Forced to Care: Coercion and Caregiving in America
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
This book is about the ideological and material foundations of the care crisis. It is grounded in the premise that the often untenable strains to which family caregivers are subject and the parlous situation of paid caregivers are closely intertwined and need to be examined together. The main thesis of the book is that the social organization of care has been rooted in diverse forms of coercion that have induced women to assume responsibility for caring for family members and that have tracked poor, racial minority, and immigrant women into positions entailing caring for others. The forms of coercion have varied in degree, directness, and explicitness but nonetheless have served to constrain and direct women’s choices; the net consequence of restricted choice has been to keep caring labor “cheap,” that is, free (in the case of family care labor) or low waged (in the case of paid care labor). Read more…
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
“Racial Ethnic Women’s Labor: The Intersection of Race, Gender and Class Oppression”
Evelyn Nakano Glenn
Review of Radical Political Economics Vol 17(3):86-108, 1985. [PDF]
The failure of the feminist movement to address the concerns of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American women is currently engendering widespread discussion in white women’s organizations. Paralleling this discussion is a growing interest among racial ethnic women  in articulating aspects of their experiences that have been ignored in feminist analyses of women’s oppression (e.g. oral histories by Sterling 1979; Elessar, MacKenzie and Tixier y Vigil 1980; Kim 1983; and social and historical studies by Dill 1979; Mirande and Enriquez 1979; Davis 1981; Hooks 1981; Jones 1984). 
As an initial corrective, racial ethnic scholars have begun research on racial ethnic women in relation to employment, the family and the ethnic community, both historically and contemporarily (e.g. Acosta-Belen 1979; Mora and Del Castillo 1980; Melville 1980; Rodgers-Rose 1980; Tsuchida 1982). The most interesting of these studies describe the social world and day-to-day struggles of racial ethnic women, making visible what has up to now been invisible in the social sciences and humanities. These concrete data constitute the first step toward understanding the effects of race and gender oppression in the lives of racial ethnic women. Read more…
Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy. Tracey Moffatt, AUS 1990, 19 min.
Sarcastically staged in the setting of the social solitariness of the Australian outback, an old invalid and a young female nurse act out this cinematic chamber piece. It is a horror-tragicomedy of domestic hand movements, mute sounds and noisy work about love and dependence. Night Cries tells about a relationship that is affected by the formation of a nation and the forced assimilation of the “Aborigines” that was practised until the 1970s, and can also be read as a pointed critique of colonialist ethnographic film, which traditionally addressed Aboriginal issues through idioms and conventions particular to naturalistic documentary filmmaking. [Marie-Hélène Gutberlet]
Lara Vapnek, “Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”
“Desires for Distance: White Working-Class Women’s Rejection of Domestic Service in the late 19th-century United States”
Lara Vapnek, St. John’s University [PDF]
This paper examines several moments when the intimacy entailed in domestic service became a political issue. The first, and most sustained series of examples comes from post-Civil War Boston, where native-born, white working-class women characterized domestic service as an unacceptable compromise of their independence as American citizens. Female leaders of the post-Civil War labor reform movement such as Jennie Collins and Aurora Phelps developed this rejection into a broader critique of class relations. Their metaphors of “wage slavery” invite us to consider how gender, racial, and ethnic identities were constituted through the performance (or non-performance) of paid domestic labor. The second part of this paper considers how these issues played out during the remainder of the nineteenth century in working-class women’s continued associations of service and slavery, and in growing anxieties about ethnic and racial mixing in middle-class households. Together, the various pieces of this essay suggest how the category of intimate labor might reframe our understanding of the history of paid domestic labor in the United States. Read more…
“‘Slaving like a Nigger': Irish Jobs and Irish Whiteness”
From Chapter 7, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, 1991. [PDF]
In 1856, Henry C. Brokmeyer, then a wage-earning immigrant German molder in St. Louis, wrote in his diary a question posed about one of his German-American friends: ‘”Why doesn’t he learn . . . a trade; and he wouldn’t have to slave like a nigger? ‘ Brokmeyer, who was to become not only independent of wage work but eventually lieutenant governor of Missouri, had picked up a pattern of usage common in American English since the 1830s.  Not only was nigger work synonymous with hard, drudging labor but to nigger it meant ‘to do hard work’, or ‘to slave’. ‘White niggers’ were white workers in arduous unskilled jobs or in subservient positions. 
