If you don’t know anything about “the welfare system,” then drug testing “people on welfare” makes sense.
After all, your hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being used to support “people on welfare.”
Even on days when you don’t want to go to work, you show up because that is what is required for you to bring home a regular paycheck. Obviously, “people on welfare” are looking for an easier way to get money.
And, because they aren’t working hard like you are, they must spend their time doing whatever they want – including watching television all day and doing drugs. Since they don’t have jobs, the money that “people on welfare” use to buy those drugs is obviously coming from their “welfare check” that we, the hard- working taxpayers, provide them. If they didn’t use the money from their “welfare check” to buy the drugs, then they don’t need a “welfare check” at all.
To ensure that no one “on welfare” is using our money to buy drugs, then we have to drug test them. That way we won’t be wasting taxes, right?
The seemingly ongoing demand and state jumping on the drug testing band wagon isn’t based on facts and statistics but rather on prejudice, stereotypes and misinformation about “the welfare system.”
It’s also a waste money. Requiring drug tests for individuals who receive social services benefits has consistently been shown to increase administrative costs with little else to show for the efforts.
When the State of Tennessee started testing individuals who applied for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), only 37 out of more than 16,000 applicants failed drug tests during a six month period. Those results weren’t much different from those in other states, such as Utah and Florida.
I don’t know what the cost of administering those tests was, but I do know there is no way that those results can be spun to indicate cost-effectiveness. But then, the outcry for drug-testing people who receive TANF has never really been about cost-effectiveness or even helping families with drug addiction.
Despite public perception that “people on welfare” are lazy and don’t do much to contribute to society, the life of people who receive TANF isn’t all that restful. First they have children to raise.
TANF, which was established during the Clinton administration, is only available to families with children. It also requires recipients to participate in programs that help them learn skills and gain employment. In West Virginia, TANF recipients are required to sign a personal responsibility contract which they have to follow or they will lose benefits.
Even if they do all that is required of them, federal law prohibits them from receiving more than 60 months of assistance during a lifetime.
For a small amount of cash assistance (in West Virginia, a family of four receives an average amount of about $385 each month), TANF recipients must go to classes, do volunteer work and actively seek employment. Studies show that the average time any individual receives TANF is 24 months, and that is usually the result of unfortunate circumstances like the loss of a job or divorce. Much like an insurance policy, TANF was available to these individuals who had been taxpayers but fell in tough times until they could once again be taxpayers.
I have many more friends who never used TANF not because they never had financial difficulties but because they had the resource friends and family to help them through the crisis. Not everyone is surrounded by people who have the resources to help.
But even when we look beyond the stereotypes about who receives TANF, there are even bigger issues.. For example,what happens when someone does test positive for drugs? What will happen to their children (since they must have children to even receive the assistance.) Just as critical, who will be responsible for treatment and recovery services? In my community, those services are usually unavailable and inaccessible to low-income and rural individuals. Advocates have been complaining for years about the lack of treatment programs. Before we focus on drug testing anyone, we must have the community capacity to help those who struggle with addiction.
The call for drug testing “people on welfare” only makes sense to those who either don’t understand the social services system or who don’t want to understand it. It only makes sense to people who don’t mind stereotyping low-income people or who don’t realize that’s what they are doing. And it only makes sense to those who think that subjecting people who are already struggling to additional accusations is more effective than subjecting them to a helping hand.
He was telling my parents about places where he hadn’t been allowed to go.
I couldn’t understand why, so I asked.
“It’s because I’m black,” he said.
I didn’t understand and I told him so.
“Some people don’t like black men and some people are just afraid of us,” he said.
I still didn’t understand, and neither he nor my parents could give me a good answer. Treating him based on the color of his skin made absolutely no sense to me.
I’m not telling this story to illustrate how children aren’t born prejudice. I’m telling this story because it’s not the story at all. Instead, it is the introduction to a more complex story about how children, just like adults, can fool themselves about their capacity for prejudice. It is a story that illustrates how blind some of us can be to the complexity of human beliefs and behaviors, particularly our own, I’m telling this story even though I hate what it says about me. I’m telling this story because it demonstrates how someone can claim not to understand discrimination and racism while they are in the process of developing their own prejudices.
