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Mysheda Autry sits on a linoleum floor, watching her three children play with toys from a nearby milk crate. She is pregnant. This photo, featured in The New York Times, marked the tenth anniversary of welfare reform. (1) The caption beneath the photo reads, "Today is the 10th anniversary of the law intended to wean poor women off welfare. But Mysheda Autry and her children are struggling." (2) Is this stereotyped picture different from how the media portrayed people on welfare ten years ago? The racist and sexist image is remarkably similar--a single, hyperfertile African American mother unable to make ends meet. The language of the caption suggests that we must "wean" women off of welfare as if they were infants unable to fend for themselves. While the tone of the article is somewhat sympathetic, yet ultimately more condescending, it highlights the same racially-coded language pervasive in media and public discourse about welfare--"dependency," "cash aid," "bad personal choices," "unstable living conditions," "drug problems," and "crowded, tumultuous house filling with babies." (3)
The Times article featured a family in Philadelphia. (4) The image disseminated, however, is a persistent nationalized stereotype; it is not necessarily specific to one area of the country. (5) However, economic and racial inequality varies by geographic locale. How do welfare rights activists reconcile this nationalized image with racial inequalities and stereotypes in their states, especially when the realities of poverty do not correspond to dominant national racial tropes of welfare parents? This problem for activists is compounded by the addition of fifty new state welfare programs after the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). (6) This article explores these questions through a critical race theory lens of race, gender, and class intersectionality. The welfare rights movement represents the intersection of three marginalized race, gender, and class identities. (7) The way in which welfare rights organizations represent themselves internally to membership, and externally to the public and policy makers, is constrained not only by how these identities intersect in the imagination of the public, but also in the daily intersectional realities of welfare parents themselves. (8)
This article explores how social movement groups' strategic choices are constrained or expanded by local racial inequality contexts. How do racial inequalities at the state and local level influence welfare rights organizations' decisions to confront the pervasive national racist stereotype of welfare? Part I of this article establishes the racialized nature of welfare in the media, public opinion, and elite discourse, particularly in the period of debate on the PRWORA over a decade ago. Part II situates this study in an organizational, demographic, and geographical context. Part III examines the constraints placed on organizing among these groups by local media coverage of poverty in the year leading up to the tenth anniversary of the PRWORA. Part IV explores welfare rights activists' perspectives on organizing at the local level and the stereotypes they see of welfare parents. I argue that geo-racial contexts, both external and internal to these organizations, impact the ability of the groups to challenge the racist stereotype of welfare families. Part V examines the potential conflicts and cooperation between local and national welfare rights organizations based on intersectional perspectives in national coalition building for welfare rights. Part VI concludes with an analysis of how these trends will affect future iterations of the PRWORA ten years after the federal government's abdication of responsibility for welfare. I find that divergent race, gender, and class intersectional experiences, particularly those based on race, while potentially productive in creating multifaceted organizing strategies, tend to enervate contemporary coalition building between groups at the national level. These trends are exacerbated by the two structural challenges to national movement building in this area; fragmentation of welfare policy to the state level and the concurrent need to focus limited organizing resources at the local level.
