Racist Overtones of the Tea Party
It’s awesome how we can be surprised over and over again that the Tea Party has racist roots. But every time something explicit happens, we are in a bit of an uproar.
Until the tempest subsides.
The big time media acknowledges the incident, like the one yesterday from Southern California, in which a woman who has a state assembly seat and a position on the Republican Party Committee of Orange County forwarded an email with a graphic in which the president’s head was pasted on a monkey’s body.
None of the mainstream accounts of the incident referred to the many earlier, equally stupid examples of crude political humor with an explicit racist cast. You can see a good rundown here. To the big media, a.k.a. Beltway media, the event is just an oddity.
The woman who did the egregious emailing came up with a common excuse/apology. It’s not what she intended to convey. She said she had no idea of the symbolic meaning to the picture she was sending around to her friends in the Republican Party. It doesn’t matter if she’s being honest here. The image is racist with or without her intentions. Just as images of Jews with horns, Mexicans with sombreros, or Italians in fedoras holding Tommy guns.
But we still haven’t got at the real issue, which is not whether or not the image is racist. After all this America, and we have no laws against thought crimes. The immediate problem is whether the Tea Party isn’t racist at its core, indeed whether the entire right-wing Republican agenda isn’t trying to ride a racist undercurrent in the country. Just because our culture has banned the use of a Latinate word that means black doesn’t mean that prejudice has magically evaporated. Maybe, we’ll have to wait another generation or more, but it hasn’t happened yet, and we’ll have to be vigilant and fight against racism when it surfaces.
When the Tea Party burst on the scene two years ago, seemingly spontaneously, I didn’t believe it. I don’t lead a sheltered life, but I saw no well of anger that the reporters talked about on television and in the big papers. I read the personal testimonies of a number of newly awakened Tea Party activists. I read the stuff of tent meeting preachers, but the various reporters bought the stories on faith.
I looked for the names of the new leaders to whom the truth was revealed. Then I searched the local papers in their areas, and found several them had been involved in fringe groups in the past, gun-rights, home-schooling and such. Yet, the stories all said they had never been political but their consciousnesses had been raised suddenly — at the time of Obama’s election.
They started calling the president-elect a socialist. Come on! He’s a moderate and a pragmatist (much to the dismay of many liberals), and I think the epithet itself is a euphemism. I think it’s spoken with full irony. Some people were shocked to find a black man in the White House. And they keep finding new euphemisms — like the whole birther issue. I know this is a bleak perspective, but people just don’t blurt out whatever’s on their minds, especially when it makes them look bad. So they talk in code.
The term Tea Party started serendipitously on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and in no time, a number of professional Republican politicians, like Dick Armey, made themselves available to help the budding movement — apparently to keep the recruits from saying stupid things. The Republicans have been harvesting points for their agenda from the Tea Partiers.
I wrote a blog post about all this more than a year ago. I thought the Tea Party groups would soon go away. But the big media kept treating them with the respect and the Republicans kept using them as a foil for their agenda.
But it appears as if the ardor is fading a bit. Last night, Rachel Maddow had a segment in which she checked on the success of the Tea Party rallies on Tax Day. The due date for federal taxes is kept as a kind of anniversary by the Tea Partiers. Again the big media didn’t bother covering the story, but according to local newspapers where there had been big Tea Party rallies in 2009 and 2010. There had been thousands last year and the year before, but only meager hundreds this year, she said.
Maybe there’s hope.
Meantime, I want to point out that it’s not a thought crime to examine the Tea Party roots. Not long ago, James O’Keefe with the help of two bogus Muslim donors ambushed an NPR fund-raiser. The fund-raiser, Ron Schiller, caused a fuss by wondering if there wasn’t a racist undercurrent among the Tea Partiers. Maybe it’s just me, but I believe our thoughts are completely free, and that our speech is almost as free. And I believe that without free discussion, we cannot make reasonable decisions.