In the early 1970’s, I was one of only a few white families living on an Indian reservation, and I knew I didn’t belong. My knowledge wasn’t a result of the fact that I looked different from most of my peers. They told me I didn’t belong, probably repeating the words they had heard their parents and other adults say.
That might explain why I cried on the first day of kindergarten when I was the only white child in my kindergarten class, even though my teacher was a white woman named Mrs. Short. My tears must have had an impact because schedules were manipulated so the only other white child my age was put in my class.
That was the year of increased concern that my peers were losing their cultural identity. To address this, members of the tribe came to class to teach us native language and traditions. That was the year we had to learn native dance and participate in a root feast. That was a year when I was taught that the white men were the bad guys. That was the year I was taunted, teased, bullied and chased home from school.
According to my parents, that was also the year I began to hate people of a certain skin and hair color. My mother says once we moved off the reservation, I insisted I never wanted to go back. We did, and I don’t remember being particularly upset. Of course, I also don’t remember ever having the disdain for an entire group of people based on the actions of a few.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to overcome this embarrassing piece of personal history. I like to think I don’t make rash judgments about people and that I treat everyone with the same fairness. But when I’m completely honest with myself, I have to admit that I can be as judgmental as anyone else.
But here’s the thing – I admit that to myself. Maybe that’s because I was raised by parents who expected me to be accountable for both my beliefs and my actions. Maybe it’s because I have personal experience being different, and therefore threatening, to others. And maybe, just maybe, it’s because the young child still in me would be disappointed with anything less.
Whatever the reason, I wish other people would take the time to look inward and realize that any words or posts on social media about an entire race or social class are always going to be wrong because they are based on limited experience.
Groups of people are not an experience or an incident. They are composed of individuals, and each individual is a complicated mix of good, bad, funny, sad, right, wrong and most of all humanity.
This holiday season, I encourage everyone to embrace that humanity and push aside the limited experience.
When we do, the child still in all of us will celebrate.
Of that, I have absolutely no doubt.
While playing with Play-Doh with children at church, we started discussing favorite colors. None of the girls could choose just one favorite, instead they all liked multiple colors, particularly pink, purple and blue.
When I commented that they all liked the color pink, a girl in second graded noted, “there is a boy in my class that likes the color pink.” Her voice was incredulous – as though a boy who likes pink is one of the world’s greatest oddities.
At that point, a boy in third grade said, “I like pink. I have a pink socks.”
I happened to know he has worn pink socks with his football uniform in recognition of breast cancer awareness, but that didn’t matter to him. He was simply declaring that he is a boy who likes the color pink.
His willingness to stand up for himself made me smile.
Young people who remain true to themselves always make me smile.
Day 220: Children Who Are True to Self Day 219: Frosted Sugar Cookies Day 218: Children with a Global Perspective Day 217: Enchanted Day 216: Having a “secret weapon” Day 215: Jack and Diane Day 214: The Volkswagen Beetle Day 213: Moments that Can’t Be Recreated Day 212: “The Soul” Quote Day 211: Rubber Ducky Day 210: Tracks in the Snow Day 209: Finding a Penny on the Ground Day 208: Kids who Use Their Manners Day 207: Reminders of Warm Sunny Days Day 206: Dogs Playing in the Snow Day 205: Descriptive Phrases Day 204: Arsenic and Old Lace Day 203: Reminders of Resiliency Day 102: Stephanie’s Ponytail Day 201: Being Asked to Help Day 200: Boys and Their Toys Day 199: The Most Important Person Day 198: People With Courage to Do What is Right Day 197: Being Pleasantly Surprised by My Children Day 196: Being Told I’m Young Day 195: Good News Day 194: Meaningful Eye Contact Day 193: A Sense of Accomplishment Day 192: Growing Into the Person I’ll Someday Be Day 191: Matt Groening Day 190: Tuning Out Bad News and Tuning In to What We Enjoy Day 189: Parents Who Encourage Independence