Where Systemic Racism Hides

Let me start by saying that I’m against all work requirements for SNAP benefits. Food stamps are a very small portion of our federal taxes. Only 2% of the federal budget goes to food stamps. And approximately 80% of those households receiving those benefits have a child, a senior, or a disabled person. So, it’s really hard for me to look at that 2% and think: We should really be spending less there. (More stats with sources here: The Truth About Food Stamps.)

THAT SAID, when I first started hearing about some attempts to eliminate work requirements in areas that seem to be suffering more from unemployment…that kinda made sense. If more people are suffering from unemployment, then maybe the job markets are worse and therefore maybe we should let them off the hook for work requirements. I mean, I think we should let EVERYONE off the hook because – not only is it a small portion of our budget – but it also actually helps stimulate the economy:  Each $5 of federal food stamp benefits generates an estimated $9.00 in economic activity. But, since they’re really wanting to use these work requirements, it made sense to me to allow for exemptions where job markets were worse.

That’s the problem with systemic racism. Racist systems do not have names like, “How To Keep Black People Down While Lifting Up White People.” They’re no longer as obvious as redlining black communities to keep the government from handing out home loans to people of color. They’re not always legislation written by white nationalists. There are no “Whites Only” signs to help us recognize: OH! This is racist! They are often well-intentioned policies that have a higher negative impact on minority communities than on white communities.

So none of my SYSTEMIC RACISM! alarms went off until I read some reporting from Mother Jones a few years ago. 

The policy went into effect in October 2013. By January—the three-month mark where those without waivers began losing their food stamps if they couldn’t meet the work requirement—it had become clear that the policy had spawned a stark racial disparity in food aid. Across the 16 counties the state had selected for waivers, about 94 percent of food stamp recipients were white. Overall in Ohio in December 2013—immediately before the new policy’s effects began to surface—food stamp recipients were 65 percent white.

Mother Jones

It turned out that the counties that fit these confusingly defined unemployment rates, had a much higher percentage of white food stamp recipients than the counties NOT exempt. And now this week, a bigger and more in-depth research piece was released by The Center For Community Solutions. Now, that piece is strictly research so it’s data heavy, but I’m certain it will be parsed out and simplified in the coming days for general consumption. However, the big takeaway is that while Whites make up 85% of the general SNAP benefit population in the state, they make up 97% of the recipients in the exempt counties. 

So a policy that seemed benign at first turns out to have a “Whites Only” sign above it. 

I brought this up today because white people who struggle with accepting the current existence of systemic racism do so with the comfort that the obvious racist policies of the past ended with the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing legislation. White people like to look at racist government policies as a thing of the PAST. And the obvious ones ARE. We no longer starkly delineate race in our motivations of oppressive policies. 

BUT THEY STILL EXIST. And just because the intention was not to benefit a disproportionate number of white people, that is the result. 

And truly, the result was highlighted early on, and selectively disregarded. Which leads one to question the intention after all.

It’s unclear whether Kasich’s administration is turning a blind eye to the racial disparity intentionally. But the policy continued even after its disparate impact was revealed over the last two years.

“I haven’t seen any evidence to show that it was intentional,” McGarvey of Legal Aid says. “But certainly at this point they know what the impact has been.”

Mother Jones

We could now discuss why – when racial disparities are brought forth do governments not backtrack on these policies – but that’s another depressing conversation for another depressing day. Instead let’s just all see how a benign policy with seemingly good intentions absent of racial delineations still ended up helping the majority group more than the minority group. And that is the essential definition of systemic racism. 

I just feel it’s important for white people to see how hidden these effects can be and how easy it would be for us to ignore them. I mean, it’s a few counties in a different state. But this is just ONE example of a policy that had racial disparities in it’s execution. There are hundreds of other policies in other cities or states or counties – or even at the federal level – that we are now learning have impacted communities of color in a negative way, continuing the cycle of oppression hidden in seemingly benign legislation. 

And this impact relates to food insecurity which is one of those “bound by your birthright” trends we see in generational poverty. Being food insecure leads to poor performance in schools which puts children of color on the school to prison pipeline which creates unstable family structures which perpetuates the cycle of poverty. These seemingly small-impact racial disparities have effects for generations. If we don’t keep ourselves aware and our eyes open we will just watch history repeat itself for generations to come. 

3 thoughts on “Where Systemic Racism Hides”

  1. Thank you for posting this. I just yesterday had a “conversation” with my extremely Republican (BUT NOT RACIST, ha) husband. I was going to look up facts. He argued that it isn’t true that Whites receive more food-aid benefits, and was on the side of people who receive are fundamentally lazy. Now you’ve done it for me. With a bonus regarding work requirements!

  2. Urban areas tend to have lower rates of unemployment, so they lose their work requirements exemptions before rural areas. But the low-income people in urban areas tend to be disproportionately people of color.

    All low-income people everywhere should be able to access food assistance regardless of how many people around them are faring in finding regularly scheduled, gainful employment.


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