But not all European immigrants had the same prospects to ‘learn a trade’, let alone to acquire independence from ‘slaving like a nigger’, by owning a workshop or a farm. English and Scandinavian immigrants were especially likely to achieve such mobility, while the Irish and Germans faced most directly the question of how and whether their labor was different from ‘slaving like a nigger’. But the Irish confronted the question much more starkly. Both before and after the famine, they were far more likely than the Germans to be without skills. The famine Irish infrequently achieved rural land ownership. Within large cities Irish-American males were skilled workers perhaps half as often as German-Americans, and were unskilled at least twice as often. Although frontier cities, perhaps attracting Irish migrants with more resources and choices, showed less difference between Irish and German occupational patterns, the Irish stayed at the bottom of white society.  Read more…
“Colonization and Housewifization”
Chapter Three, Patriarchy and Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, 1986. [PDF]
The Dialectics of ‘Progress and Retrogression’
On the basis of the foregoing analysis, it is possible to formulate a tentative thesis which will guide my further discussion.
The historical development of the division of labour in general, and the sexual division of labour in particular, was/is not an evolutionary and peaceful process, based on the ever-progressing development of productive forces (mainly technology) and specialization, but a violent one by which first certain categories of men, later certain peoples, were able mainly by virtue of arms and warfare to establish an exploitative relationship between themselves and women, and other peoples and classes.
Within such a predatory mode of production, which is intrinsically patriarchal, warfare and conquest become the most ‘productive’ modes of production. The quick accumulation of material wealth – not based on regular subsistence work in one’s own community, but on looting and robbery – facilitates the faster development of technology in those societies which are based on conquest and warfare. This technological development, however, again is not oriented principally towards the satisfaction of subsistence needs of the community as a whole, but towards further warfare, conquest and accumulation. The development of arms and transport technology has been a driving force for technological innovation in all patriarchal societies, but particularly in the modem capitalist European one which has conquered and subjected the whole world since the fifteenth century. The concept of ‘progress’ which emerged in this particular patriarchal civilization is historically unthinkable without the one-sided development of the technology of warfare and conquest. All subsistence technology (for conservation and production of food, clothes and shelter, etc.) henceforth appears to be ‘backward’ in comparison to the ‘wonders’ of the modern technology of warfare and conquest (navigation, the compass, gunpowder, etc.). Read more…
from Chapter Two, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. 1996 edition; first published 1984. [PDF]
In its infancy, slavery was particularly harsh. Physical abuse, dismemberment, and torture were common to an institution that was far from peculiar to its victims. Partly as a result, in the eighteenth century, slave masters did not underestimate the will of their slaves to rebel, even their female slaves. Black women proved especially adept at poisoning their masters, a skill undoubtedly imported from Africa. Incendiarism was another favorite method; it required neither brute physical strength nor direct confrontation. But Black women used every means available to resist slavery—as men did—and if caught were punished as harshly. Read more…
“Health and Hospitals”
Chapter 9, The Young Lords: A Reader. Edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer, NYU Press, 2010.
Adequate health care for the poor was one of the chief demands of the Young Lords. Faced with a health-care crisis on various fronts, the Young Lords (together with the Health Revolutionary Unity Movement) started lead poisoning and tuberculosis testing programs, took over Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, and demanded equal treatment of all Third World peoples. Articles in this chapter cover the principles of their health program, describe the theoretical and historical rationales used in advancing their arguments, and document specific health initiatives the Young Lords launched in their communities.
Ten Point Health Program
(From the newspaper Young Lords Organization, January 1970, volume 1, number 5)
We want total self-determination of all health service at East Harlem, (El Barrio) through an incorporated community-staff governing board for Metropolitan Hospital. (Staff is anyone and everyone working in Metropolitan, except administrators.)
