Debra Harrell and the mythology of bad black mothers by Noah Remnick at the Los Angeles Times
After decades of debate among politicians, sociologists, clergy and countless others, it is a widely held belief among many Americans that poverty is rooted not principally in a lack of opportunity and a history of structural disadvantage, but rather in a collection of social “pathologies” ranging from laziness to an undisciplined, even dissolute lifestyle. The poor, you’ve been told time and again, are moochers, sapping resources from the public wealth as they collect check after check from the unsuspecting hard-working rest-of-us.
The mythology of bad black mothers was never just a part of our cultural folklore — it’s entrenched in our legal system.
And black women have been deemed particularly suspect,welfare queens who set a toxic example for their children. (Ronald Reagan campaigned for the presidency in 1976 using the theme of a “welfare queen” as a way of ginning up white outrage and conservative support.) Should they come upon hard times, should their fridges go barren or their kids go unmonitored, you mustn’t worry. After all, it was their fault, not yours.
The solution, politicians explained, was welfare reform, which, as the law’s title plainly stated, sought to encourage “personal responsibility.” The original bill even set aside $250 million for “chastity training” for poor single mothers.
In a situation already packed with absurd overreactions to Harrell’s perfectly reasonable — if not ideal — decision, this development seems particularly unfair, since she only left her kid alone (with a cell phone) because there was no one to care for her while she went to work. Meanwhile, Harrell and her daughter have been reunited, but the Department of Social Services is still required to investigate the case. An online fund-raiser started by some nice strangers has already raised over $26,000 for Harrell. Hopefully, the funds will be enough to tide her over until she can find a new employer.