Political-Economic Roots of Coercion : Slavery, Neoliberalism, and the Racial Family Policy Logic of Child and Social Welfare

Alphonso, Gwendoline M.

The Article argues that at the core of the American neoliberal policy regime, of which child welfare is a critical part, lies an enduring raced family policy logic of two racially stratified standards: a punitive Black economic utility family standard and a supportive white domestic affection family standard, whose policy roots and practices trace back to slavery in the antebellum South. Historically and contemporaneously, state regulation of poor Black families has been shaped by, and in turn perpetuates, the Black economic utility standard that normalizes and places political value above all else on the promotion of labor by Black mothers outside of their homes in service of a racially-discriminatory market order. By doing so, the state devalues the affective, nurturing labor that Black mothers perform within their households and towards their children. Long followed in Southern local policy practices and led by the efforts of congressmen from the South, the Black economic utility standard is shown to have been formalized nationally within the neoliberal policy regime through a repurposing of overtly racial ideas into behavioral values of work and self-sufficiency that are enshrined in social and child welfare reforms. The Article suggests that the deployment of the Black economic utility standard by the neoliberal policy regime pathologizes poor Black women’s childbearing and motherhood as economically irresponsible, obscures centuries-long structural inequalities and racial family coercion, and serves to perpetuate and justify Black family disruptions in colorblind ways.


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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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Published Here
August 29, 2022