RACIST? THE TEA PARTY? SAY IT AIN’T SO!

In passing a resolution condemning racist elements within the Tea Party this past week, the NAACP set off a media and political cacophony over its charge against the right-wing movement. Atlantic Magazine noted that critics charged the resolution implied that racist extremists “define the membership” of the Tea Party. Such a broad charge would certainly be exaggerated and inaccurate, but that was not the charge the NAACP asserted.

“The resolution was amended during the debate to specifically ask the Tea Party itself to repudiate the racist elements and activities of the Tea Party.” As NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous said, “We’re simply asking them to repudiate racist acts and bigotry in their ranks or accept responsibility.”

Yet, instead of acknowledging and disassociating themselves from the more radical elements and actions clearly part of their membership, Tea Party leaders have said that racist elements are non-existent. In hurling accusations of racism back at the NAACP, Tea Party leaders have shouted out a professed desire for colorblindness. In the end, Tea Party members are employing a defense that only perpetuates the racism they are desperately trying to refute.

————

Responding to the resolution, Tea Party Express chairman Mark Williams lashed out against the civil rights group, claiming that “they make more money off of race than any slave trader ever.” Now THAT’S not an absurd charge, is it? Williams continued his assault later on CNN, exclaiming, “Racists have their own movement. It’s called the NAACP.”

Williams, however, refuses utterly to refute the perception that there is racism in the Tea Party movement.  Last night, the arrogant Tea Partier wrote a blog post mocking NAACP president Benjamin Jealous.  The post takes the form of a fake letter to Abraham Lincoln, in which Jealous asks the former president to repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments (and to reinstate slavery) because the “coloreds” don’t agree with the Tea Party’s version of “freedom.”

————

Here’s Mark William’s website post:

NAACP Resolution: Colored People change minds about emancipation

Astonishing.

In every one of the dozens of interviews that I have done regarding the anti-Tea Party resolution passed by the NAACP I have brought up the absurdity of a group that calls blacks “Colored People” hurling charges of racism.  Whats more, each interviewer has defended that phrase and expressed surprise that I would consider that phrase to be racist!

Apparently Colored People are an entirely new race of people and one to which the title applies.   Here NAACP President Precious Ben Jealous explains to President Abraham Lincoln the reasons for the resolution in this newly discovered letter :

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing.  Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards.  That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week.  We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly.  Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for?  What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare?  What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds!  Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.”  What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life?  As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.”  Again, they directly target Colored People.  That means we Colored People would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.”  That is outrageous!    How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?  Totally racist!  The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever.  We had a great gig.  Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.  Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

Sincerely

Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew                                                                             National Association for the Advancement of Colored People                                 Head Colored Person

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Response to “NAACP Resolution: Colored People change minds about emancipation”

Normally, I’d place my own retort and analysis right here, but that’s not necessary as a far more thoughtful and logical and balanced answer has been written — explaining how Mark William’s diatribe proves the NAACP accusation and reveals the historic ignorance (innocence?) of, at least, Tea Party leadership.

Tim Wise says:

July 15, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Not that I expect you to care about my views Mark, as I am no supporter of the Tea Party, but for the sake of civil discourse, would you at least be willing to engage in a brief dialogue here about your position, and this “letter?” Preferably by a) not deleting this message or editing it in any way, and b) responding calmly and rationally to it?

Here’s the thing: it is perfectly legitimate of course to take a “limited government” position, or an anti-tax position. And such positions absolutely do not make a person a racist. Certainly not in isolation.

What I mean by this is that if one supports limited government and tax cuts because that person believes “black people are welfare leeches who are soaking up all the government money” then THAT would be a) absurdly inaccurate, and b) racist in that it is rooted in profound racial resentment. But a generic belief in small government and low taxes? No problem there. These positions could and no doubt would exist even if everyone in a society were the same color. And frankly, none of us who have been critical of the TP movement have said otherwise to my knowledge.

More central to the critique have been some of the blatantly racist signs at rallies, or the birther nonsense, or some of your own racialized and seemingly prejudiced rhetoric about Obama being an “Indonesian Muslim” and “welfare thug.” To the extent welfare is a pretty racialized concept in this society (and frankly, post 9/11 even Islam has been racialized in the public imagination in many ways) surely you can see why that would be viewed as racially insensitive, no?

Anyway, you are right of course to argue that the folks with the racist signs are a minority in the movement. True. And the folks sending around the racist emails with the president with the bone thru his nose, or the white house lawn covered in watermelons are a minority. But they are a visible and loud one. And some of us find it odd that there has never been a clear attempt by you or any other TP figure in a position of prominence to tell folks like that “we do not want you in our movement. We don’t want you at our rallies.” This, despite the fact that before the march in DC in 09 there was advice on the 912 website advising protesters to dress properly for the heat and “not to bring water pistols.” So, water pistols were worth telling folks not to bring, but not birther signs and racist signs, and crazy stuff like that.

Okey doke…

As for the NAACP: to call them racist for their name is the height of ignorance, and you must surely know it. The group formed in 1909, at which time that [“Colored”] was the term for “Blacks” or “African-Americans.” Now, perhaps they could have changed their name, but for the sake of organizational continuity most groups don’t do that. There is a proud history behind that group, as surely you must recognize. Needless to say, NAACP members don’t go around calling themselves colored or other folks colored in conversation. It is simply the name so as to demonstrate the longevity of one of the nation’s premier civil rights groups.

Secondly, this letter, as many of your other commenters… have noted, is highly insensitive (not just un-PC), and can easily be construed as racist. To begin, you trip every stereotype about black people being lazy, wanting flat screen TVs with taxpayer dollars, and not wanting to work, etc so as to make your point. How is that not racist? (Aside from being inaccurate in terms of what black folks’ values actually are).

And even more, the idea that black people want to be “government pets” is insulting as hell. Think about this Mark: what do you make of the fact that most black people do in fact support liberal policies when it comes to safety net programs, taxation, etc., and that most do not agree with your side? I mean, either you have to believe that they are just inherently lazy and want to be taken care of, rather than work–which is a racist view applied to blacks as a group–or that they are so inherently stupid that they can’t resist the siren song of liberal groups like the NAACP or whomever. But that too is a racist argument: to suggest that blacks can be so easily fooled and can’t think straight is racist. Period.

You trip this trope again when you say in the comment thread above that you don’t care about offending the “least common denominator” who are “the current administration’s power base and are kept like favored house pets.” Considering that you had just previously referenced “colored folks” desire to be kept like pets, and given that the President’s biggest support base is with black folks–true–this must mean that you view black people as the nation’s (or perhaps humanity’s) “least common denominator” about whom you don’t care.

Fair enough, but don’t be shocked when people view this as racism.

Can’t you simply make your argument without resorting to this kind of thing? I mean personally I don’t much care, because people like you make it easier for those of us on the left to make our points. But I am fascinated by your Mel Gibson-esque short fuse and your unwillingness to respond to criticism without having to aggressively attack the people critiquing you and the movement of which you are a part.

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