I. (RE)LOCATING THE "QUEEN"
This Article builds upon an extensive body of scholarship dedicated to explicating both the existence of the racialized frame of welfare in terms of news media coverage, as well as its effect on public opinion. (9) First, a number of studies have established that media portrayals of poverty, and more specifically, welfare, are racialized. (10) Gilens' analysis of news media stories on poverty over a forty-year period argues that poverty became decidedly racialized in the news in the mid 1960s. (11) Despite changes over time, Gilens finds that as "the differences across different subgroups of the poor both attest, it is the 'undeserving poor' who have become most black." (12) Similarly, Clawson and Trice's analysis of six years of photos in five newsmagazines reveals that Black Americans were overrepresented in stories about welfare and "in negative stories on poverty and in those instances when the poor were presented with stereotypical traits." (13) The specific focus on the race and gender of these images (the welfare queen) is documented by Ange-Marie Hancock in her analysis of 148 newspaper articles from 1995-1996, demonstrating the presence of the welfare queen in newspaper coverage. (14)
Second, the consequences these images have on public opinion also reveal the importance of the media's racialized frame of welfare. Experimental studies of images of welfare parents, such as Avery and Peffley's, found that opinions of this group were more negative among White respondents when they were presented with photographs of African American parents. (15) Moreover, survey analyses suggest that Americans believe most welfare parents are Black. (16) In emphasizing the importance of spatial location to perceptions of racialized public policies, Gilliam, Valentino, and Beckmann revealed that through watching racially stereotyped crime coverage, Whites residing in racially White homogenous neighborhoods demonstrated an increased level of negative evaluations of Blacks. (17) Similarly, a number of studies have explored the level of the impact of "racial threat" on policies based on the actual percentage of different racial groupings at different geographical levels of analysis. (18) However, with the exception of Gilliam, Valentino, and Beckmann's study, these studies analyze the actual racial demographics of an area's impact on public opinion, rather than the connections (or lack thereof) between national and local racial stereotypes. (19)
While a number of scholars have theorized about racial stereotypes of the welfare queen as constitutive of structures of racism and sexism, (20) Hancock enhances this analysis by suggesting that a more accurate description of the "welfare queen" image is that of a "public identity"; that is, one that contains both stereotypes and moral judgments. (21) This public identity functions on both a macro and micro level in political discourse, which makes attempts at challenging this identity extremely difficult. (22) Hancock explains that the two driving themes of this identity are economic individualism (beliefs about laziness) and fertility (beliefs about hyperfertility) that reside at the intersections of race, class, and gender. (23) These two traits represent the core of the stereotype of the welfare queen: laziness and hyperfertility. This concept of public identity is particularly useful for this article, given that it explains the power of such a trope beyond a single stereotype to the institutional and individual levels of discourse about individualism, work ethic, responsibility, and fertility.
This article employs the framework of "intersectionality" as a lens through which to interrogate the ways activists grapple with this public identity of the welfare queen. This framework, as articulated by critical race feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, (24) emphasizes the unique experiences and concerns that arise from the multiplicative effects of particular identities along the axes of race, class, and gender. (25) "Multiplicative effects" describes oppression as more than simple, compound, or additive effects of racism and sexism; instead, it locates this oppression as a unique convergence of differing facets of identity along multiple axes (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.). (26) Crenshaw's conceptualization of political intersectionality highlights the problems many women of color face in social movement groups; "women of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas." (27) While critical race feminist scholars have developed an insightful approach for understanding the dynamics of social movement groups, little research has been conducted on the empirical effects of intersectionality. (28)
Sanford F. Schram's work on the dilemma faced by the welfare rights movement in framing race in their campaigns reveals the political perils of ignoring the racist trope of the welfare queen in the realm of welfare politics. (29) However, while Schram's research demonstrates the potential pitfalls of avoiding the racial and racist dimensions of welfare, there is little connection to the actual practices or strategies of the movement. (30) As a whole, while the studies discussed above provide ample evidence of the intersectional dilemmas of the welfare rights movement, they have largely left unexplored the role of social movement groups' experiences and strategies in combating this discourse.
II. ORGANIZATIONS AND THEIR CONTEXT
The central focus of this article is how social movement groups' strategic choices are constrained or expanded by local racial inequality contexts. Specifically, I inquire how racial inequalities at the state and local level impact individual welfare rights groups' decisions to address the national racial stereotype of welfare. In this section, I describe the organizations selected for this study and compare their unique demographics and state political environments that influence their organizing approaches to welfare rights. Throughout the article, individual and organizational names are not specified to protect the integrity of the often delicate funding dynamics of these organizations.
The constraints of state and local welfare rights groups are assessed in the following sections by analyzing local media context and interview analyses. By focusing on the variables of racial inequalities and state context, three cases were selected on the basis of both state demographics and organizational demographics. The states were selected based on poverty rates, racial composition, and racial demographics of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) caseloads. (31) Montana and Texas were selected because they share the commonality of relatively high poverty rates among states (ranked eleventh and seventh respectively), but differed in their state racial demographics. Texas is 70.1% White, while Montana is 90.6% White; the largest non-White group in Texas is Latino, while the largest in Montana is American Indian. (32) The TANF caseload in Texas is majority non-White, while the caseload in Montana is bifurcated between …