isn’t demanding the use of paper balloting?

  10. I completely agree with all the data and the dangers to the well-being of society and democracy in the United States that Sheila’s essay identifies. Now the question is how do we communicate across our divides in this nation? How do we get people of all races, religions, perspectives, and backgrounds to dialogue, to seek solutions together rather than apart? These things can be done. They require people proactively working these issues. They require people going to their fellow Americans of differing backgrounds and having conversations. I wish I could subtract 40 from my nearly 68 years and take on such a project. It can be done. In the 1980s and well into the 1990s the Citizens Action Coalition did this in Indiana and with considerable success. CAC was very active working with and being a part of diverse communities throughout the state. It was hard work but the rewards were there. Significant public policy victories were achieved. However, CAC began to drift away from its formula of diversity as the 21st century approached and two things happened: its membership stagnated and then rapidly plunged after 2004, and with that its ability to move significant diverse public policy agenda in coalition with other groups also rapidly plunged. However, having had that experience I know it can be done. Apart from entities like the former CAC, we have all watched and been a part of dynamic political movements led by politicians of courage. We know what they can do. FDR and JFK were the leaders of millions of diverse Americans with positive historic consequences for the nation. I would like to see 100 Hoosiers in a room with plenty of coffee, iced tea, cookies and bagels to sustain their dialogue. 100 Hoosiers representing people of color, farmers, organized labor, aspiring labor, seniors, small businesses, local communities, women, diverse families, diverse identities, poor rural folks, poor urban folks, etc. 100 people in a room dedicated to one overarching purpose: developing the means and will to leave the room working and sacrificing together. That is a task that can be done. There are young people of courage and talent wanting to do good things. There are old coots who want to encourage and support them. Let’s bring them together.

  11. I like to remind myself that the country got knocked up by Trump in 2016 through a series of unfortunate circumstances. We didn’t all of a sudden become a different people but because of the confluence of several separate and by themselves small happenings in politics all of a sudden the worst of us were enough to vote in one of themselves and he dragged in more of them with him. The known anti democratic Electoral Collage, Russian involvement, 3 decades of anti HRC propaganda, Comey, almost a decade of Republican jury tampering of the election process, the emergence of new powerful IT tools to target propaganda, Putin’s success at elevating oligarchy to a new art form, the Koch’s, Adelson, Mercer, Ailes, Bannon, Wynn, heavily investing in the return of oligarchy here, so many forces that couldn’t buy the popular vote but did the one that counts.

    Most Americans saw the magnitude of this disaster coming but because many thought it too awful to actually happen not enough came to the polls to prevent it from happening.

    We screwed up big time. Now we get the consequences, the expensive lesson. Live and learn.

    The last thing in the world we want to give in to is to lose the belief in the basic goodness of most of mankind, discard the superior parenting the country got from those available to write our Constitution so long ago, let go of what the Obama’s demonstrated we can be, give up on the diversity that is the world we occupy, forget the great enlightenment that marked progress recognizing that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

    We have all suffered temporary setbacks to work out of and this may be the most consequential in a long time but it’s our reaction to it that will define who we are.

  12. William, you jogged my memory banks. It was about a year ago maybe, when we had the Hawaii incoming ICBM Alert. The reaction was not to tamp down all the bellicose rhetoric toward the Russians, the Chinese or North Korea, but more funding for some bogus missile defense system.

    I will have to say, I agree with the suspension of our War Games on the Korean Peninsula. The suspension must irk the Mic as all those War Games add to the profits of the Vampires in Mic.

  13. Copied and pasted from an AOL news item: June 19, 2019, 11:16 A.M.

    “WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Decrying “internment camps,” Democrats and their supporters disrupted a high-profile U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday with a dramatic protest against the Trump administration’s policy of detaining immigrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

    With the sound of a young child crying in the background, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, broke from traditional protocol and started reading from a statement, saying “these children are not animals.” His Republican colleagues tried to shout over him “Out of order!”

    Nadler’s comments at the hearing, which was meant to be about the FBI’s handling of a probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails, were followed by protests from the audience, as women with young children stood and shouted “Families belong together!” before they were escorted out by the Capitol Police.”

    “Racial Anxiety” And The Social Safety Net: Above is America’s latest “Racial Anxiety”; equal to the Japanese internment camps during WWII. This time; members of one party – the Democratic party – spoke out loud and clear, protesting this action. This shame is being watched by the world at large as it happens; do we have a Social Safety Net to cover this? Does anyone doubt these kidnapped children are being held for the ransomed amount to build Trump’s wall? Any guess as to how many millions of our tax dollars are being wasted on this criminal act of Trump which he blames on the Democrats? The Republican cronies of Trump claim this action is following the the letter of the law as stated in the “Zero Tolerance Act”. Where does that act state to separate thousands of terrified children from their families? Republicans responded to this brave act by Democrats and their supporters by having police escort them out.


  14. Todd – Ditto. Vern – Ditto. I have little more to add, so I won’t.

  15. People wouldn’t be so fearful of becoming a racial or religious minority if minorities had nothing to fear. If only we could learn to treat others as we wish to be treated.

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