A Kick in the Gut(feld): Racism, Welfare Dependence, and FOX’s Clown Prince of Prejudice

I’m not sure how he managed to finagle a slot on any news-related show, but Greg Gutfeld — possibly the most consistently mendacious member of the FOX News roundtable program “The Five,” and whose most important accomplishment was an accident of timing (he just so happened to go to high school with Barry Bonds) — apparently managed to convince somebody that he was witty, even though he often reads his pithy one-liners off a cheat sheet in front of him. Which is why this wanna-be comic is not a comic at all, but rather a seat-warming buffoon on a show that is stocked to capacity with others of his kind.

In any event, one could fill a book with all the asinine quips to which viewers have been subjected by Gutfeld and his gaggle of right-wing miscreants (and hapless Democratic Party punching-bag Bob Beckel, doing his very best nightly impersonation of Alan Colmes), but amid the pantheon of dumbshittery that is Gutfeld’s stock-in-trade, few nuggets can compare to that which he vomited out last week, during the Republican National Convention.

While fawning over black conservative Mia Love, a congressional candidate from Utah, Gutfeld argued that Love was the best chance to “remind America that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican” (as if modern political parties resemble in the least their mid-1800s equivalents), and that “all the policies from the Democrats have done nothing but infantilize an entire race and made them addicted to crappy programs.”

First, let us on the one hand thank Greg Gutfeld for brutally eviscerating the veil of disingenuous denial placed over the welfare discussion heretofore by the Republican Party and conservatives of all stripes in this election cycle. Up to now, whenever those of us on the left would point out the inherent racial subtext of their welfare-bashing, folks like Gutfeld would scream and bellow that we were playing the race card, and that welfare had nothing to do with race. We were, according to them, hearing things.

But now Gutfeld has said it quite plainly. In a discussion of black conservatives, contrasted with blacks generally, he talks specifically about “infantilizing an entire race” and making them addicted to crappy programs, by which it is doubtful he means Democratic programs like the GI Bill, or FHA loans, or Social Security, but rather, so-called welfare programs, and those that are generally derided as being of the “handout” variety. Memo to Greg Gutfeld: when speaking in code about black people, it really helps if you don’t actually mention black people. But ya know, thanks.

Why Yes, That Is a Racist Argument Actually: Following the Anti-Black Logic of Gutfeld’s Thinking

However, not only does Gutfeld’s statement prove that the right is indeed thinking about black people when they bash welfare programs and recipients, it is actually far more pernicious than that. It does more than simply suggest an implicit, dog-whistle kind of appeal to racial resentment. The argument he is making here is actually entirely racist in and of itself, because it casts negative and judgmental aspersions upon African Americans as a group, and it does this in multiple ways.

First, to believe that black folk are so weak that they can be infantilized by a political party or various programs supported (sometimes) by members of that party, is to think precious little of those same black persons. It is to suggest that a people who are strong enough to survive the Middle Passage (go ahead Greg, look it up, it’s OK), enslavement, debt peonage, convict-leasing, Jim Crow and lynching, can somehow be brought to their knees, and turned into dysfunctional children, by virtue of an EBT card or a health insurance policy that happens to cover their kids’ pre-existing asthma. To think black people so weak as to be rendered virtually inoperative as functioning adults by various social programs, while white folks in European nations who receive much larger safety net benefits of all kinds seem to have no similar problems, is to believe black people somehow less resilient, even inferior to those Europeans. If safety nets trap blacks in a so-called “hammock” of dependency as the right is fond of saying, and contribute to so many of the social problems that conservatives would like to lay at the feet of that dependency, why haven’t the much more generous safety nets of every other industrialized nation on the planet with which we like to compare ourselves, absolutely wrecked their people? How are Scandinavians still able to remember how to bathe themselves, let alone get up and go to work? Why do social programs cripple black people but not Nordic types? I wait with baited breath for an answer to this question that won’t be by definition racist. So, ya know, good luck with that Greg. Be sure to let us know what you come up with. And try and make it more than 140 characters of snark.

