The Politics of Disgust: The Public Identity of the Welfare Queen

The Politics of Disgust: The Public Identity of the Welfare Queen

The Politics of Disgust: The Public Identity of the Welfare Queen

The Politics of Disgust: The Public Identity of the Welfare Queen


Winner of the 2006 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists The Politics of Disgust is a very thoughtful, theoretically sophisticated, empirically rich analysis of the discourse of welfare reform. -Political Science Quarterly An important contribution to our understanding. -Perspectives on Politics Brilliantly conceived and executed...[A] stunning work of public policy that, if embraced, could radically change 'welfare'-and America-as we know it. -Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination [A] challenging and disturbing account of the impact of stereotypes in politics. Anyone interested in the means by which the poor, the unpopular, and the alienated are kept from participating in politics to demand better treatment should read this book. -Frank R. Baumgartner, coauthor of Agendas and Instability in American Politics [An] excellent and outstanding book; Ange-Marie Hancock has established herself without doubt as a rising star in political science. -Gerald Horne, author of Race War! White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire Ange-Marie Hancock argues that longstanding beliefs about poor African American mothers were the foundation for the contentious 1996 welfare reform debate that effectively ended welfare as we know it. By examining the public identity of the so-called welfare queen and its role in hindering democratic deliberation, The Politics of Disgust shows how stereotypes and politically motivated misperceptions about race, class and gender were effectively used to instigate a politics of disgust. The ongoing role of the politics of disgust in welfare policy is revealed here by using content analyses of the news media, the 1996 congressional floor debates, historical evidence and interviews with welfare recipients themselves. Hancock's incisive analysis is both compelling and disturbing, suggesting the great limits of today's democracy in guaranteeing not just fair and equitable policy outcomes, but even a fair chance for marginalized citizens to participate in the process.


Imagine the following scenario. While watching C-SPAN in July of 1996, you observe a member of the House of Representatives reading the following statement:

Bertha Bridges is still waiting for the end of welfare as she knows it. She
and her three children have been on and off welfare since the early
1980s, and she has been unable to hold a job in recent years because
school administrators often call several times a week to ask her to pick
up her disruptive, severely depressed 13 year-old son for fighting and
disobeying teachers. (Appendix B, Document 75A)

If you close your eyes and picture Bertha Bridges, you envision a person “with issues.” Despite no overt reference to her economic class or race, “coded” categories abound, including welfare, a disruptive male child, unemployment, and nearly fifteen years of sporadic welfare dependency. We may blame the member of Congress for creating such an image, but the next statement reveals a more complex picture:

Seventeen months after U.S. News first interviewed her for a cover story
on welfare reform, matters have only worsened for the Detroit resident.
Several weeks ago her son let three strangers into her house, and they
promptly stole Bridges' money, jewelry, clothing, dishes and videocas
sette recorder. Her son is now back in a psychiatric hospital, his younger
sister is starting to imitate him by refusing to complete school assign
ments and Bridges doesn't know where to turn for help. “I'm living a
nightmare,” she says. (Ibid.) . . .

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