Day 188: Watching Young Minds at Work Day 187: Funny Phone Calls Day 186: Healthy Lungs Day 185: Reality Checks Day 184: Coincidence Day 183: Lame Attempts to Go Retro Day 182: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 181: Goofy Childhood Memories Day 180: A soak in a bathtub Day 179: Optimism Day 178: The Year’s Top Baby Names Day 177: Reading on a Rainy Day Day 176: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey Day 175: Watching the Torch Pass Day 174: Converse Tennis Shoes Day 173: Family Acceptance Day 172: Christmas Day 171: The Mr. Grinch Song Day 170: Positive People Day 169: Watching Movies From my Childhood With My Kids Day 168: Jealous Pets Day 167: Family Christmas Recipes Day 166: Church BellsDay 165: School Holiday 164: Unexpected Grace Day 163: Letting Go of Things We Can’t Control Day 162: Anticipating a good story Day 161: Hope Day 160: When Dogs Try to Avoid Embarrassment Day 159: Surprises in the Mail Day 158: Kids who aren’t superficial Day 157: A Garage on Winter Days Day 156: Real Christmas Trees Day 155: Being a Parent Day 154: Selfless People Day 153: Nelson Mandela Day 152: Memorable Road Trips Day 151: Great Neighbors Day 150: Oscar Wilde’s quote about being yourself Day 149: Love Letters Day 148: The first day of Advent Day 147: The Breakfast Club Day 146: Marriage and Shared Anniversaries 145: JFK’s quote about gratitude Day 144: Watching My Dog Play Day 143: Having my Family’s Basic Needs Met Day 142: When Our Children Become Role Models Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness Day 140; People Watching Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage Day 136: Postcards from Heaven Day 135: Mickey Mouse Day 134: Generous Souls Day 133: I’m Moving On Day 132: A Family That is Really Family Day 131: A Personal Motto Day 130: Mork and Mindy Day 129: The Bears’ House Day 128: Veterans Day 127: Doppelgangers Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky Day 124: When History Repeats Itself Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122: Helen Keller Day 121: The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
I’d be lying if I claimed I never stereotype people. But I am being completely truthful when I say I come by those unfair stereotypes honestly.
That is, they aren’t based on propaganda or how I was raised. They are based on experience.
Take, for my example, my instant assumption about women who wear fur coats and multiple diamond rings on their fingers. There’s a reason I automatically label them as being self-centered.
Years ago, on a bitter cold December day when I was in my twenties and living just on the right side of poverty, I spent my entire lunch hour waiting in line at the post office. I was hungry and irritated, which are generally interchangeable for me. I was also uncomfortable and sweating. The temperature in the post office had been bumped up to fight against the frigid temperature outside, but I was wearing my winter coat. I was also carrying numerous packages and simply hoping the line would suddenly advance.
It didn’t. Every customer had multiple packages, and, even though we were smack in the middle of the holiday rush, there were only two clerks working at the counter. As we inched forward, I tried to find ways to amuse myself. Since this was in the days before smart phones, I counted the tiles on the floor and made up stories about the other customers. I even tried to strike up a conversation with the person in front of me, but he was even more irritable than I was.
And then, she arrived.
The woman wearing the fur coat and lots of diamonds swept (yes, she really swept) into the post office with an armful of packages like the rest of us. Only, unlike the rest of us, she took one look at the line and loudly announced, “I don’t have time to wait in line. I have a lunch appointment.” And then she simply walked to the counter and insisted she be served immediately.
While the rest of us stood with our mouths hanging open, the clerk accepted her demands and began processing her packages. She swept out in a manner similar to the way she had swept in. Only now, unlike the rest of us, she no longer carried packages.
And she never apologized.
From that time on, I labeled women who wore furs and diamonds as entitled.
In years to come, I would hear others use that same word to describe individuals and families who have depended on government assistance. And I would always cringe.
I was picking up a few things at the grocery store and was checking out in the express line with my seven (yes, I counted them) items. As the customer in front of me finished checking out, a women walked in the door of the store.
