I’ve been getting it from both sides about my attitude towards the Tea Party. I tried to ease my soul with humor by writing this Onionesque blog post, but the whole thing stayed on my mind, so I had to address the issue in a serious way.
For the record, I don’t agree with the Tea Party on just about anything, however, I don’t think they’re much more dangerous than MoveOn.org was. It’s seems like a millennia ago, but it was just a few years back that the Republicans were acting like Move On was threat to our nation, but miraculously our democracy has survived.
I should preface this by saying that race is my favorite topic. I’m one of those annoying black people who loves to go on and on about how racist everything is. I did it so much for free; they started paying me for it. When a bunch of white people invite you to tell them how racist they are, and then cut you a check, it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever. So, when I say I’m bored by a racial conversation, it means something. And I am bored to tears by the “is the Tea Party racist” debate.
First of all, pointing a finger at the Tea Party and shouting “racists,” is kind of like pointing at an NFL team and shouting “steroids and date rape.” I mean, yeah, you’re probably right, but so what?
Secondly, with the exception of some ill advised moves by the NAACP, the “is the Tea Party racist?” debate seems to be between white liberals and white conservatives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to see our white allies standing up for us (lord knows I get tire of having to weigh in on every racial issue), but when I see a racial conversation between white people, I get suspicious. It’s like having a debate on feminism and not inviting any women. It seems as if two political agendas are clashing and the best interest of black folks is, at best, a secondary concern.
So, I guess the question is, “Is the Tea Party Racist?” Well, let’s do the math. In any given election, 90% of the black vote goes to the Democratic candidate, 10% of the black vote goes to the Republican. These are pre-Obama numbers. Now, some of you are surprised that 10% of the black population would vote Republican. But here’s the thing, black folks are very religious. How many black atheists do you know? I’m guessing not many. Black folks love us some God. The 10% of black voters who typically go Republican are among the most devout evangelical Christians. So think about it this way, as socially and religiously conservative as black people are, when given a choice between two rich, white guys, 90% of us still vote for the one most likely to be pro-choice and pro-gay rights. That’s how much we don’t trust Republicans.
Now, how often have you heard black politicians and contemporary civil rights leaders bragging about how they “marched with King in the 60s,” facing German Shepherds and fire hoses. Well, if these guys are still alive, then some of the white people on either side of the march who spat at them and threw rocks are still alive, too. Their kids would just be slightly older than I am. Now, I know each successive generation grows more tolerant, but if your parents threw Molotov cocktails at the Freedom Riders, then being “more tolerant” isn’t saying much. So, unless all these people found religion on race in the last few decades, then racism still exists in America, as much as Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity would like to pretend that it disappeared while nobody was looking.
So, if 90% of black voters regularly vote Democrat, the black percentage of the Republican base is miniscule, and racism still exists, the question is, who do the racists vote for? Well, it’s like the saying goes: Being a Republican doesn’t mean you’re a racist, but being a racist probably means you’re a Republican.
Imagine if you could gather every dyed-in-the-wool Republican in a single room. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most of the country’s actively voting racists would be in that room. Now imagine we have to kick half of the people out of the room, starting with the most moderate among them. Now, I’m going to go out on another limb and suggest that whether or not they’d admit to being racist, most of the racists in the room would not identify as moderate, so they would survive the cut. So now, we’ve just cut the population by half but we haven’t lost many racists. We have, in effect, doubled the per capita racism of the room. Now, add enough libertarians and independents to the mix to make the conversation interesting, but not enough to outnumber the Republicans, and you have what I imagine to be the Tea Party.
So, liberals, stop strutting around like you’re Woodward and Bernstein every time you discover someone in the Tea Party saying or doing something racist. It doesn’t make you an investigative reporter. It doesn’t even make to especially observant.
Conservatives, stop acting all shocked and insulted every time someone accuses the Tea Party of racism. If you just acknowledge that it would be impossible to screen out all the racists ahead of time, but that you will address them as they make themselves known, you’d seem credible. If you pretend that there’s no racism in the Tea Party, you just seem delusional.
Look, I sympathize. It’s hard starting a populist conservative movement without attracting any racists. It would be like starting a hip-hop record label and not hiring any convicted felons, or running a factory in the American southwest without using illegal immigrant labor. (You might not want to cite those examples, though.)