The Haves and The Have Nots

A blog article by Bonniejean Alford (Educator, Activist, World Citizen)

About a week or so ago I heard a headline on the television news that interested me about deceased Americans receiving stimulus checks.  It got me thinking about the subject, so I did a bit of research.

What I found on several blog sites left myself with a feeling of distaste.

There were several people bad-mouthing welfare recipients and stereotyping them heavily as drug users and the like.  One person went so far as to comment that if he were a woman he would just get pregnant from some ‘deadbeat’ so that he too could be a drain on the system (various comments posted at http://www.2009stimuluscheck.net and/or http://www.itaxrebate.com).

I further contemplated this issue and realized that the media also portrays welfare recipients in a negative way, as drains on society, drug users, and child abusers.  From first hand knowledge, and previous research conducted, I know this to be an inaccurate assessment and I became curious as to why the extreme stereotyping in a society that is supposed to be for the people, by the people, and of the people.  Scholar Richard Dyer (2006) points out that stereotypes are a very real phenomenon that speaks to something important in society.

Sadly, they are often agreed upon by the masses, even those to which the stereotype is addressing.

This may in fact lead those being stereotyped to fulfill the roles of said stereotype, which in the case of welfare recipients does in fact mean that some become drug users and child abusers.  But far from all fit this category.

Yet, the stereotype remains almost as if absolute.

Why?

Well in life, which the media is supposedly trying to represent, albeit at extremes sometimes, people are simply trying to understand the people around them, and stereotyping becomes a useful tool in providing examples of how those outside a person’s circle of life exist and live within the broader picture of the world.  Despite being useful, stereotypes are quite a rigid way of viewing the world that exists beyond one’s frame of reference and in classifying ‘normality,’ whatever that is (Dyer 2006).

In Sociology specifically, there is a desire to address the labels assigned to people with neutrality, with no regard for the influence of power structures or issues of (in)equality (Dyer 2006). This, of course is problematic, in that much of what we come to understand about people is rooted very heavily in the very power structures designed to keep people in their place.

And sadly, the reality of the world is simple: there very much is a power differential that exists to ensure that those in power stay in power and those who lack it continue to be without it, even if they by chance come within the sights of having said power.  Further, there are extremes of powerlessness that exist, pushing those people further to the fringe of society.

With regard to recipients of welfare, that is exactly what is happening. Welfare is designed to help people who have faced a hardship of some sort work their way back out of the hardship.  Despite what the media and those bloggers had to say, most welfare programs have strict guidelines, time tables, and expectations.  This may include attending job training, school, or some other specifics.  Some programs even require documentation of bettering one’s life and/or random drug testing, though I suspect the drug testing is more a recent trend influenced by the media portrayal and (mis)understanding by society members regarding recipients of welfare, thus a reciprocal effect in practice as C. Wright Mills (1959) would say.

Truthfully, I think that the problem with welfare recipients is most rooted in capitalism, or more specifically, the struggle against socialism. In society today, helping fellow citizens is considered a great thing, but only so long as it doesn’t impact the bottom line, which it ultimately does since the money has to come from somewhere.  In the end, the power doesn’t lie in the hands of people based on anything more than who has the most money, even if they all tend to look the same.

Ultimately, stereotyping is merely a symptom of a greater problem, that age old struggle between the haves and the have nots.

References

Dyer, Richard.  2006.  “Stereotyping.”  Media and Cultural Studies: Key Works, editors Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, pp. 353-365.  Malden: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd.

Mills, C. Wright.  1959 (200o).  The Sociological Imagination, 40th Anniversary Edition.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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9 thoughts on “The Haves and The Have Nots

  1. Now with this article and talking about welfare and how people stereotype others I totally agree with. Welfare is suppose to help people and to get them back on their feet, where at this time many people are without jobs and have a hard time to supply their family with the needs they need. Welfare may help them a lot, but with people being depressed it can lead them to take drugs or drinking where they think it might take the pain away. Well, its not and with welfare I see it with having classes and for them to make an effort on doing so. It’s great and for people to stereotype on it is normal. Everywhere you go or hear people, people make comments about others, stereotyping them. For example, Asians are smart or black people being great in sports, but it can be a lie. I have friends that suck at sports and they are black and Asians being not so smart. It’s just looks that our society looks at and that’s the first thing that we might make a comment on.

  2. Welfare is designed to help those in need and there are truly strict guidelines you must meet in order to receive it. My co-workers daughter found herself divorced with no job and two kids to raise on her own. She is a white female. She was not only wearing the scarlet “W”, but she was also discriminated against by the workers at the welfare office. She watched for hours as she waited as many other women were treated with dignity and compassion and she was treated like she was doing something wrong for asking for help.

