The NAACP Was Right About The Tea Party

By , July 22, 2010 2:03 am

I thought the NAACP was tardy to the Tea Party when the century-old civil rights organization passed a resolution last week “calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches.” I agree with their sentiment, but I initially thought it was late. Where was this resolution over the last year: during the protests last summer, autumn and through the healthcare debate and vote in Congress? Bringing it up now seemed to put the Tea Party back in the spotlight. Politically, I thought it was bad timing.

Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, co-founders of Tea Party Patriots were two of many from Tea Party groups who responded to the resolution. They responded, though, as if they didn’t read the NAACP statement. In an opinion piece in Politico, they said, “The latest strike by the left comes from the NAACP, which has resolved that the tea party movement is inherently “racist.” At its most simple, this is a direct attack on the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.”  They continued, “The NAACP has long history of liberalism and racism.”

Then along comes Mark Williams. He’s a Sacramento talk show host and spokesperson for a group called the Tea Party Express. In response to the resolution by the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – who, to be clear, didn’t say all Tea Partiers are racist, but that there are elements in the movement who are racist – Williams wrote a satirical letter as if he’s NAACP president & CEO Ben Jealous writing to Abraham Lincoln. His argument is that the NAACP is antiquated and racist. His “proof” of that and hook in the letter is the word “Colored” in the organization’s name.

WASHINGTON - APRIL 15: Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams participates in a news conference at the National Press Club on April 15, 2010 in Washington, DC. The news conference was held to unveil their 2010 election targets for the upcoming House and Senate races. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Here are a couple of excerpts from the letter:

We Coloreds 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!

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 coloreds 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.

As outrageous as the letter is, the ironic thing is that Williams made the NAACP’s point about racist elements in the Tea Party. It’s as if Williams doesn’t know what racism is. It’s as if he’s ignorant of the fact that the NAACP, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations, was founded in a time in which blacks were called Coloreds, and keeping the name might be an homage to the legacy of the organization. It’s as if he’s ignorant to the history of blacks in this country being stereotyped as lazy and taking handouts, and using those stereotypes might not make people sympathetic to his cause. It’s as if he’s ignorant to the fact that saying slavery was a “great gig,” the 13th and 14th Amendments should be repealed, using terms like “massa” and saying those “Coloreds” want to be slaves again is insulting and insensitive to the pain of slavery and the legacy the institution held and continue to hold over so many in this country.

It begs the question, how ignorant is Mark Williams and why did the Tea Party make him one of the voices for its cause? He or someone in his camp must’ve realized the letter was offensive. He removed it from his site shortly after it was posted, but that wasn’t enough for others in movement. The National Tea Party Federation, which is an affiliation of many Tea Party groups, expelled the Tea Party Express over the weekend when the group wouldn’t disassociate itself with Williams.

But Williams letter makes clear that these racist elements are not just a fringe. It’s more than just a few posters or a small group of people yelling nasty things in protests. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo said at the Tea Party convention last February, ”people who could not even spell the word ‘vote’, or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama.”

What’s key, though, is what some of these leaders of not just the Tea Party, but leaders of the right do when accusations of racism are made. They engage in what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “frame-flipping.”

..positioning the bigot as the actual victim. So the gay do not simply want to marry, they want to convert our children into sin. The Jews do not merely want to be left in peace, they actually are plotting world take-over. And the blacks are not actually victims of American power, but beneficiaries of the war against hard-working whites.

Just like, as Coates points out, Glenn Beck who said Obama is a racist, or Williams who said the NAACP is racist when he defended the Tea Party against the organization’s resolution. And then there’s the Shirley Sherrod mess this week, where USDA official was forced to resign because of an edited tape posted on a conservative website made her look like a racist, when she was actually telling a story about overcoming racism. (As an aside, I think the NAACP handled the Sherrod situation absolutely poorly.)

But it’s not just the guys with a radio show or a big blog who frame-flip. The CBS News/New York Times Poll released in April showed that 52% of Tea Partiers believe too much is made of the problems black people face compared with 28% the rest of the population, while one in four the Tea Partiers believe the Obama administration only wants to help black people. So, to the Tea Partiers, who are 89% white and have a higher income than the rest of the country, it is they who are being oppressed.

What I thought was the NAACP coming late to the party, actually got a Tea Party spokesman to prove exactly what people have been saying for months. There are people in the Tea Party movement who have a problem with race and a problem with a black man being president. It’s not a fringe group. There are elements of the Tea Party movement that are racist.

The NAACP resolution could ironically help those Tea Partiers who are sincerely worried the role of government, regardless of the race of person is in the White House. If the Tea Parties can effectively purge people in both their leadership and ranks who are using race for political gain, like Williams, these political groups might achieve some of their stated goals of smaller government and fiscal conservatism. If, however, they and the Republicans continue to brush off the accusations of racism and continue to frame-flip when the issue is raised, the changing racial makeup of the country is going to knock the Republicans out of power for a long time and make the Tea Party lose the political clout they’ve started to accumulate.

One Response to “The NAACP Was Right About The Tea Party”

  1. Michele Kawamoto says:

    I am continually amazed by the ignorance of some of the wealthiest and supposedly educated people in our nation. Their isolationist policies will eventually manifest into their worst nightmares. Time for them to come up with a new dream.

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