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Being Cared for vs. Getting Help

Answer this question first before reading the post:

Is being cared for a privilege or exposing vulnerability?

I, too, had to digest that question, and I wasn’t sure if I was being honest. I struggled with answering - my first reaction is that it is a privilege, obviously. I can hire someone to clean my home, care for my lawn, care for my children, and even do all my regular household chores (well maybe not me, but I know people who can).

I went a little further: If I was unable to find housing, a job, or food for my family, I might need assistance from an outside agency, and that often exposes a vulnerability. I think many of us have wondered about those very questions with the experience of COVID, and I probably know more people now worried about those questions than I ever had.

Have you ever heard the story about the ‘Welfare Queen?'' I didn’t know the exact story, but as soon as I heard that title I knew generally what the story was, because it had been passed on by those older than me for as long as I can remember. I learned about it again recently. The story was used by Ronald Reagan as he ran for president in both 1976 and 1980 (so I guess it hasn’t been as far back as I thought). The “Welfare Queen” was given that infamous name because of the story that she was able to collect over 80 welfare checks, and thus sow distrust in the federal government oversight of these programs. To this day many of us, myself included, wonder if those receiving those benefits truly deserve them.

Now, if you are still reading, I hope you took a moment to stop and recognize the privilege of that question.

Some people seek help as a way to get by. I think being in a position of needing the help versus wanting help has a big impact on our understanding of this reality, that some of us do not share. Maybe you have needed help in an area of your life experience, a surgery or illness for example. What was it like to actually need someone to help you, was it hard to ask, did you experience feelings such as failure, or frustration with yourself? Is seeking this ‘help’ the same as being cared for? I think we should all acknowledge that comfortable or poor, the level of care parents provide for their children varies, but being poor does not mean you do not CARE for your children.

If it were you in need of one of those services, wouldn’t you expect to receive it? I know I would, because I am a white middle class privileged woman, and for most of my life I have never had to worry about a paycheck. It wasn’t until this school year, when I decided I was going to try and make it on my own, that I wondered what would happen if I didn’t make my salary. I know I would never be eligible for those benefits, well at least not in my current situation, but my comfort would change, and we might have to pinch pennies. Nonetheless, it made me think about those beliefs I held to be true about those programs.

I am going to ask you to come up with your understanding of the ‘Welfare Queen.’

Are you like me - did you envision a black single mother?

According to the Washington Post Article about this, “The term was designed to conjure racist stereotypes of a single black mother living large on the taxpayers’ largesse, collecting government checks while bedecked in diamonds and driving a Cadillac.”

She was, in fact, a real person (which I was surprised to find out), but there was far more to that story than one would ever know. She was light skinned, and passed more often as a white woman. She also bought and sold children on the black market.

She is NOT the person I envisioned in my mind, but that was the point, and it was extremely effective. We white middle class taxpayers now question those programs, just as the story intended. It makes me sad to think I have spent the better part of 40 years feeling that distrust from the conversations that were created around this story. I came back to the question: what if I needed to use them myself? Wouldn’t I want the programs to be fully funded? Why wouldn’t I want the same for any mother, father, child, or other human being? And wouldn’t you say that asking for that assistance would require an extreme amount of vulnerability? If you didn’t truly need the support, you wouldn’t seek it out.

Is being cared for a privilege or is it vulnerability? Can it be both? What factors make it one or the other? Is it the fact that you have a choice? Would you fall into the belief Reagan sowed, that those programs are in fact a privilege?

I want to connect this to education and the educational system. Is asking for or rather needing help a privilege or expressing vulnerability? Do you see collaboration as an opportunity or a struggle? Do you tell your students to ask for help, and yet believe that needing help is a sign of weakness? Have you ever been frustrated that your administration or the general population makes a blanket statement about educators, because of a few bad apples?

Brene Brown wrote, “Until we can receive with an open heart, we’re never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help.”


Brockell, G. (n.d.). She was stereotyped as 'the welfare queen.' the truth was more disturbing, a new book says. The Washington Post's History Blog, Retropolis.

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