Gutfeld’s argument is also racist in that it relies on a belief that black people are too stupid to realize the harm that liberals and Democrats and so-called welfare are doing to them. It presumes that black people are so sheeplike they’ll vote for anyone with a (D) in front of their name, just to get that couple-hundred dollars a month in food stamp (or what are called SNAP) benefits, even though such things are so clearly and obviously turning them into children, or even, as some would have it, slaves. But to believe that black people as a group are that unintelligent, that craven, that easily manipulated, is to cleave to an intrinsically racist assumption about them. Whether you believe — as they did in the old days, and as some modern conservatives like John Derbyshire still do — that black people are biologically less intelligent, or whether you reject that argument (as Gutfeld surely would), and think merely that there is something about them culturally that causes them to be collectively stupid, the outcome is the same: you believe African Americans lack the basic intelligence necessary to realize when they are being destroyed. And if you believe that, you are a racist. End of story.

Beyond Racist: The Counterfactual Stupidity of Gutfeld’s Black Dependence Argument

Of course, this argument of Gutfeld’s is not merely racist but is also spectacularly ignorant, which is no surprise as a lack of knowledge is virtually a bona fide job qualification at FOX News, and when it comes to the display of stunning stupidity, Gutfeld himself is usually out there setting the curve, even for the likes of Steve Doocy, Megyn Kelly, and Eric “look at my fake tan and man-cleave” Bolling, which really takes work.

Although Gutfeld doesn’t specify which “crappy” programs he thinks black people are dependent upon, and although he can’t pronounce infantilize despite graduating with a fucking English degree from UC Berkeley (the emphasis is on the third syllable Greg, not the first), it isn’t hard to venture a few educated guesses. Given the conservative obsession with, as Rush Limbaugh recently put it, “slothful welfare recipients” who sit around “collecting checks” for doing nothing, it seems reasonable to intuit that Gutfeld is talking first and foremost about cash welfare, as in the TANF program, or what used to be called AFDC. It is this, after all, which his candidate Mitt Romney has been lying about recently, claiming falsely that the president has gutted the work requirements that have been part of the program since 1996.

But if so, this simply demonstrates what an uneducated, bloviating hack Greg Gutfeld is, because the evidence (as opposed to the uninformed opinions of virtually every conservative in the country) is quite clear: the percentage of black people who receive any benefits at all from this program is very small, and the percentage that can be considered dependent is even smaller. Though Greg Gutfeld and the right more broadly would love for people to continue believing the lie that welfare dependence is a normative condition for African Americans — and so normative that it can actually be the basis for their political voting behavior and explain their support for Barack Obama — nothing could be further from the truth.

Fact is, as of December, 2011, there were only around 358,000 black adults in the entire United States receiving cash welfare.

Let me repeat that: 358,000 black adults in the entire country receiving cash welfare.

That is 358,000 black adults out of approximately 29 million African American adults in all, which any calculator — even the kind used at FOX or by Paul Ryan — will readily indicate is only 1.2 percent of the adult black population.

And even this number is not indicative of how many are truly “dependent” on the program in any rational sense. According to the same 2011 data, 41 percent of adult TANF recipients are engaged in some form of work activity (either unsubsidized employment, for which they receive TANF as a substitute for actual wages, or job training, or actual low-wage part time jobs), and according to a 2008 report on welfare dependency, roughly half of black TANF recipients receive benefits for four months or less. In other words, we would need to reduce the 358,000 number by at least half, since few people consider short-term beneficiaries to be dependent on welfare. So rather than 358,000, we might more properly be looking at, say, a maximum of 180,000 black adults who might conceivably be considered dependent in a given year: approximately six-tenths of one percent of the black adult population.

How anyone with even a modicum of intellectual integrity could suggest that the adults of an “entire race” can been infantilized by a program that only reaches about 1 in 100 of them, and upon which only about 1 in 165 truly depend, is beyond the rational mind to comprehend. And needless to say, if the Democratic Party were really hoping to get black folks dependent on government handouts so as to secure their vote — which has been alleged time and again this campaign season by conservatives — they are failing miserably to secure said dependence: 0.6 percent down, just 99.4 percent more to go!

