Monday, August 23, 2010

Jail Is Preferable

File this under continued vilification of poor people:
Republican candidate for governor Carl Paladino said he would transform some New York prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in "personal hygiene."
I don’t think I can fully break down the classist, sexist, and racist stereotypes/myths embodied in sentiments like these, but just to start:

1. Welfare recipients don’t work outside the home and don’t want to do so. Even before welfare “reform” back in 1996, most recipients worked or sought work. I always wonder if people like Paladino have any idea how paltry benefits are.

2. Being poor/needing assistance is some sort of moral failing that requires institutionalization and constant shame. That people seek welfare assistance is particularly “bad” to people like Paladino—the poor are supposed to suffer nobly and silently. As one commenter romanticized:
[B]ack in the thirties young men were ecstatic to get a job and to develop new skills via the Civilian Conservation Corp. But back then, the poor were tough, honorable folk with intact families… Today's poor aren't poor due to the economy, but the result of hand feeding that created and now sustains society breakdown.
Recently, problemchylde commented on this mindset:
All rags-to-riches (or rags-to-bitches, if you want to get all Boondocks about it) stories start with people who are poor but industrious. Tales of kids eating cigarette ash sandwiches to survive. Tales of people saving mustard packets so they have food that stretches through the whole year. Bonus points if your parent proudly refuses government help, or if you suffer through and survive a vitamin deficiency. You’re a rock star if you live many years out on the streets and still pull down a 4.0+ GPA. You have done poverty correctly.

However, if you take what little disposable income you have and buy sushi, you are doing wrong. Poor people do not want things like smartphones (you’re poor; who are you calling on a smartphone?), televisions (you’re poor; what do you need entertainment for?), nice cars (why wouldn’t you get a modest car to get around when you’re poor), or delicious food (do you know how much ramen you could have bought for the cost of that scone?). Poor people should not take any windfalls or nest eggs or scraped together pennies and expose themselves to luxuries. After all, isn’t that just a brutal reminder of how poor they are any other time? Why not just face the fact that poor is what you are, poor is what you shall be, and poor means that you cannot have nice things?
I’d advise you to read the whole post.

3. Motherwork is not "real" work/not valuable. The only work that is important/deserving of remuneration occurs outside the home. The article quotes Paladino as saying, “Instead of handing out the welfare checks, we'll teach people how to earn their check.” (Emphasis mine)

4. The mothering of poor women, especially poor women of color, is insignificant/not necessary for their children. As I said at that link,
A discourse has developed in this country to support stealing our children away from us that attacks us as immoral, "illegal," or uneducated. [Remember] black children sold away from their mothers and Native children forced into "Indian schools" so they could be "properly" Christianized and Americanized. In fact, Americanizers of the late 19th/early 20th century spent inordinate amounts of time threatening to take immigrant children from their parents, telling immigrant mothers how their methods of child-rearing were substandard to those of more WASP-y Americans, probably as much time as 20th century welfare critics spent convincing themselves that poor black women did not really love or want their children--they only had them to get more out of the system--and as much time as 21st century anti-immigration proponents spend convincing themselves that Latinas don't really love or want their children--they just want anchor babies.
If most welfare recipients are single moms and you move them into dormitories, who takes care of their kids? Or do you institutionalize the children as well, under the blanket assumption that the state will do a “better” job of rearing them? As Dorothy Roberts said in Shattered Bonds, "America’s child welfare system is rooted in the philosophy of child saving—rescuing children from the ills of poverty, typically by taking them away from their parents," (p 26). Which brings me to another problematic idea…

5. Poor people need to be institutionalized/under constant government oversight because of their deficient character and abilities. We already know that the state intervenes disproportionately in poor families of color. According to Roberts, "the public child welfare system equates poverty with neglect," (p 27). And as the article noted:
the suggestion that poor families would be better off in remote institutions, rather than among friends and family in their own neighborhoods, struck some anti-poverty activists as insulting.
I think “insulting” is too mild a word.

6. Poor people are unclean, all come from disordered homes and, thus, lack social skills. I mean, he’s going to give them lessons in:
“personal hygiene… the personal things they don't get when they come from dysfunctional homes.”


“You have to teach them basic things — taking care of themselves, physical fitness. In their dysfunctional environment, they never learned these things”
Related to the belief in the disorder/dysfunction of all poor homes and communities, Paladino asserts, "These are beautiful properties with basketball courts, bathroom facilities, toilet facilities. Many young people would love to get the hell out of cities." To live in... jails. And see how he emphasizes the bathroom/toilet facilities? As if this is 1910 instead of 2010 and people aren't used to them?

As an aside, that comment reminded me of Barbara Bush's assertion, after talking to Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Houston, "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." The idea that poor people don't have "real" or worthy communities or family and geographic ties is infuriating.

7. Poor people deserve to have their labor exploited. He’s using prisons to house people to extract low-cost labor. I don’t think this idea is so original.

I'm sure there is more that I could highlight in this disaster of a suggestion, but I think you get the idea.


lex said...

Preach!!!! You know we NEED you to write something for This Bridge Called My Baby...right?
Love you so much!

elle said...

Just looked up the CFP. That sounds soooo good!

Citizen Ojo said...

This country hates the poor...period!! It's a damn shame..

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