Supporters of a strong welfare state puzzle over the rejection of evidence that more generous and universal welfare programs would improve the quality of life for everyone. Why have Americans disdained basic protections, such as national health insurance, family allowances, and paid parental leave, that citizens of other industrialized nations take for granted? Why do Americans prefer a stingy welfare system that fosters a society marred by poverty, poor health, crime, and despair? Gordon argues that the early feminists' reliance on an already-outdated family wage ideal stemmed from their misapprehension of the extent of and need for women's participation in the labor market. The movement suffered as well from forging the wrong alliances, with male social insurance advocates rather than with poor people and Black women reformers who could have redirected the movement's welfare vision.
While Gordon lays much of the blame for past failures on historical shortsightedness, I think Quadagno provides the correct explanation. The Color of Welfare highlights the dilemma that Black citizenship poses for welfare reform. Quadagno demonstrates that it was precisely the War on Poverty programs' link to Blacks' civil rights that doomed them: Whites opposed them as an infringement of their economic right to discriminate against Blacks and a threat to white political power. President Nixon abolished the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1973, nine years after its creation, when its extension of political rights to Blacks through local community action agencies appeared to foment rebellion in cities such as Newark. At a time when European trade unions were fighting for full-employment policies and more comprehensive welfare provisions, the AFL-CIO defended its "property right" to exclude Blacks from its ranks and opposed the civil rights campaign for an open labor market. Peaking in 1968, federal housing subsidies underwent a precipitous decline when white homeowners backed by the powerful real estate lobby adamantly resisted residential integration.
For Quadagno, our deficient welfare state is "the price the nation still pays for failing to fully incorporate African Americans into the national community." Privileged racial identity gives whites a powerful incentive to leave the existing social order intact. White Americans therefore have been unwilling to create social programs that will facilitate Blacks' full citizenship, even when those programs would benefit whites. Even white workers' and feminist movements have compromised their most radical dreams in order to strike political bargains that sacrifice the rights of Blacks. W.E.B. Du Bois explained white resistance to labor and education reform during Reconstruction by the fact that poor and laboring whites preferred to be compensated by the "public and psychological wage" of racial superiority. Derrick Bell has similarly argued that whites in America -- even those who lack wealth and power -- believe that they gain from continued economic disparities that leave Blacks at the bottom. In his most recent exposition of this thesis, Bell dismally concludes, "Black people will never gain full equality in this country." Thus, opposition to Black citizenship has had a profound impact on our conception of welfare: It not only denied Blacks benefits to which whites were entitled; it also constrained the meaning of citizenship for all Americans.
From the founding of the nation, the meaning of American citizenship has rested on the denial of citizenship to Blacks living within its borders. Citizenship had to be defined so as to account for the anomaly of slavery existing in a republic founded on a radical commitment to liberty, equality, and natural rights. As Eric Foner observes, "Slavery helped to shape the identity of all Americans, giving nationhood from the outset a powerful exclusionary dimension." The development of a republican conception of citizenship corresponded with the Founders' insistence on a white national identity. Republicanism defined the requirements for citizenship in opposition to the traits whites attributed to Blacks. Whites rationalized Blacks' exclusion from citizenship by claiming that Blacks lacked the capacity for rational thought, independence, and self-control that was essential for self-governance.
Emancipation did not change the racial definition of citizenship. Despite the passage of the Reconstruction amendments to grant citizenship rights to freed Black slaves, an official regime of segregation, disenfranchisement, and terror practically reduced Blacks to their former status. Soon after the Civil War, Frederick Douglass observed that the same ideology employed in defense of slavery was"employed as a justification of the fraud and violence by which colored men are divested of their citizenship, and robbed of their constitutional rights." Blacks' status now resembled that of colonial subjects rather than of independent and equal beings.
A century later, the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal identified as white Americans' "Negro problem" this same "ever-raging conflict between . . . the 'American creed"' and racial subordination. Myrdal found that America remained "a white man's country." Not only were Blacks systematically excluded from the material privileges that white Americans enjoyed but Black people did not fit in the image of American national identity. Black people were in this sense aliens in America, "not really an integral part of the American nation beyond the convenient formal recognition that [they] live [[ ] within the borders of the United States. From the white's point of view, the Negro is not related to the 'we,' the Negro is the 'they."' Although Blacks' struggle to transform the meaning of citizenship has yielded some partial victories (the Reconstruction amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example), America's stratified and unequal welfare state reflects Americans' adherence to a racial definition of citizenship.
Gordon cautions that we should not "oversimplify or dehistoricize" the white women reformers' reasons for excluding Black women from their programs. But what was the reformers' historical context? The first decades of this century witnessed official disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South, a virulent campaign to stem immigration of "inferior races," and imposition of eugenic sterilization laws -- all implemented as Progressive reforms. Gordon seems unwilling to attribute the reformers' oversight to sheer racial hatred, but even her reading of history reveals their problem with Black citizenship. Gordon explains: "For the white northern reformers early in the century, the primary fact was that they did not notice these minorities -- did not imagine them as indicated objects of reform. For the southerners, the immigrants appeared reformable and integratable as blacks did not." Their maternalist legislation was intended to assimilate women who had the potential of becoming citizens. Blacks, who lacked this potential, stood entirely outside the elite white women's paternalistic concept of the national community.
Race helps to explain why the maternalist rhetoric that propelled welfare reform during the Progressive Era has lost all its persuasive force. While mothers' aid at the outset of this century supported white women in exchange for their valuable caretaking, welfare reform at the end of the century castigates Black single mothers whose work in the home is devalued. Because the public views Black mothers as "less fit, less caring, and less hurt by separation from their children," it seems inconceivable to compensate their domestic contribution and natural to make them work outside the home. More generally, Black single mothers are the target of measures that cut back benefits to welfare recipients and that attempt to reform their behavior because they are not considered to be citizens.