Ronald Reagan employed the myth of the welfare queen to anger white voters.
As The New Republic put it, “the welfare queen stood in for the idea that Black people were too lazy to work, instead relying on public benefits to get by, paid for by the rest of us upstanding citizens.”
This, even though, as the Economic Policy Institute pointed out, “Compared with other women in the United States, Black women have always had the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age, marital status, or presence of children at home.” In fact, working-class white people have benefited most from assistance from the government.
George H.W. Bush ginned up fears of white women being raped by Black former prisoners with his 1988 Willie Horton ad, hammering home a tough-on-crime message.
Even Democrats got in on the action during Bill Clinton’s presidency with their “crack baby” mythology, painting a dystopian portrait of an entire generation. Black children and young adults, they implied, were “superpredators,” unrepentant, incorrigible criminals who roamed the streets, willing “to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons,” as then-Senator Joe Biden said.
Sarah Palin tried her best to other Barack Obama and make white people afraid of him, accusing the Illinois senator of “palling around with terrorists.” At the same time, birthers were questioning if Obama was born in the United States and wondering whether he was Christian or Muslim.
Then came Donald Trump, the chief birther, who ratcheted up this fear appeal to obscene levels, positioning Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as people who hate America. He disparaged Black countries, demonized Black athletes and found some “very fine people” among the Nazis in Charlottesville.
So it’s no wonder Youngkin’s critical race theory lie worked. The parasite of white racial anxiety needed a new host, a fresher one.