She had rather straggly hair and was dressed in cheap clothes. The little girl tagging along behind her didn’t look much better.
Instead of getting in line, she glanced at me then entered the check out line where most people exit. She simply walked between me and the man who was checking out. The clerk also glanced at me, as though unsure what to do. But the woman took control of the situation. She ordered three packs of cigarettes and then, when asked if she was using a debit or credit, almost rebelliously said “credit.”
I was disgusted. She had blatantly cut in front of me to charge cigarettes. And she had done it with a child in tow. She behaved as though she were…entitled.
And that’s when I got it. I understood how one experience can easily shape our opinion about all people who look or act in a certain way. And I understood that entitlement has absolutely nothing to do with social or economic class and has everything to do with individuals who think more about themselves than about others.
And neither one is right.
Some of life’s most important lessons are the ones we sometimes never learn at all.
And some of life’s simplest lessons are the ones we often just ignore – like the problem with rocks in the road.
As a bicyclist, I ride an average of at least 10 miles a day. Because of that, I ride over a lot of rocks. For the most part, I don’t even realize the rocks are there. But every once in a while, my tire hits a rock and – due to speed or angle – I get knocked off course and sometimes even knocked down. Getting knocked down hurts, and sometimes the resulting injuries even leave scars.
Because of that, when I do notice a rock, I try to avoid it. And when there are a lot of rocks, I might even change course.
That’s life on my bike.
But I’ve noticed a lot of “rocks on the road” in the rest of my life too.
These rocks are often comments or actions that people believe are completely normal and appropriate. But to the nearby traveler on the road of life, those same words or actions may be slightly offensive or, at worst, hurtful. Sometimes they can also cause people to change course or fall down.
Just the other day, I was having coffee with a colleague who told me that years ago she had come to my office to talk about the possibility of interning with me. When she dropped by for the unscheduled visit, she was told I was in a meeting but that I was just with my intern and could be interrupted.
That one word “just” was enough to make her turn around and walk out the door. She didn’t want to be “just an intern.”
To be honest, I think I might have been the person who told her not to worry, and she changed the story to make me feel better. I don’t remember, but regardless of who said it, the word “just” became a rock in her life’s road.
Fortunately, for my colleague, her change of course is working for her. But she also had the advantage of already having several life successes under her belt. She could handle that rock.
I worry more about people who have so many rocks in their road that they can’t avoid them: people who have been knocked down so many times that they don’t trust that the road ahead gets any easier. Sometimes they’ve fallen so much, they have permanent scars.
For the most part, I don’t think we are doing this on purpose. But, at times, I think we are, especially when we make judgments about people whose circumstances we know nothing about. That’s when we become victim of the rocks in our heads.
I’ve noticed a trend of people posting comments online that belittle others who are “on welfare” or “on food stamps” or that make assumptions about people based on appearance. I don’t know which is the bigger rock: those comments or the bitter ones about people with expensive shoes, phones or cars who are receiving some sort of government assistance.
Here’s the deal. I, like most people I know, don’t believe that government assistance should be a permanent way of life. I also don’t believe that government assistance should be used for anything but basic needs. And I don’t believe smart phones and SUV’s are basic needs. I also agree that some people manipulate the system, and that we need to be diligent about stopping such abuse.
However, I also know that most people who receive assistance have fallen on hard times. Some may have previously afforded a lifestyle that included expensive clothes and cars. But then they lost their job or faced another crisis that caused them to deplete all their available resources, including help from friends and family. After that, they were forced to seek public assistance. That expensive car may be all they have left after losing their home, a spouse or a way of life.
Instead of assuming the rocks in their road are their own fault, maybe we should think about how we can pick some up, roll them out of the way or help these individuals navigate a new course.
Doing this follows the simplest life lesson: do unto others as we wish them to do to us. I know if and when I hit tough times, I don’t want to ridiculed and/or blamed.
But this lesson is so simple that a lot of us ignore it when convenient. Or until there’s a rock in our own road. Or until we get the judgmental rocks out of heads.
Unfortunately, sometimes those rocks in our heads are harder to get rid of than the rocks in our roads.