Maine NAACP leaders today strongly criticized conservative radio host Ray Richardson for comparing public assistance programs to slavery and groups working on poverty and immigration issues to plantation owners.
In a recent column for the Portland Daily Sun, Richardson attacked organizations including the NAACP, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine Equal Justice Partners, the Maine People’s Alliance (for which I work) and others which participated in a conference call on immigration issues (that was surreptitiously recorded by an employee of the Maine Heritage Policy Center), calling them “profiteers of poverty” and comparing their actions to those of southern slaveholders.
They are worried that their gravy train may run out and their tool, the poor in Maine, will not be available to them to exploit.
In the old South, southern Democrats enslaved black people to the plantation because they thought they were inferior and they could therefore be used for cheap labor. In modern times, northern Democrats have sought to enslave the poor to the new plantation, our social welfare system. They have done this because they think they are inferior and incapable because they are poor and therefore they could be exploited for political purposes.
“To equate the inhumane and genocidal system of slavery, based on human bondage, human chattel, and the legacy of racism that still persists today to a system that provides help to Maine people and families shows a horrific ignorance, not just about the history of this country, but of systems that provide well-being to disadvantaged individuals and families,” said Rachel Talbot Ross, President of Portland Branch of the NAACP, in response to Richardson’s column.
In addition to hosting a daily radio show on WLOB, Richardson is also a prominent supporter of and close advisor to Republican Governor Paul LePage. Richardson has hosted Tea Party rallies in support of LePage and has even broadcast his show from the governor’s office. According to Richardson, his influence with the governor resulted in the administration’s focus on debt payments to Maine hospitals, an issue that’s now a important part of LePage’s re-election messaging.
This is not the first time this year that a conservative leader has compared public assistance with slavery. In January, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in North Carolina made national news when he argued that food stamps were “slavery” and should be eliminated.
In April, anti-government rancher and erstwhile conservative cause célèbre Cliven Bundy lost much of his public support when he went on a racist rant in which he wondered if black people might be better off under slavery than “under a government subsidy.”
According to Maine NAACP leaders, Richardson’s words are evidence that Maine and the nation still have a long way to go in understanding issues of both race and poverty.
“[This column] is testimony to an ignorance about history and a willingness to promote this racist construction,” said Talbot Ross. “This isn’t about politics, it’s about basic humanity and the well-being of our fellow human beings.”