The welfare queen stereotype (1976- ) is one of the pictures that white Americans have in their heads about black women. It sees them as living comfortably on welfare (the dole) bringing up a big family without a husband, with children from different fathers. It views black women as unwilling to work, unwilling to control their (apparently considerable) sex drive and unwilling to better themselves.
It is the stereotype that Shirley Q. Liquor plays for laughs.
Changes in the law in the 1990s outlawed welfare queens. You can no longer be on welfare forever. But even when the law allowed it, most welfare queens – women living on welfare as a way of life – were not black but white!
Most people on welfare are not black and about half of all blacks are middle class.
You would never know these things from the stereotype. That shows you how far from the truth it is.
But a stereotype is not so much based on hard-headed facts as on what it is convenient for the stereotyper to believe. Here the welfare queen shines:
- She supports white ideas of blacks as poor, oversexed and not particularly bright.
- She takes the blame for the troubles that poor blacks have. That points the blame away from whites, allowing them – and the country at large – to wash their hands of black poverty.
- She does not have a bad life: she gets paid for doing nothing!
- She gives the Republican party an excuse to cut public spending on the poor, therefore cutting taxes for the rich.
Like any good racist stereotype it is at once racist and yet hides racism!
You would not believe it now, but back in the 1960s the poor were were pictured as being mainly white – as they in fact are! It was only in the 1970s that “black” and “poor” came to mean almost the same thing. As if there were barely any poor whites or well-to-do blacks.
The true face of welfare is not some 19-year-old black woman with three children and one on the way, but a white woman in her 20s with one child.
The term “welfare queen” comes from Ronald Reagan when he ran for president in 1976. He told the story of a black woman who made $150,000 (36,000 crowns) from gaming welfare. She drove a Cadillac, he informed us.
The press tried to find this woman. They wanted to put her on the evening news. They never found her. Reagan had made it up. Yet the idea stuck – because it is a convenient lie for well-to-do whites to believe.
The bit of the stereotype that does have some truth to it, sad to say, is the number of black women who are bringing up children without a husband. In 1994 about half of all households with black children had no father at home. Compare that to one in five for white children – which is how it was for black children once upon a time back in 1960. But that is another story.