Racial pol­i­tics shouldn’t color tea party mes­sage

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Ihave never par­tic­i­pated in a tea party demon­stra­tion or rally. Nor do I think I ever will. The rea­son is sim­ple: I am black and I am proud and no self-re­spect­ing black Amer­i­can would ever openly join that con­ser­va­tive move­ment or sup­port its goals. Right?

I’m ex­ag­ger­at­ing, but re­ally I’m just chan­nel­ing a de­bate that erupted re­cently. At its an­nual con­ven­tion in Kansas City, the NAACP passed a res­o­lu­tion de­nounc­ing the “racist el­e­ment” within the tea party move­ment. “We don’t have a prob­lem with the tea party’s ex­is­tence,” Pres­i­dent Ben­jamin Jeal­ous said. “We have an is­sue with their ac­cep­tance and wel­com­ing of white su­prem­a­cists into their or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Sarah Palin, the high­est-pro­file tea party sup­porter, wrote on her Face­book page that “the charge that tea party Amer­i­cans judge peo­ple by the color of their skin is false, ap­palling and is a re­gres­sive and di­ver­sion­ary tac­tic to change the sub­ject at hand.”

The dis­cus­sion is an ex­am­ple of how we have, once again, be­come a po­lar­ized nation, both po­lit­i­cally and racially.

I’m sup­posed to be on the NAACP’s side. I am a mem­ber of the nation’s old­est black soror­ity and founder of a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion that fo­cuses on pro­fes­sional black women. My book fo­cuses on the unique chal­lenges fac­ing the nation’s col­lege-ed­u­cated black women. I have a lot to lose by lin­ing up with the wrong crowd: I could be pegged an Un­cle Tom or a sell­out. And so I have been silent. But I am in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able stay­ing quiet.

The fact is that I sup­port many of the core goals of the tea party move­ment — not as a black Amer­i­can, but as an Amer­i­can. Let me be clear about what I agree with and what I find in­tol­er­a­ble: I do not sup­port those who hate my pres­i­dent be­cause he is black — that kind of ha­tred is of­ten dis­played on signs at tea party ral­lies. I do not sup­port those who spew racial venom, es­pe­cially when in­cen­di­ary words come from lead­ers within the move­ment, as they did last week from Mark Wil­liams, na­tional spokesman for the Tea Party Ex­press. And I re­ject any­one who would spit upon or yell racial ep­i­thets at an es­teemed pub­lic ser­vant such as Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and other black mem­bers of Congress, as tea party sup­port­ers re­port­edly have done.

But that vis­ceral ha­tred is not the en­tirety of the move­ment. I ad­mire the prin­ci­ple of protest­ing peace­ably against your govern­ment. I, too, am fed up by vast un­em­ploy­ment, un­der­em­ploy­ment, and mak­ing do with smaller pay­checks and in­creas­ingly bur­den­some taxes. Like many pro­test­ers, I agree that the govern­ment has got­ten too large and has a say over too much of our lives. I think our nation’s im­mi­gra­tion laws should be en­forced most vig­or­ously. And I agree that cap­i­tal­ism and a strong na­tional de­fense are the best ways for this great coun­try to con­tinue to thrive, de­feat ter­ror­ism and lead as the world’s sole su­per­power.

Many of my black friends, neigh­bors and relatives share these sen­ti­ments. I may be alone among my black peers in say­ing this pub­licly, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In a re­cent USA To­day/Gallup poll, only 77 per­cent of peo­ple who iden­ti­fied as mem­bers of the tea party de­scribed them­selves as white. And talk­ing to my friends, I hear the same kinds of things: Our taxes are too high; I had to tap into my re­tire­ment ac­count; I could lose my home if my hus­band loses his job; I worry about what kind of fu­ture we are leav­ing our kids with this na­tional debt.

Even peo­ple who dis­agree with me don’t think a pub­lic war of words over race is the best way for­ward. “How is con­demn­ing the ac­tions of a few white fools in the tea party go­ing to help put food on the ta­ble of un­em­ployed black folks?” a black lawyer friend in his late 30s — a staunch Demo­crat — asked. He didn’t see how an NAACP res­o­lu­tion was go­ing to cre­ate jobs in cities where black men are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­em­ploy­ment at Great De­pres­sion lev­els. “The NAACP needs to come up with some­thing bet­ter than that move,” he said.

An­other friend, a black woman who works for a mem­ber of Congress, agreed. “We need to wake up. Black folks are hurt­ing bad in this cur­rent econ­omy, as are many whites and His­pan­ics. We bet­ter start find­ing a way to work to­gether and stop all of this racial name-call­ing,” she said. “We need a Rain­bow Coali­tion tea party to set this thing off be­fore we all end up get­ting dumped in the Bos­ton Har­bor.”

I agree. I got lam­basted af­ter I wrote a com­men­tary for The Washington Post’s on­line mag­a­zine Root sug­gest­ing that blacks may want to give the tea party move­ment a sec­ond look on sub­stance. We should, I ar­gued, start our own tea party to protest the his­toric loss of black wealth since 2007. How could I take those racist peo­ple se­ri­ously, some asked.

I don’t take racists se­ri­ously. I am alarmed by the racial an­i­mus and in­ci­vil­ity that con­tin­ues to build among our cit­i­zenry — on all sides. But such voices do not rep­re­sent the en­tire tea party move­ment. And it’s the move­ment’s ideas I take se­ri­ously.

To re­ally move for­ward, we don’t need provoca­tive procla­ma­tions and con­dem­na­tions. We need the NAACP and the tea party lead­er­ship alike to come up with tan­gi­ble so­lu­tions, ideas that lessen some of the eco­nomic and so­cial pain we are all ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

So why can’t black Amer­i­cans have a tea party move­ment? Why can’t we get en­er­gized by politi­cians and pro­pos­als that would put peo­ple back to work and re­duce the bur­den of taxes? I am all for so­cial pro­grams that feed and help peo­ple in rough times, but we need to do more than keep heads above wa­ter.

It’s too bad that the big­ots in the tea party move­ment have drowned out the sub­stance of a mes­sage we all should hear.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.