The Pictures That Pop Into Our Heads.

When I Say “Welfare” “Illegal Alien” “Businessman” “Drug Company” What Do You See?

By David Grace (

Most of the time, most of us see the world as little pictures that automatically pop into our heads.

The World In Stereotype

If I say “Las Vegas” most of you will instantly host a mental image of a roulette wheel or a craps table or the garishly-lighted Strip from the CSI opening credits.

If I say “Wedding”, without thinking about it almost everyone’s head will be filled with a picture of a groom in a tux and a bride in a wedding dress taking vows or cutting a cake.

We can’t help it. We can’t stop it. It’s automatic. It’s the way our brains work.

And that’s a big problem because lots of times those pictures are lies.

The Pictures Are Often Lies

If someone says “dog” to me, I see a picture of a yellow lab wagging its tail and wanting to play. I love yellow labs.

But if you say “dog” to someone who is afraid of dogs, let’s call him “Bill”, he’ll see a picture of a snarling German Shepherd that’s ready to bite his head off.

He can’t help it, and I can’t argue him out of it. The picture he sees is immune to logic and reason.

I know that German Shepherds are not vicious. I know that they are good-natured, affectionate, playful, and generally love humans. I could show Bill videos of German Shepherds frolicking with little children, statistics about how rarely they bite people, whatever factual evidence you’d care to name, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the involuntary picture Bill sees.

Unless and until Bill gets some positive, hands-on experience with a German Shepherd, when he hears the word “dog” he’s going to see us that frightening image.

I understand. I don’t react well to the mention of big spiders. It’s irrational, I know. And that’s the problem. It’s not rational. It’s emotional and therefore it’s immune to logic, reason and truth.

“OK,” you say. “You don’t like spiders. Bill doesn’t like dogs. So what?”

Well, suppose you’re trying to get Bill to sign a petition to expand the local animal shelter. He’s going to take one look at your little brochure dotted with pictures stray dogs and run the other way. That little picture in his head of a snarling German Shepherd ready to bite his hand off is going to guarantee Bill’s No vote.

Red State People

So, now I want to talk to the people in the Red States who vote the straight Republican Ticket. I want to talk to you about the little pictures in your heads that are lying to you just as surely as Bill’s picture of a vicious German Shepherd is lying to him.

And before we go any farther, I think that there are also lying pictures in the heads of people in the Blue States who vote the straight Democrat ticket, but that’s a column for another day.

There are lying pictures in all of our heads all the time, and I think we should talk about them in an attempt to move from illusion to reality.


You hear “food stamps” and you think “welfare” and the picture that pops up in your head is of a bunch of black or brown people lounging around a street corner in some big city, or one of an overweight woman, probably black, sitting on a sagging couch, watching TV with a can of beer in her hand.

The people in your pictures are almost always black or brown. Many of them are smoking, drinking, or taking drugs. All of them are lying around, doing nothing.

Those pictures are a lie.

Who Gets Food Stamps?

Over 40 million Americans live below the poverty line. About 18% of the adult American population qualifies for food stamps. Over 40% of the people who receive food stamps are white, that’s over 17,000,000 white people.

(Who Gets Food Stamps? White People, Mostly)

Roughly three-quarters of the households that receive food stamps contain either children, a disabled adult or an elderly adult.

Roughly one-third of food stamp recipients are employed but have jobs that don’t pay them enough to feed their families.

Roughly one quarter of food stamp recipients are living on social security that is insufficient to support them.

(A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: State-by-State Fact Sheets)

So, that picture that pops into your head when you hear “food stamps” should be of a white person, maybe an old white person, maybe a young white person trying to survive on a part-time minimum wage job because she’s got no one to take care of her children so that she can work a full-time job.

You want to see some real people on food stamps? Look at the guy who’s a “greeter” at your local Walmart. Look at the woman wrapping fast food sandwiches for $8/hour. Visualize a crowd of 40 million Americans of all ages, races, and colors.

Look at homeless people, fast-food workers, clerks in stores, dishwashers and busboys, old people and men on crutches. Fix those pictures in your head when you hear “welfare” because that’s who is actually receiving food stamps.

Illegal Aliens

You hear “illegal alien” and you see a picture of a mob of rag-tag people surging over the border like a swarm of locusts heading for a farmer’s corn field. You see a gang of young, brown men, arms covered in tattoos, smoking dope in the corner of darkened park. Maybe you see a mugger lurking in the shadows, a knife at the ready.

That’s as much of a lie as Bill’s picture of a German Shepherd snarling at him.

A 2014 study showed that the incarceration rate for illegal immigrants was a little more than half that (55%) of what it is for people born in the U.S. Adjusted for population, a native-born American was almost twice as likely (180%) to commit a serious crime than an illegal immigrant.

