Opinion

Race, poverty, and Ellen DeGeneres

Hughey Newsome Advisory Council, Project 21

Accepting her recent People’s Choice Award, comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres professed her love for her fans.  She described one beloved fan as an “African-American woman” who is “single” and “works 80 hours a week to get by.”

Sounds like a tough life, right? She was describing Oprah Winfrey. The crowd roared.

DeGeneres used comedic misdirection to get the laugh. She set up the joke by painting a picture of someone who seemed to be struggling to succeed. Race obviously made the mental picture even stronger. Her audience was more willing to associate poverty with an African-American woman than women in general.

The joke worked because the audience was conned into thinking a hardworking single black women must be facing poverty and limited opportunity instead of being one of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

That was funny, but there are real political and social misconceptions about race being perpetrated that aren’t amusing.

Liberals, in particular, obsess about race and poverty while simultaneously blaming conservatives for the increased tensions.

Early in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama the “food stamp president” on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Host David Gregory instinctively and immediately questioned Gingrich as to the racial connotations of the comment.

Similarly, a June 2013 article posted on The Grio, a left-leaning African-American-focused web site sponsored by MSNBC, discussed associations between welfare and African-Americans. Conservatives were naturally mostly to blame for perpetuating these stereotypes. “Welfare queen,” a term used in an election 38 years ago, was considered a smoking gun of conservative guilt. Statements by former senator Rick Santorum during the 2012 Republican presidential primaries in which he said “black people” and “welfare” in the same sentence, and when Gingrich told a majority-black audience that poor blacks should demand jobs over welfare, were further proof. Neither, by the way, won the nomination.

It’s hard to believe these sporadic examples prove conservatives, write large, are responsible for stereotyping African-Americans and poverty. Entertainment and music seem much more pervasive. Even professional sports hypes “rags to riches” opportunities. But the whole point of liberal misdirection is to sully conservatives’ reputations and tarnish their ideas.

The media itself is another place where the black poverty myth is perpetrated.

In addition to Gregory’s reaction on “Meet the Press,” consider media reports about cuts to government assistance often contains racial angles. Consider the Grio article, and others such as this one at ThinkProgress, “Republicans, Race, and the Reason Attacking Welfare Will Backfire.”

Biased reporting such as this demonstrates shows it is the left and not the right connecting race to welfare — perhaps because of their own subconscious generalizations. They are, for example, using those connections to promote or protect spending programs through racially-charged accusations.

Another reason is a bit more subtle. It is possible that arguments claiming welfare reform, as ThinkProgress did, is evidence of “anti-black racial code deeply embedded in anti-welfare public sentiment” either create or strengthen a stereotype that such programs are “black” programs.

It’s also ironic that the left perpetuates the race-poverty misdirection against conservatives when — in reality — a majority of those relying on government assistance are white. In an article entitled “Poor White Trash: GOP and Food Stamps” posted last September on The Root, another African-American-focused web site, the author admits “despite prevailing racial stereotypes… the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are white.  And curiously, many of them are Republicans.”

What evidence is there that this “prevailing racial stereotype” comes from conservatives, when liberals are usually the ones introducing race into these discussions?

It’s rich that liberals complain about a racial connotation behind tweaking government support programs when race is clearly embedded into their own psyche. They rarely seem to provide substantial evidence of conservative stereotyping, yet freely accuse conservatives of racism.

Generalizing isn’t polite, and it’s hard to believe an audience that appreciates Ellen DeGeneres could be considered typical conservatives or could change their beliefs based on myths perpetuated by the right. Yet there they were, being misdirected into thinking a single black woman must have few options when she’s really a billionaire.

Where could the audience have picked up the credulous mindset anyway? They did laugh at the joke.