The Price of Progressive Politics

The Welfare Rights Movement in an Era of Colorblind Racism

198 pages

16 illustrations

September, 2010

ISBN: 9780814722480



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Rose Ernst is assistant professor of political science and women’s studies at Seattle University.

All books by Rose Ernst

Through the voices of women activists in the welfare rights movement across the United States, The Price of Progressive Politics exposes the contemporary reality of welfare rights politics, revealing how the language of colorblind racism undermines this multiracial movement. Through in-depth interviews with activists in eight organizations across the United States, Rose Ernst presents an intersectional analysis of how these activists understand the complexities of race, class and gender and how such understandings have affected their approach to their grassroots work. Engaging and accessible, The Price of Progressive Politics offers a refreshing examination of how those working for change grapple with shifting racial dynamics in the United States, arguing that organizations that fail to develop a consciousness that reflects the reality of multiple marginalized identities ultimately reproduce the societal dynamics they seek to change.


  • “In this important and courageous book, Rose Ernst shows how the discourse of colorblindness limits the progressive possibilities of the welfare rights movement. One must know the monster one is fighting if one wishes to slay it ‘for real.’ Otherwise, as Ernst’s data demonstrates, one ends up feeding the monster. Bravo for a job well done!”

    —Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of Racism without Racists: Color-BlindRacism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America

  • “This penetrating and thoughtful work confronts the challenges, conflicts, and opportunities in the fragile coalitions that compose the welfare rights movement today. Written with fidelity to the cause and an empirical eye, Ernst demonstrates how the false construction of a ‘post-racial’ America warps the discourse and activities of welfare rights organizers. A passionately written text that brings these women and this movement to life, The Price of Progressive Politics analyzes the welfare rights movement from within and without using the intersectional lens of race, ethnicity, and class. This timely, fascinating, and intricate book moves forward our understanding of colorblindness and intersectionality.”

    —Andrea Y. Simpson, author of The Tie That Binds: Identity and Political Attitudes in the Post-Civil Rights Generation

  • “Ernst has provided an amazing window into contemporary welfare organizing and the challenges faced in a political context that urges unitary rather than intersectional frames of social justice. Without a doubt she has provided an important book relevant to scholars and welfare organizers alike.”

    —Ange-Marie Hancock, author of The Politics of Disgust and the Public Identity of the ‘Welfare Queen’

  • “Rose Ernst’s book is well-written, with a nuanced theoretical frame that grows out of the relevant literature; it provides an important empirical contribution based poignantly on the voices of the women activists themselves.”

    —Sanford Schram, author of Welfare Discipline: Discourse, Governance and Globalization

  • —D. R. Imig, Choice Magazine

  • “Nelson is as determined to protect the academic freedom of contingent faculty as of full professors . . . he speaks up not only for academic freedom, but for better wages and conditions.”

    —D.R. Imig, Choice Magazine

  • "Ernst's creative research design offers unique insights into the impact of intersectional marginalization, welfare organizing, and social movement mobilization, and is an important contribution to each of these fields."

    —Catherine M. Paden, Political Science Quarterly

  • "The Price of Progressive Politics is an engaging book with an important take home message. It reminds us that activists challenge a political system plagued by racism, classism, and sexism, while simultaneously struggling to avoid reproducing these inequalities themselves."

    —JoEllen Pederson, Mobilization