    1. Diane I am sorry to hear about the unfortunate treatment your coworker received at her local welfare office. There are very strict guidelines which are necessary, as there is only so much money to be dispersed between so many needy. Your co-worker should have been treated with respect. My aunt had a very pleasant experience. My uncle was out of work for over a year and their unemployment ran out, and their savings were nearly gone. They lost their medical insurance and went to the welfare office, and were treated with respect and dignity, and were put on a great medical plan. They needed it for almost a year until my uncle finally found a job. My aunt’s experience was a good one, and she too is white. So I don’t think we can stereotype the welfare system by claiming they only help a specific class or race of people. My relatives used the system as it was intended to be used and got out when they no longer needed the help. Again Diane it’s too bad about your friend, hopefully she filed a complaint with the proper government agency, to insure that the harsh treatment she received would be rectified.

  3. In perhaps the worst economy in American history, it is important for a people to take care of their own. Those Americans who have lost their jobs and can no longer provide for themselves and their families should be assisted in a dignified manner. For the overwhelming majority of recipients, assistance is temporary and short-lived. It is safe to say that most Americans agree with this basic idea. A problem arises when taking into consideration young adults who see these benefits as an inherent right even though they may never have been a semi-permanent member of the workforce. Careful attention should be paid to ensure that funds are not distributed to those who never intend to end their payouts.

    1. Mike I agree that it is important to take care of our own. I give whenever I can to charity. I believe the majority of welfare recipients find it difficult to leave the program. For example, if a single mother of four children went to work full time making minimum wage, she could never earn enough money to support her family. But, if she stays on welfare, she can get housing, food, and money every month for each of her children. The question is how do you even begin to motivate someone to go off welfare unless you can guarantee to them that their life will be better by doing so? For most I’m afraid that is not the case, and that is why we have so many people remaining on welfare, and why they are stereotyped as being lazy. It’s a very big problem in our society today with no easy solution.

  4. Throughout the history of our civilization stereotyping has played a major role in our society to classify a group or class of people. Sadly, welfare recipients by the very basic definition denotes a negative connotation, and have usually been looked down upon as lazy, mentally or physically challenged, or even criminal. As a child I have heard the story of the women paying for her groceries with food stamps only to drive away in a shiny new Cadillac. It only takes a few negative stories to create a solid stereotype. Those that do abuse the welfare system are responsible for the negative stereotype. Certainly there are welfare recipients that commit fraud and are stealing from the government. These people are responsible for the stereotype and the very reason that in our society welfare recipients are looked down upon. Negative stories in our society seems to get most of the coverage from our media, and as long as a few rob the system by getting welfare checks illegally, I’m afraid welfare recipients will always be portrayed negatively.
    I believe in helping those that need it, but realize that the majority of our society look upon those people as a stereotypical lower class of people, sad but true.

    1. You got to realize that many taxpayers in this country are tired of having their money go to support those who just refuse to work. Yes I agree that a few ruin it for the majority by cheating the system, but I really believe it is MUCH more than a few negative stories! Many Americans believe that those on welfare have it really good. Someone sent me an e-mail the other day supposedly quoting a young lady on welfare with 6 kids, who boasted that she gets $2,600 a month in child support, free health care, free housing, food stamps, child-day care money, and a free cell-phone. If this is true then why in the world wouldn’t you do everything in your power to STAY on welfare? After I pay my mortgage, food bill, cellphone, and other bills I have NO money left over. If this is true its a really shame and that is why many American’s are sick and tired of supporting people on welfare. That is the stereotype that most American’s have of welfare recipients. For the majority of Americans, they are going to believe the information they receive in those e-mails making their way around the web. If it is not true then the government needs to educate society. Believe it or not I believe in helping our fellow man when they are down, but we also need to help them get up again. I just don’t see that happening in our world today.

      1. I agree that stereotypes have existed throughout the history of our country. They will always be a part of our society and unfortunately many people just fall into the stereotype or label that is expected of them. Through proper education and having the media take responsibility, hopefully we can get rid of the stereotype that exists in our society today for people that are on welfare. I saw on the news a few days ago that one out of every five U.S. military veterans are now homeless. (NBC-News Dec. 4, 2011). That statistic is very sad. Would you classify a person who fought for their country while risking their life, a lazy freeloading criminal? That fact remains that the majority of all welfare recipients are legitimate. There are always going to be bad people that are dishonest, but should those that really need the help suffer because of the few? As far as welfare goes stereotypes should not become the issue when it comes to helping those in need. The majority of the unfortunate souls in our country who have fallen on hard times should be helped. You may need help one day too and I would be willing to help you if I could. Those values of helping
        others begin at home with the family.

  5. I do believe that most individuals who receive welfare/government transfer payments are using the money for the right reasons. However, it is the few that abuse it that are giving the media ammunition. It is sad to say that we live in a world where stereotypes are embraced so openly, yet how do we stop it? These stereotypes also exist in the Black and Muslim communities. Most suburban Americans would associate all Black people as criminals, and all Muslim’s as terrorists. It is scary the affect the national media has on the American citizen. That is exactly why none of this will change. The national media dominates America. Average Americans spend a lot of time watching television, and these stereotypes are also expressed on television shows. This all starts with parenting, if we can teach are children not to stereotype, and not to believe everything the media tells them. It all starts at home, but with the advancements in mobile technology this problem will continue to arise.

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