Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Women of Color and TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families): Issues, Barriers, and Hindrances

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Women of Color and TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families): Issues, Barriers, and Hindrances

Article excerpt


"Whatyou gon' do? You 're Black, you 'repoor, you 're ugly, you 're a woman! You 're nothin' at all!"--Danny Glover, The Color Purple

The Color Purple has always been a favorite of mine, but it wasn't until I watched it recently that I realized the relevance. This quote resonates with me for the purposes of this project. Most often, the degradation Black women have been exposed to was at the hands of Black men and the rest of society. But hasn't it always been Black women, old and young, sustaining the community? Haven't we been primarily responsible for childrearing and even the filial responsibility when men have deserted the family? Haven't we creatively and cleverly "made a way out of no way"? And all of this while still managing to raise children who can navigate a dangerously oppressive system while giving the impression that they are in collusion with it? So it was in the spirit of this inquiry that I initially began writing this paper.

I recently had the opportunity to present this research at a conference and that experience made me realize the need to really share this message. As I have said before, this project is all about giving voice to those who wouldn't otherwise find one-letting people tell their own story for once. It is essentially my story and the stories of others just like me. So I wish to depart from that awfully dogmatic and completely dry style of academic presentation, and instead invite you to an exploration with me of self and of a social world that is often obscured. Here, although my thoughts and motivations pertain to black women like myself, these issues pertain, I think, to all low-income women who are struggling to advance themselves while maintaining ties to others and their communities.

This work in particular is a labor of love. There are so many things that I've always wanted to say, always wanted to express. I really feel like sociologists are dropping the ball. There are more than enough studies about investigating the social problems. We know what the problems are already. What are we going to do about them? So I'm hoping that this is only the first step for me. The beginning of a life lived in the service of disenfranchised people, a life poured out as a living sacrifice to the struggle.


Poverty has become a code word for defective and immoral, and the war on poverty is really a war on poor people. The people of low-income communities really do not want to get out of poverty if it means disconnecting from their community of origin. Instead, we want to stabilize the community and be eradicating dependency and promoting self-sufficiency. Essentially, we want to improve the community, we don't want to get out of it and leave it behind. The government sees the eradication of poverty as putting all unemployed and dependent people to work, any kind of work with any kind of pay. Additionally, governmental efforts often undermine the community ties that people of low-income rely on for survival. Essentially, in this paper I am presenting an argument against the implicit "culture of poverty" tenets that underlay previous reform. I do agree that welfare reform is in order but it is the structure that must be changed, not the people who depend on the assistance. Welfare is racialized because the focus seems to be on changing poor blacks into middle and upper class whites. Instead, I'm advocating for the development of a social welfare system that acknowledges and accounts for cultural variation by promoting collectivistic responses to alleviating poverty.

I will begin by reviewing the central perspectives existing today that frame debates about women's efforts to cope with poverty and survive with empowerment in the aftermath of change in the welfare system. Although there is much written about the low wages and the inability to get out of poverty, I wish to emphasize that change must seek to eliminate poverty and offer opportunity--but, to achieve this while women maintain their collectivistic strengths, including kinship and informal ties in the community. …

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