Monday, July 08, 2019

Code Switch's The Original Welfare Queen

Code Switch's episode about The Original 'Welfare Queen' is fascinating for a number of reasons.  It's always fascinating to do a deep dive into the story behind someone who became an avatar for something, the echoes of which are still felt today.  As a white-passing multi-racial person who has thoughts about the way the census has traditionally allowed folks to identify themselves, the idea that Linda Taylor was listed at one point as white, and another as Hawaiian, that part of the story about her was that she was planning a vacation to Hawaii struck a chord.  When my grandmother in Hawaii died, I had to think about how to frame this for my co-workers.  I was of course going to take several days off of work to attend her funeral.  Obviously, I wasn't going to spend an entire day traveling across the country only to fly out one day later, I was going to take this sad excuse to reconnect with family that I rarely get to see.  But yeah, I knew that folks were going to be like, uh-huh, sure, your grandmother died and you're going on a Hawaiian vacation.  Because we forget that people live in these places that signal vacation to so many.  
None of this is to say that Linda Taylor was a great person, or that she deserves more sympathy.  As the episode makes clear, she was not a great person, and she was using a lot of people and did a lot of not great things.  She probably was not using her trip to connect with family for good reasons.  But again, this part of her story, along with the implication that she was a representative example of the poor people using welfare, were examples of how we make use of certain assumptions to mislead people.  Of course the easiest way to fix welfare would be to raise the minimum wage. Or change welfare to universal basic income.  But it's much more fun to otherize folks on welfare and convince people that only users need welfare.  
And of course, as the episode points out, even the good stories, are often smoothed out for public consumption.  

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