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Understanding Tea Party Fervor

Brittney M. Walker | 10/25/2010, 10:14 a.m.


Photo Courtey of NNPA

Some African Americans caught up in the movement


Since President Barack Obama took the oath of office in 2009, an interesting faction of political rioters called the Tea Party ("Tea" standing for Taxed Enough Already) began making a ruckus.

Some would call this group another conservative movement attempting to break down Obama's policies, and others would say the group has the right idea. However, the Tea Party has also been labeled racist lobbyists, due to some of the group's outspoken representatives who spew nasty rhetoric.

In response, the Tea Party has attempted to do some damage control and denounce racism. But many are not convinced.

What is the Tea Party? The group seems to have spontaneously appeared in politics, and bum rushed the nation before people had the chance to catch up to their ideals. According to TeaParty.org, the group's core values include the belief that immigration is bad; English should be a key language requirement; a stronger military is essential; smaller government and fewer personal and business taxes; bail-out and stimulus plans are illegal; average citizens should have access to political offices; and the national budget needs to be balanced.

The name of the group was taken from the Boston Tea Party of 1773. The party began to emerge in April of 2009, when the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition editor, Rick Santelli, told the public how he really felt about the direction of the country over national and international airwaves. Targeting the current administration's methods of addressing the mortgage crisis, Santelli proclaimed that, "the government is promoting bad behavior." Then he added, "It's time for another Tea Party." And, the rest is history.

Members and supporters staged anti-tax protests across the country, and since its initial wave of rallies, the group has attracted thousands of conservatives and fed-up Democrats. Sarah Palin has been a popular face of the party for some time, speaking at various rallies across the country and gaining the support of mostly White "well-to-do" Republicans.

Many political analysts claim Partiers tend to be more conservative than your typical Republican. However, the party promised to purge the conservative front of leaders it deems too liberal.

While an overwhelming number of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today (a July Gallup poll found that 76 percent of American are dissatisfied with the direction of the country), leaders of the movement are uniting "angry" conservatives (and others who are just unhappy) to block the Democratic agenda on the economy, environment, and health care.

Speaking of President Obama, Tea Party ralliers tend to be quite unhappy with the president, and their grief is certainly apparent in their signs and banners (take a look at our collage of photos of Tea Party protesters).

Despite what appears to be a peaceful protest of anti-Obama American citizens, a few vocal members have left a bad taste in the mouths of liberals, who claim the party is racist.

This year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has been an adamant advocate against the Party's seemingly racist elements, despite the civil right organization's support for Tea Party members.

In July of this year, the NAACP passed 75 resolutions, including one that asked the Tea Party to "repudiate" its racist leaders.

In March of this year, the party verbally attacked some in the African American community, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Congressman John Lewis, D-GA, was spat upon by party demonstrators, and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, D-MO, was called the N-word.

"We take no issue with the Tea Party movement. We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy. What we take issue with is the Tea Party's continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism and anti-Semitism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry in their movement," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, last July.

"Last night after my speech, I was approached by an African American member of the NAACP and the Tea Party. He thanked me for speaking out, because he has begun to feel uncomfortable in the Tea Party and wants to ensure there will always be space for him in both organizations. I assured him there will always be a place for him in the NAACP. D ick Armey and the leadership of the Tea Party need to do the same," added Jealous.

Dewey Clayton, Ph.D., professor of political science at the University of Louisville, says the party is not racist, but is not an ideal group for Black people. He said the group promotes policies and ideals that may appear to work against people of color.

"I would not call it a racist 'sector' of politics. However, I would say that there are elements of the Tea Party that use their opposition to things such as the national debt as a shield to hide behind, when some of its members are clearly opposed to Obama as a Black man being elected as the 44th president of the United States. Some of their rallies have born this out with signs depicting Obama as a witch doctor, a Socialist, etc.," Clayton explained.

There is, however, a small group of African American supporters who claim the party is for everyone.

A recent poll conducted by USA Today found that one fourth of the Tea Party's supporters combined are Hispanic, Asian American, and African American. The same poll found that those who embrace the ideology are less likely to see discrimination as a threat to the nation's minorities. Three of four supporters find that racial minorities have equal job opportunities. Nearly half believe that African Americans do not have jobs "because most African Americans just don't have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves up out of poverty."

Carol Swain, professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University, and author of "Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress," said often times individuals with a separate or extreme agenda misrepresent the group. She added that left-wing politickers like to use the race card to shake the credibility of conservative groups.

"There have always been attacks on Black conservatives. Blacks will never be truly free until they have the freedom to act and think in accordance with their own consciences. Given the conservatism of Blacks, it makes no sense for 92 percent of them to vote for the Democrats," she explained. "Blacks need to hold the president and the CBC accountable for acting against the interests of working class people, especially on the issue of immigration reform. If passed, the Democrats' proposed comprehensive immigration reform bill would be detrimental to the interests of Blacks, legal Hispanics, and poor Whites."

Swain continued, conceding that the party is not an exclusive movement and that it is in fact for anyone who shares its ideals. She suggested that instead of Blacks spending time combating the alleged racist ideas within the Tea Party, more energy should be spent on making sound, moral decisions. Swain added that despite Blacks' ties to the Democratic Party, African Americans typically are overwhelmingly conservative.

"I think many are frustrated by the Democratic Party's liberal agenda on abortion and gay rights. Plus, some Blacks are worried about deficit spending, immigration, and rising healthcare costs. They are also concerned about God, country, and family," Swain stated.

Clayton does not necessarily support or disapprove of the party's movement, and he also agrees that people's attention should be on the policies effecting Black communities.

"Blacks should spend their time pressuring their congresspersons and the president to be responsive to their concerns and interests. They should educate themselves about what the Tea Party members are saying, and disassociate themselves with the local groups that espouse racist ideas," Clayton stated.

"I would say that the Tea Party is not for Black people. Most of the Tea Party (members) are well-off White men who want low taxes and less government regulation of our financial institutions," he said. "Black wealth in this country is less than 10 percent of the net average White wealth in this country. The national government has played a positive role in this country for Blacks in the areas of education, social welfare programs, affirmative action, social security, and civil rights. Some candidates for Congress who have the support of the Tea Party want to scale back the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc.," pointed out Clayton.

"Where would this country and African Americans be without civil rights? The majority of Blacks in this country are registered as Democrats and have been for several decades. After passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Republican Party has become more conservative and the Tea Party appears to be even more conservative than the Republican Party, as it currently exists."

Who's in the Tea Party? Well, if you are a sensitive Black conservative, you might want to end your reading here (and pick up at the following paragraph). An article published on politicalarticles.net proclaimed that African Americans who are partiers "are traitors to their race and the ideals of democracy and liberty, and they deserve to be called "Uncle Toms." Of course many right-wing Blacks have heard that before.

Candidate for the first Congressional district of Mississippi, Angela McGlowan, was recruited by the Tea Party for the November election. She is one of the few African American faces who side with conservative politics. She is also frequently called upon to be a political analyst for FOX News. McGlowan was recently seen on the podium at a Tea Party rally in D.C.

The party already visited Los Angeles, but the last California stop of the swing through state will be in San Diego.







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