We want immediate replacement of all Lindsay and Terenzio administrators by community and staff-appointed people whose practice has demonstrated their commitment to serve our poor community.
We demand an immediate end to construction of the new emergency room until the Metropolitan Hospital Community-Staff’ Governing Board inspects and approves them or authorizes new plans.
We want employment for our people. All jobs filled in El Barrio must be filled by residents first, using on-the-job training and other educational opportunities as bases for service and promotions.
We want free publicly supported health care for treatment and prevention
We want an end to all fees.
We want total decentralization of health — block health officers responsible to the Community-Staff Board should be instituted.
We want “door-to-door” preventative health services emphasizing environmental and sanitation control, nutrition, drug addiction, maternal and child care and senior citizen services.
We want total control by the Metropolitan Hospital Community-Staff Governing Board of budget allocations, medical policy, along the above points, hiring and firing and salaries of employees, construction and health code enforcement.
Any community, union, or workers organization must support all the points of this program and work and fight for them or be shown as what they are-enemies of the poor people of East Harlem
POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
QUE VIVA EL BARRIO! FREE PUERTO RICO NOW!
New York State Chapter
Young Lords Organization Read more…
“The Bronx Slave Market”
From The Daily Compass, 1950 [PDF]
I WAS A PART OF THE BRONX SLAVE MARKET
I was a slave.
I was part of the “paper bag brigade,” waiting patiently in front of Woolworth’s on 170th St., between Jerome and Walton Aves., for someone to “buy” me for an hour or two, or, if I were lucky, for a day.
That is The Bronx Slave Market, where Negro women wait, in rain or shine, in bitter cold or under broiling Sun, to be hired by local housewives looking for bargains in human labor.
It has its counterparts in Brighton Beach, Brownsville and other areas of the city.
Born in the last depression, the Slave Markets are products of poverty and desperation. They grow as employment falls. Today they are growing.
They arose after the 1929 crash when thousands of Negro women, who before then had a “corner” on household jobs because they were discriminated against in other employment, found themselves among the army of the unemployed. Either the employer was forced to do her own household chores or she fired the Negro worker to make way for a white worker who had been let out of less menial employment.
The Negro domestic had no place to turn. She took to the streets in search of employment-and the Slave Markets were born.
Their growth was checked slightly in 1941 when Mayor LaGuardia ordered an investigation of charges that Negro women were being exploited by housewives. He opened free hiring halls in strategic spots in The Bronx and other areas where the Slave Markets had mushroomed.
They were not entirely erased, however, until World War II diverted labor, skilled and unskilled, to the factories.
Today, Slave Markets are starting up again in far-flung sections of the city. As yet, they are pallid replicas of the depression model; but as unemployment increases, as more and more Negro women are thrown out of work and there is less and less money earmarked for full-time household workers, the markets threaten to spread as they did in the middle ’30s, when it was estimated there were 20 to 30 in The Bronx alone.
The housewife in search of cheap labor can easily identify the women of the Slave Market. She can identify them by the dejected droop of their shoulders, or by their work-worn hands, or by the look of bitter resentment on their faces, or because they stand quietly leaning against store fronts or lamp posts waiting for anything – or for nothing at all.
These unprotected workers arc most easily identified. however, by the paper bag in which they invariably carry their work clothes. It is a sort of badge of their profession. It proclaims their membership in “the paper bag brigade”-these women who can be bought by the hour or by the day at depressed wages.
The way the Slave Market operates is primitive and direct and simple-as simple as selling a pig or a cow or a horse in a public market.
The housewife goes to the spot where she knows women in search of domestic work congregate and looks over the prospects. She almost undresses them with her eyes as she measures their strength, to judge how much work they can stand.
