Summertime Food Assistance: Only Rural Kids Need Apply

Josh Marshall recently highlighted Republican efforts to limit food aid for the summer to rural children only. Let me say that once again for emphasis: “limit food aid…to rural children only.” Much has been made of how gerrymandering has allowed Republicans to choose their voters and become the party of older, rural white people. This is the apogee of confirmation for that theory.

After Paul Ryan’s “inner city men” comments, conservatives argued that there isn’t anything racial about characterizing “inner-city” people as fundamentally lazy and unworthy of access to our social safety net. Apparently they believed their argument was persuasive enough that this explicit exclusion of access to children from the inner city won’t be seen for what it is. What’s scary is that it almost wasn’t.

If not for Mr. Marshall’s careful reading, this bold-faced gamble to exclude resources from tax payers would have gone largely unnoticed by our political press. This is how the machinery of systemic discrimination works. While Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling elicit headlines, institutional racism (pdf) embedded in policy is reinforced.

Let me be clear. Offering food aid to children in rural areas while denying that same aid to children in urban areas is a poorly disguised attempt to replicate the effects of Jim Crow policies. The impetus for the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t merely a desire to be able to sit in the same classroom as white people (although the continued reality of segregation is undeniable), but to demand rightful access to the resources that black tax dollars paid for. Republican attempts to limit aid to “rural kids only” is a thinly veiled challenge to the laws designed to end Jim Crow policies. Combined with recent efforts of voter suppression and the refusal to amend the Voting Rights Act, the Republican position amounts to open contempt for black Americans’ rights as citizens.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently made an argument in favor of slavery reparations. The most common retort to Coates’ argument will be that class-based solutions to racial discrimination can be just as effective, without drumming up a racial backlash. With Republicans explicitly inserting language into class-based bills designed to exclude access to “inner-city” kids only, Mr. Coates may find his argument made for him.