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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some of the Tea Party's Best Friends are...

Confederate flag at tea party rally
"I'm not a bigot, some of my best friends are _____." It's a fairly common argument in America. If you're accused of racism or bigotry, you point out your associations with minorities. When the tea party was originally chastised in July for harboring racism by the NAACP, tea partiers put together a "Uni-Tea" rally. The rally featured minority speakers and would demonstrate the diversity of their movement. What actually happened was that the speakers wound up doing all their speaking to a small, mostly white crowd. Organizers were expecting around 1,500 to attend -- a third of that showed. Let's be extrememly generous and say that the failure of Uni-Tea had less to do with the average teabagger's lack of interest in diversity and more to do with their lack of interest in an event that wasn't specifically about anger. On that count, the tea party organizers -- if not the partiers themselves -- demonstrated that some of their best friends were indeed minorities.

But if "Some of my best friends are ____" proves you aren't a bigot, then what does it say when some of your best friends are racists? And I'm not talking about casual, comment-under-the-breath racism -- I mean active racists. The kind who actually try to do something about their racism, who join racist groups and create racist publications and websites. Who organize behind racist causes. Real, honest-to-goodness hate group members. What does it say about you that these are some of your best friends?

It's a question that the tea party would do well to consider, since the NAACP now backs up its charge with documentation. A report on tea party ties to racists, titled Tea Party Nationalism, has been released by the organization which "compiles opinion polling data, documents significant examples of racist vitriol on the part of Tea Party leaders, shows incidents where well-known anti-Semites and white supremacists have been given a platform by Tea Partiers, and analyzes the attempt by white nationalist organizations to find new recruits in Tea Party ranks." In short, it's pretty rock-solid.

This is not to say that the tea party movement is a racist movement in itself, as Alexander Zaitchik notes at Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog. Only that the movement is way too comfortable with the racists in their midst and that the movement is exclusionary in nature.

The authors do not argue that all or most of Tea Party activists are explicit racists or sympathize with the ideas and goals of extremists. Rather, they argue that racist individuals and groups have been drawn to the movement from the beginning; in most cases, they are forced out of their respective groups only when their beliefs and associations result in bad press.

The authors further argue that the movement as a whole is based on "a form of American nationalism [that] does not include all Americans, and separates itself from those it regards as insufficiently 'real Americans.'" Furthermore, "a bright white line of racism threads through this nationalism [in which] race and religion are powerful determinants of national identity [and] mark the border between 'self' and 'other.'"

That last part is especially obvious; consider how anti-Muslim teabaggers often say that "Muslims attacked America" -- ignoring the fact that many Americans are Muslim. In fact, the report includes a section on hate-blogger Pam Geller and her campaign to convince the world that Islam is synonymous with terrorism. Geller has hosted Tea Party Patriot workshops. Consider also the rampant birtherism and the "birtherism-lite" of claiming that someone born in Hawaii can't appreciate the American experience. Criticism of President Obama often takes the form of "he's not as American as you."

Predictably, tea party leaders are calling the NAACP's report a "smear" and an "attack." But what I'm not seeing is any counter argument. I'm sorry, but playing the victim card is not an actual response and it doesn't dispell the facts laid out. Sure, some of your best friends are minorities and good for you -- but we're more worried about why some other of your best friends are bigots.


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