If one of them pleases her, the housewife asks what her price is by the hour. Then she beats that price down as low as the worker will permit. Although the worker usually starts out demanding $6 a day and carfare, or $1 an hour and carfare, the price finally agreed upon is pretty low-lower than the wage demanded by public and private agencies, lower than the wage the women of the Slave Market have agreed upon among themselves. Read more…
Erik S. McDuffie, “Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front”
“Esther V. Cooper’s ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism”: Black Left Feminism and the Popular Front“
Erik S. McDuffie
American Communist History, Vol. 7, No. 2, 2008 [PDF]
Esther V. Cooper’s brilliant 120-page 1940 M.A. thesis, ”The Negro Woman Domestic Worker in Relation to Trade Unionism,” still stands as the most thorough sociological and historical study written on the working conditions and status of black women household workers and their efforts to unionize during the Depression.1 The ”Negro Woman Domestic Worker” was a crucial part of her early intellectual foundation, helping to set the stage for her staunch support for civil rights, social justice, internationalism, and radical democracy with special concern for African-American women that were trade marks of her life’s work. It also stands as a marker for what could have been a significantly different life journey for her.2
The thesis, above all, contains broad significance for understanding black women’s activism and black radicalism during the Popular Front. It reveals an emergent black left feminism, a politics that centers working-class women by combining Communist Party positions on race, gender, and class with black nationalism and black radical women’s lived experiences, embedded in their writings and activism. Black left feminism paid special attention to the intersectional, transnational nature of African-American women’s oppression and viewed them as key agents for transformative change. Committed to the Popular Front agenda of civil rights, trade unionism, anti-fascism, internationalism, and concern for women’s equality, their work anticipating conclusions drawn by ”second wave” black feminism decades later.3 Read more…
“Domestic Workers Organize!”
Eileen Boris and Premilla Nadasen
WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society Vol. 11 Dec. 2008, pp. 413–43. [PDF]
This article traces the history of domestic worker organizing in the U.S. It challenges the long-standing assumption that these—primarily women of color—cleaners, nannies, and elder care providers are unorganizable and assesses the possibilities and limitations of recent organizing efforts. The nature of the occupation—its location in the home, the isolated character of the work, informal arrangements with employers, and exclusions from labor law protection—has fostered community-based, social movement organizing to build coalitions, reform legislation and draw public attention to the plight of domestic workers. Their successes, as well as the obstacles they encounter, hold lessons for other low-wage service sector workers in a new global economy. Domestic workers have integrated an analysis of race, class, culture, and gender—a form of social justice feminism—into their praxis, thus formulating innovative class-based strategies. Yet long-term reform has remained elusive because of their limited power to shape state policy. Read more…
“The Slave Market”
Ella Baker and Marvel Cooke
From The Crisis 42 (Nov. 1935).
The Bronx Slave Market! What is it? Who are its dealers? Who are its victims? What are its causes? How far does its stench spread? What forces are at work to counteract it?
Any corner in the congested sections of New York City’s Bronx is fertile soil for mushroom “slave marts.” The two where the traffic is heaviest and the bidding is highest are located at 167th street and Jerome Avenue and at Simpson and Westchester avenues.
Symbolic of the more humane slave block is the Jerome avenue “market.” There, on benches surrounding a green square, the victims wait, grateful, at least, for some place to sit. In direct contrast is the Simpson avenue “mart,” where they pose wearily against buildings and lampposts, or scuttle about in an attempt to retrieve discarded boxes upon which to rest.
Again, the Simpson avenue block exudes the stench of the slave market at its worst. Not only is human labor bartered and sold for slave wage, but human love also is a marketable commodity. But whether it is labor, or love that is sold, economic necessity compels the sale. As early as 8 a.m. they come; as late as 1 p.m. they remain.
Rain or shine, cold or hot, you will find them there – Negro women, old and young – sometimes bedraggled, sometimes neatly dressed – but with the invariable paper bundle, waiting expectantly for Bronx housewives to buy their strength and energy for an hour, two hours, or even for a day at the munificent rate of fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, or, if luck be with them, thirty cents an hour. If not the wives themselves, maybe their husbands, their sons, or their brothers, under the subterfuge of work, offer worldly-wise girls higher bids for their time.
