PITIED BUT NOT ENTITLED

SINGLE MOTHERS AND THE HISTORY OF WELFARE

A scholarly but resonant analysis of ``the cultural meanings of the welfare system,'' probing the mistaken assumptions behind fundamental policies forged during the 1930s. Beginning in 1890, writes Gordon (History/Univ. of Wisconsin), single mothers were portrayed as a symptom and cause of social decay; unlike today, however, the situation was seen as a temporary misfortune that usually befell white immigrants, often widows. Middle-class women's groups helped to create ``mother's aid'' for the deserving poor; the author calls this policy (a forerunner of the current Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, program) ``maternalist,'' rooted in the subordination of women in domestic roles. But there were other points of view: Black women activists, notes Gordon (Woman's Body, Woman's Right, 1976), had less distance from those they wished to aid; they emphasized universal education and health programs rather than charity. The thinkers behind Social Security, all white and nearly all male, focused their lens on money and jobs for men, even though they knew it was a fallacy to consider men the sole supporters and protectors of women. During the New Deal, social movements ``valorized'' the elderly and unemployed, ignoring single mothers; the women's movement was quiet, and the lack of African-American political power meant that blacks' views on welfare were ignored. Gordon argues that the Social Security Act of 1935 created generous programs for the elderly and unemployed that operated under a single, federal standard; she cites a range of factors, including accommodations for southern employers and bureaucratic infighting, leading to the stratified, state-administered Aid to Dependent Children (later AFDC). Gordon doesn't enter the current policy debate, but she does note trenchantly that in order to fight inequality we must make such entitlements as corporate tax breaks and home mortgage deductions as ``visible as welfare.'' The arguments get complicated, but this is challenging history—and a goad to clarify modern-day rhetoric.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 1994

ISBN: 0-02-912485-9

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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