Negotiating the discourse of race within the United States welfare system

Lens, Vicki A.; Cary, Colleen

The incendiary dynamic between race and welfare in the United States is well-known. An under explored aspect of this dynamic is how recipients of colour navigate the racial undercurrents that permeate welfare and which may result in differential treatment. Drawing from qualitative interviews with twenty-four recipients of colour, this study seeks to understand the ways in which they negotiate their relationships with workers. The study finds that to deflect racial stereotypes, participants monitor their behaviour for traces of anger that could be construed as ‘street’ rather than ‘decent’, and divorce themselves from those that don’t. Participants also rejected the discourse of citizenship, seeking to sooth and placate workers rather than asserting a right to benefits. This discourse replicates historical patterns of powerlessness in the United States, where the need to beseech rather than insist and avoid appearing too angry resonates loudly for people of colour. This serves to reinforce the dominant discourse of undeservingness and racial stereotyping within the welfare system.


Also Published In

Ethnic and Racial Studies

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Academic Units
Social Work
Published Here
December 18, 2012