Who are these women? What brings them here? Why do they stay? In the boom days before the onslaught of the depression in 1929, many of these women who are now forced to bargain for day’s work on street corners, were employed in grand homes in the rich Eighties, or in wealthier homes in Long Island and Westchester, at more than adequate wages. Some are former marginal industrial workers, forced by the slack in industry to seek other means of sustenance. In many instances there had been no necessity for work at all. But whatever their standing prior to the depression, none sought employment where they now seek it. They come to the Bronx, not because of what it promises, but largely in desperation.
Paradoxically, the crash of 1929 brought to the domestic labor market a new employer class. The lower middle-class housewife, who, having dreamed of the luxury of a maid, found opportunity staring her in tee face in the form of Negro women pressed to the wall by poverty, starvation and discrimination.
Where once color was the “gilt edged” security for obtaining domestic and personal service jobs, here, even, Negro women found themselves being displaced by whites. Hours of futile waiting in employment agencies, the fee that must be paid despite the lack of income, fraudulent agencies that sprung up during the depression, all forced the day worker to fend for herself or try the dubious and circuitous road to public relief.
As inadequate as emergency relief has been, it has proved somewhat of a boon to many of these women, for with its advent, actual starvation is no longer their ever-present slave driver and they have been able to demand twenty-five and even thirty cents an hour as against the old fifteen and twenty cent rate. In an effort to supplement the inadequate relief received, many seek this open market.
And what a market! She who is fortunate (?) enough to please Mrs. Simon Legree’s scrutinizing eye is led away to perform hours of multifarious household drudgeries. Under a rigid watch, she is permitted to scrub floors on her bended knees, to hang precariously from window sills, cleaning window after window, or to strain and sweat over steaming tubs of heavy blankets, spreads and furniture covers.
Fortunate, indeed, is she who gets the full hourly rate promised. Often, her day’s slavery is rewarded with a single dollar bill or whatever her unscrupulous employer pleases to pay. More often, the clock is set back for an hour or more. Too often she is sent away without any pay at all.
Lisa Dodson and Rebekah M. Zincavage, “‘It’s like a family’: Caring labor, exploitation, and race in nursing homes”
“‘It’s like a family': Caring labor, exploitation, and race in nursing homes”
Lisa Dodson and Rebekah M. Zincavage
Gender & Society December 1, 2007 21: 905-928 [PDF]
This article contributes to carework scholarship by examining the nexus of gender, class, and race in long-term care facilities. We draw out a family ideology at work that promotes good care of residents and thus benefits nursing homes. We also found that careworkers value fictive kin relationships with residents, yet we uncover how the family model may be used to exploit these low-income careworkers. Reflecting a subordinate and racialized version of being “part of the family,” we call for an ethic of reciprocity and for concrete change toward valuing equally the humanity of those who need and those who give care.
AUTHORS’ NOTE: We are very grateful to Christine Bishop and the Better Jobs Better Care research team members for their collaboration in this project, sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies. We thank Wendy Luttrell, Marjorie DeVault, and Catherine Riessman for early comments and ongoing support. We also wish to thank the anonymous Gender & Society reviewers and Dana Britton for their thoughtful comments on this article. We are indebted to the men and women who participated in this study for trusting us enough to share their experiences and insights with grace and honesty. Finally, we want to recognize the outstanding contribution of the late Susan Eaton who believed that good care of vulnerable people is essentially tied to decent jobs for careworkers.
“[T]he same way I think about my mother, this is the same way I’m thinking about these residents. I consider them like they are my own. But it’s a very hard job, we don’t get paid enough for the job, and sometimes you feel like every day you do more and more and more, and the money is less.”
-Certified Nursing Assistant
Over the last two decades a “crisis in care” has provoked difficult questions and a complex critique about the meaning and value of purchased care in contemporary society. Historically family relationships and the market had been seen as separate worlds; one did not trespass onto the other. Yet carework, historically a taken-for-granted female activity, has increasingly demanded market valuation as millions of women left homemaking for paid employment, expanding the need for hired care providers. Today in the United States, with an ever-growing population of elderly and chronically ill people, long-term care has become an urgent and complex care demand.
