The use of racial code words is a time-honored tradition in American politics. Within our culture, people rightfully react to racially insensitive remarks, especially when they come from our nation’s leaders and elected officials. Race baiting to win votes is a disturbing and despicable practice.
But it doesn’t begin to reach the level of damage done when racial stereotypes and prejudice influence our public policy decisions. Stereotypes about low-income African Americans and Latinos have a long historical legacy that continues to this day. Negative perceptions about entire groups of people are never good, but when those attitudes contribute to the derailment of efforts to develop effective antipoverty policies meant to help Americans of all races, it’s a tragedy.
Stereotypes undermine public support for much-needed programs and, just as damaging, lead to misguided policies that are aimed at solving false or nonexistent problems while the true causes of poverty fail to receive proper or sufficient attention. Despite earnest and at times noble efforts to rid our country of these harmful stereotypes, the problem still stubbornly persists.
The good news is that there are various factors that point to the declining significance of this divisive race-baiting strategy—progress that should continue in the decades to come. This suggests there is value in efforts to hasten its decline while tackling the more daunting task of replacing the role of racial stereotypes in the policy world with policies that are built on being sensitive to racial dynamics without being stereotypical.
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