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Queen Latifah, Iconic Welfare Queen

April 12, 2010

If you’re at least 30 years old and/or know this country’s social/political history well, you remember the origin of the Welfare Queen.

It was Ronald Regan who first informed the country that a criminal trend was rising in the government-run welfare system: fraud.

Regan painted a troubling picture of women gaming the system, women who would rather be criminal than get a legitimate job.  He told us the extravagance of their lifestyles was something we could never fathom- and that we, the tax payers, were footing the bill.

While working families were struggling to make ends meet, these masters of fraud were living in lavish homes, driving expensive cars, vacationing around the world and using food stamps to buy liquor and expensive foods.

The media ate it up.  It ignited a fire storm right down racial lines because of course the Welfare Queen was Black.  But I digress.

Regan, who was anti-welfare for years, wasn’t afraid to cast the perception that women would rather lie than take responsibility for themselves and their children by getting a job and getting off welfare.  From that moment welfare became a crutch women took advantage of and not a tool for stabilizing hard working yet struggling families in need of temporary support.

The seeds for welfare reform had been planted.

While Regan clearly used the term Welfare Queen to identify those scamming the government, it was some time before an actual person was identified and attached to the persona, which news media all but begged for.  Eventually, they got it.  Her name was Dorothy Woods, a woman who allegedly defrauded the system for hundreds of thousands of dollars for children who didn’t exist- 38 of them.

Rather than ask and address how DSHS could give benefits for children who weren’t proven to be real in the first place, Regan and other politicians spoke of Woods and others as if they were highly sophisticated criminal masterminds.  They weren’t.  They successfully gamed the system because common sense checks and balances either weren’t in place or weren’t being enforced.

What’s also ironic about Woods is that she was married and financially very successful in business and real estate.  It seems welfare fraud was just a side gig.  Again, the facts be damned- her wealth was attributed by Regan as the culture of a Welfare Queen.  Though Regan was wrong left and right, the social iconography of the Welfare Queen he created was so powerful it exists still to this day.

Woods later wrote a book called, you guessed it, Welfare Queen.

Which brings me to my point:  While researching with a friend of mine which writers/producers are responsible for the coonery that is the movie The Lottery Ticket, I stumbled across a movie rumored to be released in 2011: Welfare Queen, starring Queen Latifah, screen play by Abdul Williams based on the life of Woods.

The optimist wants to believe that the movie will peel back the myths and misconceptions about the Welfare Queen (and the welfare system).

Let’s be frank, a movie with a title this strong, a title that automatically fills a person’s mind with stereotypes and misinformation- it’s a recipe for a disastrous film.

And then I remember the movie is written by Williams, the same man responsible for this f*ckery right here… and my stomach churns:

[vsw id=”ESKfbdqzbPY” source=”youtube” width=”325″ height=”244″ autoplay=”no”]

I’ve made no secret of my disdain for this movie (yes, I know it’s not out yet, NO, I’m not going to see it when it is).  If the preview is any indication it’s another stereotypic portrayal of Black people based on thuggery, bling, weaves and ass.  We preach about the need to do better and then spend money to see this kinda crap.  No thank you.  But again, I digress.

Right now there are hardly any details on the forthcoming Welfare Queen other than it is based on Wood’s life.

Having the movie solely focused on how one woman gamed the system- it will miss the mark.  The story really isn’t in this one woman, or even a few women.  The story is in how politicians wag the dog to justify reform on the back of those impacted by reform the most.

If the movie portrays Woods as an actual, real life Welfare Queen it will be a travesty.  Lest we forget- the Welfare Queen is ultimately a myth.  From theoretical physicist Mano Singham:

Reagan’s implication that it was welfare fraud that enabled otherwise poor people to live like this was not correct. This welfare scam seemed like extra pocket money for rich people who got even greedier and defrauded the government. In that sense, she is not much different from other rich people who defraud the government in other ways.

So if the Welfare Queen doesn’t actually exist in a way most American’s would expect based on what they’ve been told, then you must be asking yourselves where the real story is in all of this.

Well here it is:  What has been the lasting impact of welfare reform?

Now that is a movie I’d go see.

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