(Criminal Immigrants: Their Numbers, Demographics, and Countries of Origin)

Illegal immigrants don’t qualify for welfare. They come here for one reason — to get a job, to earn more money than they can earn at home. Do you want your kids to work in the lettuce fields? Do you want to mop the floors and wash the dishes for minimum wage?

Sure, you see stories about illegal immigrants committing a crime and you think, “There you go! They’re all a bunch of criminals” even though they’re only about half as likely to be locked up as a native-born American.

Here’s the thing — the percentage of the population that is blonde and the percentage that are illegal immigrants is about the same, roughly 3%.

Suppose that every time a blonde person was arrested, the evening news said, “The alleged drunk driver, Walter Jones, is blonde.” Then, later, “Witnesses reported that the armed robber was blonde.” Then, “The convicted burglar, Susan Carter, a blonde, was sentenced today to three years in state prison.”

We’d all be saying, “Those damn blondes. They’re all a bunch of criminals!”

It’s the syndrome of the seen and the unseen.

Women Drivers

When I was growing up there were endless jokes about the terrible “women drivers.” Men generally believed that women were genetically incapable of driving well. Why? Because every time a man who believed this myth saw a woman driving perfectly normally, he ignored her!

She was driving OK and she was supposed to drive OK, so her good driving didn’t register. It was invisible.

But, every time he saw a woman do something he thought was bad driving, he noticed it and it reinforced his prejudice against woman drivers.

If you ignore all good behavior by a member of a group but always notice the bad behavior by a member of that group then you will believe that the people in that group are bad.

It’s Heads I Win, Tails You Lose.

Seeing What You Expect To See

So, even though illegal immigrants are only about half as likely to commit a serious crime as native-born Americans, crime stories that don’t identify the accused as a “Native-born American” but do label the accused as an “Illegal immigrant” are going to make it look like illegal immigrants are terrible people.

That picture in your head of those illegal immigrants as all criminals or bums is a lie.

If you want to see an illegal immigrant go to a meat processing facility or a chicken rendering plant. Go to a large farm at harvest time. Take a look at the people picking your food. Go into the kitchen of a large restaurant and take a look at who’s washing the dishes and mopping the floor.

Fix the pictures in your head.

This Has Nothing To Do With So-Called “Open Borders”

And BTW, I don’t know anyone, anyone, who is in favor of “open borders.” I don’t know anyone who thinks that we should let anyone from poor or crime-ridden countries just come to the U.S.

But opening the border to a flood of poor people and demonizing hard-working people who came here to earn, and I stress earn, a decent life are two totally different things.

See my column:

Will The Democrats Figure Out How To Take Advantage Of The Immigration Mess Or Will They Cluelessly Shoot Themselves In The Head, Again? The Dems should go on record as supporting immigration based on the applicant’s skills and education instead of wanting to escape from a “bad” country.

A Little Test

Let me give you a little exercise.


I say “businessman” and you ask yourself, “Do I see a picture of good old Bob Smith behind the counter of his little neighborhood drug store, or do I see a picture of an executive in a $2,000 suit reviewing the details of his latest $5 million stock option?”

BTW, did you know that in 2017 CBS paid Leslie Moonves approximately $188,500 per DAY, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year? A mere $5 million stock option is actually chump change in American business today.

Oral Sex As A CBS Executive Perk? The Mind Boggles. But isn’t Les Moonves’ compensation of $188,500 PER DAY Even More Obscene?

Carrier is a subsidiary of United Technologies. Did you know two years before Carrier announced that it was firing 2,000 American workers so that it could make more money by sending their jobs to Mexico, its parent company, United Technologies, gave its outgoing CEO a goodbye, have-a-nice-life, severance payment of $172 MILLION dollars. $172 million to a guy who didn’t even work there anymore, but they couldn’t wait to fire American workers so that they could have even more money to give to their executives.

(When Greed Is Thought To Be A Virtue — When More Is Never Enough)

Drug Company

I say “drug company” ask yourself, “Do I see a picture of scientists in white coats studying test tubes of potential life-saving new drugs or do I see a massive building poised on top of a mountain of cash?”

(Why Drug Pricing Has Almost Nothing To Do With Research Costs. A Few Minutes With A Calculator Reveals The Real Reason For High Drug Prices)

Fix The Pictures

–David Grace (

To see a searchable list of all David Grace’s columns in chronological order, CLICK HERE

To see a list of David Grace’s columns sorted by topic/subject matter, CLICK HERE.

To see all of David Grace’s columns on race, discrimination and immigration CLICK HERE.



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