Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is the Tea Party Racist?

Thanks to the brouhaha of NPR executives and speaking off the record, this question is again in public view. I thought it was strange that the exec would be in hot water for speaking the truth. Several people replied to this comment by asking for "evidence." It seemed to something so obvious that it was common knowledge -- just something no one talks about. Like cancer. But I guess some "evidence" needs to be provided. Another key difference is what exactly "racism" is.

For starters, a cursory glance over the evidence is available by typing "is the tea party racist" into a Google search. Many of the articles are several years old now, but they detail how this idea got started. But the great majority of the "evidence" is available only after one considers what "racism" is (please permit me a mini-genealogy of racism).

Slavery in the South made it easy to identify racism. If you were pro-slavery, you were racist. Racism was obvious. Blatant. Concrete. But as the "war against racism" has been fought, racism has given up its obviousness for a more inconspicuous form. If racism were obvious, it would be denounced by (almost) all sides for what it is. So racism moved into the cracks. It became amorphous in order to take the shape of the institutions and power relations that it found itself in. It was no longer concrete, but abstract. This can even be seen immediately following the Civil War. Slavery was blatantly racist. But poll taxes . . . poll taxes on the other hand were a bit more slippery. "What do you mean 'racist'? We charge EVERYONE a poll tax. You couldn't be more equal than that!" This same insidious racism has been alive and well since Jim Crow. It's just become more and more hidden.

This brings us back to "evidence." Because of the slipperiness of racism, there is no "evidence" for it. There are only hints. Only vestiges that remain. There is no "smoking gun" to prove racism. But there are motives and clues that point to it. One of these is to consider who benefits from something. So we look at the Tea Party's platform. Who stands to benefit from it? If the Tea Party were magically able to push through their top 5 legislative wishes, who would be better off because of it? Who would be worse off? Of course we are talking about hypotheticals, but it seems pretty clear to me that cutting taxes and cutting spending would disproportionately benefit whites and disproportionately hurt minorities. Just like the poll tax.

We can also point to another hint. Again, it's no smoking gun, but it points to something fishy. If the Tea Party is a national movement counting some hundreds of thousands of "members," and 90% of those members are white . . . well something's a little bit funny there.

Another hint -- is it a coincidence that the Tea Party movement gained steam at the same time that our chances of electing a black president increased? A little fishy.

Lastly, there was the issue of several racially suspicious signs and statements made in the formative months of the Tea Party. Hurling racial slurs at black lawmakers. Depicting Obama as a monkey. Now maybe these were just the rebellious outliers who ended up being thrown out of the movement. But again, it's a hint. Maybe they just cleaned up their act but maintained the ideology.

So is there "evidence" or "proof" that the Tea Party is racist? No. Are there hints? Definitely. Do I think the Tea Party is racist? You betcha.

Update: John has posted his own take on this over on his blog: What is racism and Why the Tea Party is Not


  1. I feel honored to receive a whole blog post based on my comment.

    So you admit you have no "evidence" that the Tea Party is racist. Sounds almost like a religious belief, but I digress.

    I think we can define racism simply as a type of discrimination based on race. Discrimination is not in and of itself a bad thing. For example, I am very discriminating on who are my friends and who I trust to care for my kids. It is a stupid thing to discriminate based on inessentials, like race. It is an evil thing to promote discrimination of inessentials as law. That's why most racism discussions center on laws and regulations that are designed to negatively impact certain races.

    But here's an important differentiation - its not just "negative impact" that defines racism, its legislation that is "designed" to "negatively impact" other races. There must be intent. Without intent, you merely have a law. Perhaps a bad law for other reasons, but not a racists law. So the poll tax and Jim Crow laws can be considered racist because history shows us that the intention for creating the laws were to keep blacks downtrodden.

    If you want to show that the Tea Party is racist, you need to likewise show that their intent is discriminate based on race.

  2. "But here's an important differentiation - its not just "negative impact" that defines racism, its legislation that is "designed" to "negatively impact" other races. There must be intent."

    I disagree. Among other reasons, how are you going to "prove" intent?

