Jeb Bush Traffics in Dangerous Myth That Black People Love "Free Stuff"

AP

Jeb Bush is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. During a campaign stop in South Carolina on Thursday, the former Florida governor said that he could attract black voters with a message of "hope and inspiration" and not "promises of free stuff." 

"Our message is one of hope and aspiration," he said, according to the Washington Post. "It isn't one of division and get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success."

The Twitter reaction to Bush's comments has been swift.

Bush isn't the first politician to traffic in the dangerous myth that black people love social handouts like welfare. After getting booed at an NAACP convention during the 2012 election, Mitt Romney told black voters to vote for President Barack Obama if they wanted more free stuff from the government. It's a myth focused on black people's supposed laziness that was made famous in the 1970s by then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, who warned America of so-called welfare queens who drove Cadillacs through the 'hood while milking the government for benefits. 

Source: Soundcloud

But the truth of black America's reliance on public benefits is much more complicated. Blacks don't make up welfare's biggest chunk of recipients; white women do. Far from getting a free ride, most welfare recipients also hold down jobs and are considered part of America's working poor. 

It's expensive to be poor in the United States. As Barbara Ehrenreich wrote for the Atlantic last year:

Most private-sector employers offer no sick days, and many will fire a person who misses a day of work, even to stay home with a sick child. A nonfunctioning car can also mean lost pay and sudden expenses. A broken headlight invites a ticket, plus a fine greater than the cost of a new headlight, and possible court costs. If a creditor decides to get nasty, a court summons may be issued, often leading to an arrest warrant. No amount of training in financial literacy can prepare someone for such exigencies — or make up for an income that is impossibly low to start with. Instead of treating low-wage mothers as the struggling heroines they are, our political culture still tends to view them as miscreants and contributors to the "cycle of poverty."

As the past two presidential elections have shown, neither party can take black voters for granted. But apparently, Bush is in it to lose.