Monday, January 23, 2012

A quick thought on those who demonize SNAP

I was having a conversation with some friends, and it just hit me what I dislike about the attitude that leads to demonizing people who receive food stamps. I'm on my lunch break, so I'll be brief. Although I do officially recommend trying Seitan, I just had it for the first time and it's pretty great. It's the resentful attitude of "us vs them" that attacks those who often can't defend themselves.

Obviously when it comes to SNAP recipients this resentment is often drawn along racial lines, but I think it's entirely possible to draw lines using some other method. But it's the attitude that while every government service we use is justified, a black person receiving money from the government for groceries is over the line. Proponents have to admit that everything they use: clean air, clean water, education, knowledge that the ER has to take them (absent freaking universal healthcare), education of workers, police, fire, safe products, the justice system, everything they use is a normal and accepted government function. They have to argue that there's something unique about SNAP, and I think that argument is always fueled by A) racism or B) an "us vs them" mentality.

It's really clear when you pay attention to some of the language. The theme is always something like "they're spending our money" or "I, as a taxpayer, shouldn't have to give them money". It's unique in that this attitude is never applied to, for example, the mortgage interest deduction or occupying two countries. There's criticism of those things - and a lot more! - but this "us vs them" attitude seems to only rear its head when talking about welfare or SNAP. It's not acceptable in society to demand that someone claiming the mortgage interest deduction has to humble themselves before you, there are no chain emails discussing how Social Security recipients should "get rid of their flatscreen and 20's if they want our money".

It's used to A) serve as a scapegoat for real problems, which means it's also a false solution (AKA the country's budget would be in shape if it weren't for lazy unemployed black welfare recipients) and B) it serves the *really important* function of defining groups. It's our money; they're taking it. We work hard; they don't. We're employed; they aren't. We don't waste money on flatscreen TVs and 20's; they do. I don't think this is a good function! But in the context of the conservative "every man for himself, let the chips land where they will" demonizing SNAP is extremely effective. It's divisive, its claims are untrue, it's resentful, it's irrational, but it's really freaking effective.

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