    You weren't the only one to bring about this blog post, you were just the only one with the chutzpah to post publicly. The others were "insidious." :) I like that word.

  3. I would agree that proving intent is very difficult and that's one reason why I am very hesitant to label anyone racist without clear evidence. But I believe it can be done and have done so myself. You can identify intent by the person's words and deeds, the same way you can ascertain any idea in another mind. The act of discrimination is conceptual. And we can only judge concepts in others by carefully examining what they say and why they say it (intent). Anything less would be unjust.

  4. The part you're still missing, though, is the stealthy nature of racism. If you're making racist intent a sine qua non for racism, we'll never identify ANYTHING (outside of the most blatant examples) as racist. That wouldn't be accurate.

    As an example, remember the almost identical photos after Katrina of the white couple taking food from a store and a black couple "looting"? Do you think it was the captioners intent to be racist? Or do you think that racism was insidious to the point of not even being noticed? Are you saying that racism is impossible to exist un/sub-consciously? If so, I think that is very wrong.

    Racism is slippery and inconspicuous enough to the point of affecting our decisions without our even realizing it. That would make racist intent possible. How can we intend something we aren't even aware of? Yet that is exactly how racism works the majority of the time.

  5. Dammit. "That would make racist intent IMpossible."

  6. Well, by my definition of racism as a type of discrimination, I'm not sure I could agree that it is something un/sub conscious. The act of discrimination is conscious in nature. I differentiate that from prejudice, which is a conscious or subconscious bias toward somebody, group, or class of things without knowing all the facts. You seem to favor prejudice by race as the definition of racism. I favor discrimination by race as the definition of racism.

    The reason I favor the latter definition is that the former seems to overly broad and not all that useful. Certainly people have prejudices and they should be careful to eliminate them the best they can. But with your definition, almost anyone can be called a racist without recourse. I could say (and I don't believe this) "Curtis is racist but he doesn't even realize it". I think it cheapens the concept racist to include honest but real prejudices with insidious racial discrimination. Basically, it tries to lump simple biases that may not be consciously chosen with wicked mob lynchings, classifying all under an "evil" tag of racism. That does an injustice to those who may not want their bias and an injustice to those who deserve the label of "evil" but have it watered down.

  7. " The act of discrimination is conscious in nature."

    How? I think that's an untenable position. We now have data that toddlers choose light skinned dolls over dark skinned dolls regardless of the race of the child. Are you saying that is a conscious decision even though toddlers have no conceptualization of race?

    "But with your definition, almost anyone can be called a racist without recourse."

    If they're racist, then they should be called racist, no? And what recourse would there be? I don't get that part. It seems you have an idea of trying someone in court to determine if they're racist or not. I might be reading too much into it though.

    There's been a couple times now that you've mentioned "unjust" or "injustice" in regards to labeling something racist. That seems awfully backwards to me. What is unjust is racism -- not labeling someone/thing racist.

    Using your system, a law could be passed that benefits whites and hurts minorities and when that law is labeled racist, you view the LABELING as unjust. That's just wrong. The law itself is unjust.

  8. I do believe that being racist is unjust, but so is labeling someone as racist when in fact they are not. I focused on the latter because it seems to be the case with your blog post. I would love to answer all your questions, but it may have to wait until another day. Perhaps I'll write a blog post on it soon.

  9. "in fact"? How can you say someone is "in fact" a racist or not a racist? Like I said, you seem to have an idea of a trial by jury or something in order to prove someone/thing a racist or not. That simply isn't how it works. I think, again, you're viewing racism as far too concrete an obvious a phenomenon and not giving it credit as a stealthy, insidious problem. This is also why you place so much emphasis on intent. You can't have intent when something is unconscious. I think you're thinking is a bit too black/white on this issue. You need more slippery gooey gray stuff seeping into the nooks and crannies of conscious thought.

  10. I am against censorship. But #1 this is my blog. #2 I won't tolerate blatantly racist comments. So if you'd like to make such comments, feel free to start your own blog.

    This is NOT directed at John. :)