C. The Expressive Harm Objection

      In addition to the injustice and exploitation objections, the ghetto poor may refuse to cooperate with the new work regime because they believe that work mandates demean and stigmatize them. There are three versions of this objection that I want to briefly outline.

      The social identity of most black Americans is defined, in part, by being the descendants of slaves. As Tocqueville argued, once the status of ““slave” was something only a member of the black race could have, the stigma of forced servitude became attached to “blackness” itself. This stigma is so powerful that it stains blacks that were never slaves and has persisted for generations after slavery ended. To be black has come to mean, in the minds of many, being a member of a people who, because of cowardice and servility, and to its everlasting shame, submitted to slavery. And this stigma is one of the reasons African Americans have insisted that black slaves actively resisted slavery, from armed rebellion to shirking work. The ghetto poor may thus justifiably fear that were they to accommodate themselves to the new regime of work, with its state sanctioned work mandates, this would reinforce or resurrect this stigma.

      It may be objected that this account, however applicable in the past, no longer applies to the black condition. Many would argue that the stigma of slavery has faded and will never return. Nevertheless, this historical stigma tells us something important about what forced work means to a people descended from black slaves. As members of a historically oppressed, yet proud social group, most blacks feel a duty to remember the horrendous moral crimes perpetrated against their ancestors. Some demand reparations even now. Almost all embrace the legacy to resist race-based oppression, particularly those forms that are similar or related to past racial injustices. Blacks are therefore suspicious of and often bristle at any social arrangement that has the look or feel of race-based servitude. And, quite apart from the conscious intent of those who support the new work regime, the symbolic meaning of such a regime when targeted at the most vulnerable and powerless segment of the black population is, I think, a sufficient reason to be defiant in the face of its demands.

      The second version of the expressive harm objection focuses, not just on race and class, but on space. Recall that ghettos are defined as poor black metropolitan neighborhoods. “The hood,” as ghettos are sometimes called, is a place most people do not want to pass through, let alone reside in. It is that dangerous place where the “underclass” dwells, a place that elicits fear, contempt, and pity. It is a segregated space, a place of dishonor set apart to contain the undeserving dark masses. (Or maybe it is a “neighborhood in transition” if it is undergoing the process of gentrification and the poor are being priced out. But I will set this case aside.) The stigma attached to the ghetto is not just a racial stigma or a poverty stigma but a stigma that marks residential neighborhoods. Thus, unless the new work regime enables people to exit the ghetto or transforms poor segregated neighborhoods into mixed-income and integrated ones, ghetto denizens may reasonably refuse to comply. For in the absence of realistic exits or concerted efforts to abolish ghetto conditions, forcing the ghetto poor to work would be the functional equivalent of state-sponsored labor camps or workhouses for the black poor, as the workers would still be effectively confined to the dark ghetto. The black urban poor may legitimately refuse to accept jobs under these circumstances on the grounds that to willingly comply would be humiliating and demeaning.

      Third and finally, manyAmericans have racial animus toward or unconscious biases against black Americans. In particular, there is considerable evidence that some Americans oppose welfare entitlement programs because they are hostile to or prejudiced against blacks, with whom such programs are associated. A longstanding and deeply offensive stereotype about blacks is that they are congenitally lazy. The ghetto poor would have grounds to refuse work if they have a justified belief that their fellow citizens have erected a work regime out of racist motives. A work regime, despite its ostensible race-neutrality, would then be justly considered a veiled expression of contempt for black citizens and a sign of the society's lack of equal respect for blacks.

      All three of these expressive harm objections are that much more forceful if the injustice and exploitation objections are sound. Submitting to an unjust and exploitative regime is anathema to anyone with a healthy sense of self-respect. But for blacks to accommodate themselves to an unjust and exploitative regime that stigmatizes and conveys contempt for poor black people is, for some at least, a fate worse than poverty. The ghetto poor, apprehending the symbolic meaning of a work regime, may therefore reject it as insulting and choose non-work to preserve their dignity. (Though I do not develop it further here, there is a fourth reason some among the ghetto poor may refuse to work. They may reasonably complain that they have been denied a fair opportunity to secure meaningful work--e.g., work that they find intrinsically satisfying or interesting, that exercises and allows them to develop their most basic human capacities, or that suits them given their abilities and fundamental aims.)

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