The monster beneath this rhetoric is the Welfare Queen, the fabled boogeywoman of the 1976 Reagan presidential campaign.
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veterans’ benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands,” Reagan told enraptured crowds at stump speeches. “Her tax-free income alone is over $150,000.”
As the narrative developed, she was, of course, black. She was promiscuous and she was lazy. She was also a lie.
My mother embodied four generations of higher education and even went on to earn a doctoral degree.
She was also a welfare mother.
And, according to Reaganomics, she was the bane of society. By their calculations, my mother’s predicament was her fault, and her fault alone. Never mind the nationwide recession or that my father (well into his 30’s and with his own set of degrees*) left her alone with two small children. Never mind her dogged attempts to find work and the racism and sexism that waited for her at each interview. She was part of a plague rippling across the country. Part of a racialized, sexualized—but faceless—army.