It’s remarkable how racial coding in America is so ingrained now that we can carry on drawn-out public debates and never once mention the real issue. Take, for instance, the assumptions we make about stay at home moms and welfare recipients. Both terms have been tossed around in the 2012 election chatter. But the responses to each issue have been vastly different, from the general public, right on up to the president and his political foes. What’s emerged from all the recent media banter is this: stay at home moms are regarded as noble people. We infer that they are busy raising wholesome children, and thereby protecting the nation’s future. On the other hand, poor women who raise their children at home are written off as shiftless loafers. They evoke wretched images of welfare cheats. Stay at home moms, it seems, are to be honored and protected. Conversely, welfare moms are vilified and punished. Even now, several states have passed laws that require women on public assistance to pass a drug test to receive benefits. I wonder, how much of that maliciousness flows from the presumption that welfare is synonymous with blacks? And to what degree is society’s fawning respect for stay at home moms colored by assumptions that they’re white? Debates about stay at home moms arose last week, when Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen said in an interview that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s wife had “never worked a day in her life.” Of course, anybody interested in being honest knows that Rosen was referring to the fact that Ann Romney has had the choice of staying at home to raise her children. She was born, as they say, “in the money.” But the Romneys and others seized upon Rosen’s comment as more than just an insult to Ann. It was represented, by extension, as an affront to all women who choose to be stay-at-home moms. Since then, the media has responded with non-stop coverage, interviewing pundits and white mothers galore. Rosen’s comment was given so much play, in fact, that both the president and Michelle Obama weighed in. They quickly distanced themselves from Rosen, one of Obama’s most devout supporters. Nobody has come out and said it bluntly, but I’m convinced that all the fuss over stay at home moms is really about the intersection of race and class: In other words, the honor of middle class white women is at stake. Anyone who doubts there is a clear motherhood bias should do a quick memory scan of the political rhetoric of Republican candidates lately. Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have all characterized women on public assistance as an economic drain and welfare frauds. They have slandered an entire group of mothers, and there was not nearly the outrage afforded stay at home moms. Take, for instance, Romney: “While I was governor,” he said, “85 percent of the people on a form of welfare assistance in my state had no work requirement… I’m willing to spend more giving daycare to allow those parents to go back to work. It’ll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work.” Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also vilified black mothers before dropping out of the race. At a campaign stop in Iowa, he said: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn their own money.” Then former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got in on the game of denigrating African Americans. “If the NAACP invites me,” he declared in a speech, “I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” The media reported the racist comments for a hot minute. But for the most part they failed to point out the glaring contradictions: Never mind that Bill Clinton got rid of welfare “as we know it” 16 years ago. That legislation requires recipients to work and limits benefits to five years. So then, exactly what are these politicians complaining about? And why hasn’t somebody called them out for reviving a dead, racially divisive issue? The truth is, divisiveness is the very reason Republicans cling to that issue. Never mind that most of the people on welfare actually are white. Never mind that even more whites have skidded onto public assistance rolls since the great recession. But stereotypes die hard. The prevailing notion of black “welfare queens” is so deeply embedded that whites on public assistance are assumed to be normally hard working people who are just down on their luck. The fact is, this country is stumbling through tough economic times because a previously reckless administration bulldozed us into costly wars. That same administration failed to harness equally reckless Wall Street fat cats, so now the rest of the nation is being forced to foot the bill. So how do candidates get away with implying that shiftless blacks are dragging the country down? How is it that the honor of black women in particular can be horribly smeared and, except for a few complaints from civil rights leaders, the rest of America yawned? It’s no secret that Republicans have long understood the power of racial coding. What has not been so obvious is the apparent assumptions harbored by members of the media. Their job is to sift through the coding and help the public understand what’s really going on. Frankly, I have never heard a black woman refer to herself as a stay at home mom, though there probably are some. I recently interviewed several black women, who said history has never allowed them the luxury of even thinking in such terms. As one friend pointed out, “Romney’s wife could afford to stay at home. She likely had “the help” raising her children.” The economic realities of black women historically have not permitted such a choice. But black women manage, money or not. Stories of heroic African American mothers are the norm, more than the exception. How many times have we seen black achievers, such as the surgeon, Dr. Ben Carson, praise their mothers for raising them against impossible odds? How many times have we seen black athletes, such as Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose give tearful testimonies to their mothers’ selfless sacrifices? There are literally millions of those stories out there. Still, many Americans just can’t wrap their minds around the idea of black mothers being poor, noble and as nurturing as any white stay at home mom. Maybe it’s because black mothers on public assistance don’t go around attaching lofty titles to themselves. They just do what they do. And even among the poorest of them, most do it quite well.