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Welfare in mind



It's a weekday morning in a grocery store in upscale, overwhelmingly white Cary. I'm buying milk, bread, cereal, peanut butter--the stuff that runs out midweek in most any house. The white clerk who starts to scan my purchases asks sweetly, "Is this WIC?"

"Excuse me?"

"WIC," she repeats, "Do you have WIC?"

"No," I reply. "I didn't buy candles."

She looks puzzled. I know full well what she's asking. She wants to know if this black woman with two little ones in tow is about to exchange a voucher for food courtesy of Woman, Infants and Children, a federal program created in the 1970s to help low-income pregnant or postpartem women and their young children eat properly. But I'm not giving her any help.

"You can get a lot of this free with WIC, that government program for mothers," says the bagger. "We just thought with you buying some of the WIC items ... "

"It couldn't be that I just happen to be black and presumably poor, could it?"

"Oh, no," the bagger and clerk insist. "We didn't mean anything like that."

Sure, they didn't.

The black welfare mother may be the prevailing stereotype, but more than 60 percent of the North Carolinians using WIC vouchers the last time I checked were not black. In Cary, where less than 6 percent of the population is black, what are the chances that I'm a black WIC shopper?

WIC does a lot of people a lot of good. But if you happen to be a grocery store cashier, take my advice. Don't try to figure out who those people are by looking at them.

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