Which is to say that black folks must actually be voting Democratic for other reasons (imagine!): not to secure handouts but because they truly believe that the Democratic Party best represents their interests, just as they once felt the same about Republicans back in the day. One is free to disagree, of course, and Gutfeld clearly does (as do the 67 or so black delegates at the RNC this past week). But to think that the other roughly 28,999,933 are collectively stupid, or too weak-willed to resist the siren song of welfare benefits they don’t even get, is to cast aspersions upon blacks as a group, which is the textbook definition of racism. The fact that Greg Gutfeld likes the 67 others, and really likes Mia Love and Allen West — in other words, that he can find it in his utterly puerile heart to carve out exceptions for his own personal favorite black people — doesn’t acquit him of the charge, any more than having a black friend proves one isn’t racist, or being a straight man who likes and dates women somehow insulates one from the charge of sexism. Neo-Nazi David Duke, it should be remembered, actually won the endorsement of an incredibly confused and doddering James Meredith during his 1990 race for the U.S. Senate — yes, that James Meredith, the black guy who integrated the University of Mississippi — and during a 30-minute campaign commercial that year, Duke placed his arm around Meredith and called him “his friend.” But that hardly would suggest (even were it, bizarrely true) that Duke was not still a racist, white supremacist asshat. And no, I’m not saying Greg Gutfeld is the same as David Duke. Greg has less hair, for starters, and David has made a slightly more extensive use of botox. Oh, and well OK, Greg isn’t a Nazi either, but when he talks about welfare programs there is very little substantive distinction between his rhetoric and that of Duke in his myriad races for public office.

Gutfeld’s argument is no more persuasive when we look at other safety net programs either. Even if we throw in the SNAP program (what most call food stamps), and consider both it and TANF, only 5.7 percent of black folks in the country would meet the bi-partisan Congressional definition of dependence (which is relying on cash or SNAP for more than half of one’s annual income, where that income is not connected to work activity). Fifty-five percent of black SNAP recipients live in a family with at least one person in the paid labor force, which, interestingly, is actually a slightly higher percentage with connection to work than is the case for white SNAP recipients, at 53 percent.

And since many of the 5.7 percent of blacks reflected in this dependence statistic when food stamps are considered, aren’t actually on SNAP for a long period — half who enter the rolls will be off within 10 months — the true percentage who are dependent to any real degree (as opposed to those who are merely relying on benefits to get over a particularly bad economic hump), would be even smaller than that. Again, when at least 94 percent of a particular racial group is not dependent on these programs, it is utterly perfidious (go ahead Greg, look it up, it’s OK) to claim that an “entire race” has been rendered dependent on them: a truism that even the likes of Greg Gutfeld and maybe even Brian Kilmeade should be able to understand.

Who’s Dependent? The Irony of White Conservative Stereotypes

But putting the current political context and the actual data aside for a minute, what’s perhaps most infuriating about the dependence argument offered endlessly by the right in regard to black people and so-called welfare, is what an utter inversion of racial reality it truly represents. After all, no group has been more dependent on others in this nation’s history than we white folks.

We depended on the forced labor of black people to produce the wealth that financed the American revolution, and without which labor the nation could never have been built.

We depended on the stolen land of indigenous peoples and the theft of half of Mexico in a war of aggression that we started on false pretense, to then grow the nation beyond its initial geographic area and add even further to the national wealth.

Indeed, the high school from which Greg Gutfeld graduated is named for a European Friar, Junipero Serra of Spain, who depended on the forced labor of Native Californians to support the spread of Catholic missions throughout the territory, and who viewed them as children in need of harsh fatherly discipline and forced conversion from their presumably heathen faiths.

And whites depended on forced Chinese labor to build the transcontinental railroads without which the growth of the industrial economy would have been stifled.

We depended on segregation to elevate us as white people beyond the level of wealth and power that we would have otherwise obtained, by protecting us from competition with millions of persons of color.

And even now, black folks spend about $700 billion annually with white-owned companies: money that goes disproportionately into the hands of the white owners, white stockholders, and white employees of said companies, and which dwarfs by many orders of magnitude all the so-called welfare money paid to black people combined: in fact, this amount is larger than all the welfare money paid directly to black people in the history of welfare. So who is dependent on whom? Who would be harmed more: black people if the welfare state were suddenly abolished tomorrow, or white people, if black people said to hell with transferring their money to white folks, and decided to spend all that money with other African Americans? To ask the question is to answer it.

But questions like that don’t get asked on FOX. They wouldn’t even be remotely understood by the journalistic bottom-feeders who call that propaganda mill home: folks who feel no compunction about sitting around dissing black people, without the least sense of responsibility to do their homework or engage their brains (or even Google) before running their mouths.

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