As in the past, those who enter the low-paid care labor market tend to be poor women, often native-born women of color and immigrants (Dawson and Surpin 2001; Duffy 2007; Glenn 1992; Romero 1992). This paper draws from interviews, focus groups, observational data, and a survey from research in 18 long-term care residential facilities in Massachusetts. From these multiple sources, we explicate an ideology of family that consistently emerged as integral to the design and understanding of care for residents. Further, we examine how family ideology drives expectations of the kind of care provided by certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who, as one facility director put it, are “the backbone of the nursing home industry.” As theorized in scholarship on caring labor across disciplines (DeVault 1991; Folbre 2002; Kittay 1999; Stone 2005; Uttal and Tuominen 1999) our research uncovers the tension experienced by careworkers as they manage their work as both a job and as a commitment to care for fictive family members.
We begin this paper by situating our discussion in recent scholarship at the intersection of family ideology and purchased carework. This is followed by a brief description of the growing demand for long-term care, the nature of the work, and an overview of the workforce. Turning to our research, we identify a family model posited by both nursing home managers and CNAs as essential for providing good care to frail and dependent people. We reveal, however, this model of kinship is “one way,” benefiting the residents and nursing homes but essentially denying reciprocity to CNAs. We also explore the racialization of the occupation of the CNA, a dynamic that brings to mind the historical image of women of color working as domestics, servants, and nannies, expected to willingly sacrifice themselves and their families to take care of those who employed them (Glenn 1992; Hondagneu-Sotelo 2001; Omolade 1994; Romero 1992; Rollins 1985; Wong 1994).
Finally, we challenge the use of an institutional culture of family that is specifically designed to extract more work from the lowest-paid workers- often native-born women of color and immigrants. We join others who argue that meeting a growing public need for long-term care demands an ethic of reciprocity: considerate, high-quality care for those who need it, and respect and decent compensation for those who provide this critical labor. Read more…
Gwendolyn Mink, “The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”
“The Lady and the Tramp (II): Feminist Welfare Politics, Poor Single Mothers and the Challenge of Welfare Justice”
Feminist Studies, Vol. 24 No. 1 (Spring, 1998). pp. 55-64.
I have worked in various political venues on welfare issues for ten years-for about as long as I have been researching and writing about women and U.S. social policy.’ Most recently, I worked as a Steering Committee member and cochair of the Women’s Committee of 100, a feminist mobilization against punitive welfare reform. I signed up with the Women’s Committee of 100 in March or April of 1995-roughly a year after completing a book on welfare policy history and around the same time as the book’s publication.2
I have always done both politics and scholarship, so directing my activism toward my field of professional expertise at first did not seem especially odd or problematic. However, I had just published a book critical of experts like me-a book which, among other things, faulted solipsistic women welfare innovators of the early twentieth century for building a welfare state harmful to women and to gender equality. The book was barely between covers, and I had already embarked on a path of policy advocacy that veered disturbingly close to the reformers I had criticized. There I was, consorting with a group of supereducated, do-good feminists, most of whom would never need a welfare check. And there we were, using our social and professional positions to gain entry into congressional offices, where we spoke against reforms that would affect not us but poor women. It seemed to me that maybe I hadn’t really internalized the lessons I had drawn from early-twentieth-century welfare history. Read more…
“The Dangerous Individual(’s) Mother: Biopower, Family, and the Production of Race”
Ellen K. Feder
Hypatia vol. 22, no. 2 (Spring 2007)
Even as feminist analyses have contributed in important ways to discussions of how gender is raced and race is gendered, there has been little in the way of comparative analysis of the specific mechanisms that are at work in the production of each. Feder argues that in Michel Foucault’s analytics of power we find tools to understand the reproduction of whiteness as a complex interaction of distinctive expressions of power associated with these categories of difference.
