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Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Are All Welfare Queens Now

Ta-Nehisi Coates

We Are All Welfare Queens Now: Progress has meant a series of fights first over direct and indirect components of citizenship (voting, serving in public office, serving in the Army, serving on juries etc.) and less explicit tactics to curtail access to them….

[T]hese tactics… themselves, are evidence of progress…. It's true that for a century after the Civil War, the South effectively erased the black vote. But there was an actual black vote that had to be militated against….It's worth critiquing how the machine manipulated the black vote in Chicago, but it's also worth noting there was a black vote present…. More to the point, as tactics aimed at suppressing black citizenship become more abstract, they also have the side-effect of enveloping non-blacks. Atwater's point that the policies of the Southern Strategy hurt blacks more than whites is well taken. But some whites were hurt too…. During slavery white Southerners never worried about disenfranchising blacks. After slavery they needed poll taxes and the force of white terrorism. After white terrorism was routed and the poll tax outlawed, they targeted the voting process itself. But at each level what you see is more non-black people being swept into the pool of victims….

You can paint a similar history of the welfare state, which was first secured by assuring racist white Democrats that the pariah of black America would be cut out of it. When such machinations became untenable, the strategy became to claim the welfare state mainly benefited blacks. And as that has become untenable, the strategy has become to target the welfare state itself….

At each interval the ostensible pariah grows, until one in two Americans are members of the pariah class.

In all this you can see the insidious and lovely foresight of integration which, at its root, posits an end to whiteness as any kind of organizing political force. I would not say we are there. But when the party of white populism finds itself writing off half the country, we are really close.

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