Calling out the Tea Party racists

July 20, 2010

In agitating around "taxes" and "big government" programs, the Tea Party is using the same old code words to pander to racism.

IT'S ABOUT time. After nearly a year of receiving cover from the mainstream media and politicians of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the so-called Tea Party Movement has been exposed for the racism at its core.

The NAACP came out swinging at its 101st national convention, where more than 2,000 delegates voted unanimously to demand that the Tea Party "repudiate the racists" in its ranks.

The full resolution won't be publicly released until the NAACP board votes on it in the fall, but NAACP President Ben Jealous motivated it by explaining, "[W]e take issue with...the Tea Party's continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement."

Jealous and the NAACP are absolutely right. Since the "tea baggers" arrived on the political scene little more than a year ago, racism and hate speech have been at the center of their agenda. This was clearly on display at a Tea Party protest in Washington, D.C., against national health care legislation, when Black congressmen were called "niggers" and openly gay Congressman Barney Frank a "fag."

As Jealous said in a recent interview, "For more than a year, we've watched as Tea Party members have called congressmen the N-word, have called congressmen the F-word. We see them carry racist signs, and whenever it happens, the membership tries to shirk responsibility."

The Tea Party claims that it's colorblind and only interested in "limited government and free-market capitalism." But Tea Party leader Mark Williams' racist screed in response to the NAACP resolution exposed the "movement" for what it really is. On his blog, Williams wrote a mock letter from Ben Jealous to Abraham Lincoln, which read in part:

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...

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 bailouts directly to us coloreds...

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.

Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express speaks to a crowd in Wisconsin during an "anti-tax" demonstration
Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express speaks to a crowd in Wisconsin during an "anti-tax" demonstration (Rick Wood | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/PSG)

Williams' rant shows that the Tea Party's agitation around "taxes" and "big government" are using the same old code words--where opposition to "big government" and "government programs" is meant to conjure up visions of greedy African Americans at the welfare trough, using "our" (read white) tax dollars.

The Tea Party apologists claim that vile ideas like those of Williams only exist on the fringe. But Williams was interviewed repeatedly on CNN, NPR and other national news programs as a leader of the Tea Party.

Williams' Tea Party Express is seen as one of the most important of the Tea Party organizations. According to a CNN report, the Tea Party Express has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for Republican candidates, including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  It spent half a million dollars to promote the candidacy of a right-wing Nevada Republican who will face off against Democrat Harry Reid in a Senate race in November.

In an interview with NPR, Williams said of the NAACP: "We are dealing with people who are professional race-baiters, who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever...It's time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong along with all the other vile, racist groups that emerged in our history."

On CNN, he called the group "a bunch of old fossils looking to make a buck off skin color." In yet another interview he said, "I'm not surprised they are jumping into the fray here, because the NAACP just tapped a Gulf oil well full of cash contributions that will arrive from this resolution...And I know Al [Sharpton] and Jesse [Jackson] want their piece of it. The slave traders of the 16th century should have been as good at exploiting Africans as these people are, because it's just disgusting."

WHAT'S TRULY disgusting is the endless airtime and platform that this scum was given to deny racism plays any role in Tea Party politics.

But it isn't just the Tea Party bigots denying they are racist. Barack Obama's vice president Joe Biden also gave the Tea Party cover when he said in an interview, "I don't believe, the president doesn't believe that the Tea Party is--is a racist organization. I don't believe that...Very conservative. Very different views on government and a whole lot of things. But it is not a racist organization."

And yes, this was after the Mark Williams' attack on the NAACP.

Biden couldn't be more wrong--Mark Williams is only one example of Tea Party racism.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite and Republican nominee for Senate from Kentucky, is notorious for opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned Jim Crow segregation across the South, as an encroachment on the right of business owners to serve who they wished. In Iowa just a few weeks ago, the Tea Party paid for a billboard that compared Obama to Hitler and Lenin--both absurdities, but a mainstream topic of discussion within the ranks of the teabaggers.

Biden's covering for the Tea Party is only a continuation of the Obama administration's deluded belief that if it ignores racism and never uses the word, it won't be accused of harboring a "Black agenda."

Thus, when First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the NAACP convention, she ignored Black unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and a myriad of other economically catastrophic issues pounding Black America--and instead spoke on "childhood obesity" as the key question for Black America.

But the strategy of ignoring racism and its continued effects also shapes the agenda of liberal leaders and organizations. For example, Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton tried to downplay the NAACP resolution against the Tea Party. Referring to the resolution as a "distraction," Jackson claimed, "We will not be diverted or otherwise distracted by any other message except putting America back to work...we want jobs and justice and peace."

Yes, we do want "jobs and justice"--but we also want and need a fight against racism and the Tea Party, as well as the anti-immigrant racists in Arizona.

Though Sharpton quickly came out and denounced Arizona's SB 1070 bill when it was signed into law, in his new role as emissary on race relations for the Obama administration, he has been just as quick to echo Obama's insistence that the president not act in the specific interest of African Americans, despite disproportionate levels of unemployment and home foreclosures devastating African American communities.

In fact, Sharption boasted in a New York Times story last winter that it was a good thing Obama didn't have a "Black agenda." That touched off a months-long row between Sharpton and talk show host Tavis Smiley.

Even in the Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona's SB 1070 law that mandates racial profiling, the administration chose to focus on more narrowly defined jurisdiction conflicts between the state of Arizona and the U.S. government, rather than the anti-Latino racism at the heart of the bill.

THE OBAMA administration's refusal to use the "r-word"--and the pressure on the Democrats' liberal base to fall in line and downplay race--has only emboldened the right to be increasingly and more brazenly racist.

When Attorney General Eric Holder was appointed to his position, he described Americans as "cowards" when it came to discussing race in the U.S.

But to judge from the actions of President Obama and his administration--from renouncing Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright to suggesting a "beer summit" between the white cop who wrongfully arrested Black academic Henry Louis Gates in his home one year ago--the main "cowards" in taking on racism are in the White House.

This attitude is based on administration officials' cynical notion that they must engage and appeal to elements of the right for electoral reasons--even though the Tea Party has only 27 percent support, according to an ABC News poll.

While Obama makes useless and unnecessary appeals to bipartisanship and to the infamous "swing voters," the Democrats' base has become politically demoralized--not just because he has failed to deliver the big changes he promised, but also the complete lack of political backbone from the White House.

All this is despite the fact that the Tea Party has been forced to back down when confronted. Rand Paul had to back away from his views on Civil Rights Act when challenged by media commentator Rachel Maddow. Even Mark Williams was forced to apologize, and he and his organization were suspended from a national Tea Party formation for Williams' hate speech.

This is why the NAACP and Ben Jealous should be applauded for calling out Tea Party racism. For them, this issue is connected to a wider fight for jobs and government resources in the midst of the economic crisis.

The NAACP is part of a coalition of more than 150 groups organizing what they call the "One Nation Movement" to march on Washington on October 2. The October 2 protest is for jobs, but also to organize a clear alternative to the racist Tea Party.

If our side is going to win, we have to see the fight against racism and immigrant bashing as central to the fight for jobs and government resources--because solidarity is the only way forward.

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