Feminist and critical race theorists alike have long acknowledged the “intersection” of gender and race difference; it is by now a truism that the ways that we become boys and girls, men and women, cannot be disentangled from the ways in which we become white or black men and women, asian or latino/a boys and girls. Feminist theoretical analyses have contributed in important ways to discussions of how gender is raced and race is gendered. and yet, there has been little in the way of comparative analysis of the specific mechanisms that are at work in the production of each, that is, the ways that they come to make sense or are intelligible as categories, together with the ways these categories come to make sense of us—as raced and gendered human beings. Recognizing important differences between the production of gender and race can help feminist and critical race theorists “think together” these categories without conflating, and thus misunderstanding, the specific mechanisms of each. Read more…
“Where the Welfare Queen Resides: The Subtext of Personal Responsibility”
Sanford F. Schram
Chapter 2, After Welfare: The Culture of Postindustrial Social Policy, 2000. [PDF]
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) requires welfare recipients to take paid employment in order to receive aid and imposes a five-year lifetime limit on eligibility. After this time recipients are expected to be supporting themselves. Welfare reform is predicated on the assumption that staying home and caring for one’s children is not work, and that the primary, and perhaps only, way an individual can demonstrate “personal responsibility” is by taking paid employment. In what follows, I argue that not only is this emphasis on “personal responsibility” prejudiced against mothers who stay at home with their children, but that it operates to allow dominant gender, race, and class biases to infiltrate allegedly neutral welfare policy and ensure the continued subordination of poor families. In other words, the contemporary welfare policy discourse of “personal responsibility” might sound fair in the abstract; however, in late-twentieth-century America, it has become a way to blame the poor for their poverty without ever having to say so. “Personal responsibility” allows the cultural biases of welfare reform to be “hidden in plain sight.”1
Is this controversial? For some, the 1996 reform law obviously intensifies the unfairness of welfare toward recipients by allowing the broader social biases of gender, race, and class relations to structure the system of welfare provision.2 Making low-income single mothers work for poverty wages while having to care for their children on their own amounts to punishing them for being at the bottom of the gender-race-class system, sometimes euphemistically referred to as the socioeconomic order. The existing political economy is rationalized according to a family-wage logic that incorrectly assumes that families tend to have two parents, one of whom, “the breadwinner,” is able to earn enough to support the family while the other, “the homemaker,” provides the necessary nurturance at home.3 The family-wage system is biased in favor of middle- and upper-class, male-headed, white families that tend to be able to conform to this model. While most families, white ones included, have found it difficult to succeed in a political economy structured according to this logic, they find it even more difficult in the changing postindustrial economy. Poor single mothers of color are the least likely to be able to participate effectively in such a biased system. Welfare compensates families who face extreme financial hardship, but it has historically been constrained to provide aid in limited amounts and under strict conditions so as not to conflict with the family-wage logic. The 1996 law has adjusted welfare to reinforce this, thereby reinscribing the gender, race, and class biases of the dominant culture. Read more…
“Work, Family and Black Women’s Oppression”
Patricia Hill Collins
Chapter 3, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, 2000. Second edition.
Honey, de white man is the de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find
out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but
we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and
tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t
tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so
fur as Ah can see. —Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
With these words Nanny, an elderly African-American woman in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, explains Black women’s “place” to her young, impressionable granddaughter. Nanny knows that being treated as “mules uh de world” lies at the heart of Black women’s oppression. Thus, one core theme in U.S. Black feminist thought consists of analyzing Black women’s work, especially Black women’s labor market victimization as “mules.” As dehumanized objects, mules are living machines and can be treated as part of the scenery. Fully human women are less easily exploited. As mill worker Corine Cannon observes, “Your work, and this goes for white people and black, is what you are . . . your work is your life” (Byerly 1986, 156). Read more…
“The Combahee River Collective Statement”
Combahee River Collective 
We are a collective of Black feminists who have been meeting together since 1974.  During that time we have been involved in the process of defining and clarifying our politics, while at the same time doing political work within our own group and in coalition with other progressive organizations and movements. The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face. Read more…
First National Chicana Conference 
SEX AND THE CHICANA
We feel that in order to provide an effective measure to correct the many sexual hangups facing the Chicano community the following resolutions should be implemented:
I. Sex is good and healthy for both Chicanos and Chicanas and we must develop this attitude.
II. We should destroy the myth that religion and culture control our sexual lives.