Representing Race Outside of Explicitly Racialized Contexts
Welfare “as we know it” ended in 1996, a victim of a conservatism that views welfare recipients as lazy and immoral. One aspect of welfare that is, however, unlikely to experience radical change is child support. More vigorous child support enforcement has become an increasingly important component of federal welfare reform bills over the past two decades because of the twin hopes of fiscal and parental responsibility: first, that child support will reimburse welfare costs, and second, that fathers will take more responsibility for their children. Child support programs within the welfare system perpetuate a negative perception of poor people. Many individuals assume that poor men and women are uncooperative – that women would rather stay home on the government dole than collect child support or find work, and that men have left their homes and are unwilling to support their children. These images of poor people are not just class based; they also rely on stereotypes of gendered and raced behavior. Th.is essay argues that we must challenge the gendered and raced images in welfare reform cases by making explicit the stereotypes that inform public welfare regulations. Even though such advocacy may not change the actual outcomes of the cases, it can begin to change the rhetoric, raising public awareness of the effect of such programs. Ultimately, advocates can take apart the raced and gendered spaces in which poor people live, allowing them both to stay at home and to leave the home. Representation in welfare reform litigation, then, allows advocates to point out the racialized aspects of their cases. It shows the relevance of race to litigation claims and the litigation process.