Gladys L. Mitchell-Walthour, “The Politics of Survival: Black Women Social Welfare Beneficiaries in Brazil and the United States” (Columbia UP, 2023)

Poor Black women who benefit from social welfare are marginalized in a number of ways by interlocking systemic racism, sexism, and classism. The media renders them invisible or casts them as racialized and undeserving “welfare queens” who exploit social safety nets. Even when Black women voters are celebrated, the voices of the poorest too often go unheard. How do Afro-descendant women in former slave-holding societies survive amid multifaceted oppression? 

In The Politics of Survival: Black Women Social Welfare Beneficiaries in Brazil and the United States (Columbia University Press, 2023), Gladys L. Mitchell-Walthour offers a comparative analysis of how Black women social welfare beneficiaries in Brazil and the United States defy systems of domination. She argues that poor Black women act as political subjects in the struggle to survive, to provide food for their children and themselves, and challenge daily discrimination even in dire circumstances. Mitchell-Walthour examines the effects of social welfare programs, showing that mutual aid networks and informal labor play greater roles in beneficiaries’ lives. She also details how Afro-descendant women perceive stereotypes and discrimination based on race, class, gender, and skin color. Mitchell-Walthour considers their formal political participation, demonstrating that low-income Black women support progressive politics and that religious affiliation does not lead to conservative attitudes. Drawing on Black feminist frameworks, The Politics of Survival confronts the persistent invisibility of poor Black women by foregrounding their experiences and voices. Providing a wealth of empirical evidence on these women’s views and survival strategies, this book not only highlights how systemic structures marginalize them but also offers insight into how they resist such forces.

Gladys L. Mitchell-Walthour is Dan T. Blue Endowed Chair of Political Science at North Carolina Central University. She is the author of The Politics of Blackness: Racial Identity and Political Behavior in Contemporary Brazil (2018). Mitchell-Walthour is a national co-coordinator of the U.S. Network for Democracy in Brazil and former president of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA). 

Reighan Gillam is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Visualizing Black Lives: Ownership and Control in Afro-Brazilian Media (University of Illinois Press).

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