Monthly Archives: May 2010

R: Race and the Tea Party

Whenever I bring up race and the Tea Party, or race and President Obama, or race and the angry opposition to the president, I’m often told, “Why bring race into this?”

I want to get into a long, rational discussion about race and how it has been the main antagonist (protagonist) in American politics basically since the country’s inception.

I want to discuss the murder–genocide, really–of the tribes of the Americas.

I want to discuss slavery.

I want to discuss the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction.

I want to discuss the rise of prisons and how blacks were incarcerated to continue picking cotton and harvesting crops.

I want to discuss the use of blacks as strikebreakers, which angered white workers and helped empower groups like the KKK to terrorize black communities.

I want to discuss laws in California that prohibited the Chinese from owning property in the early 20th Century.

I want to discuss the imprisonment of Japanese citizens during World War II, while German and Italian citizens roamed free and fought for the United States.

I want to discuss the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

I want to discuss the anti-Semitism that was a major reason the U.S. did not get involved in World War II until it did–reports about the atrocities dealing with Jews were out there, just on Page 33 of The New York Times.

I want to discuss the split of the United States into North and South–AGAIN–in the late 1940s and early 1950s when President Truman made Civil Rights part of the Democratic agenda.

I want to discuss South Carolina’s Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond’s attempt to run as a Dixiecrat with a strong, anti-Civil Rights agenda.

Then I want to tell these people that in 1964, Thrumond switched parties. The lifelong Democrat became a Republican. A switch that helped create our current political structure.

A structure that can now be explained as follows:

Democrats: The Party of change and progress.

Republicans: The Party of the good ol’ days.

Democrats: The Party of the minority.

Republicans: The Party of the old guard.

Democrats: The Party of “this is our country.”

Republicans: The Party of “this is my country.”

Thurmond wasn’t alone, but he became the face of the anti-equality movement.

Since the passage of the Civil Rights Acts, there have been several battles over race. They just take different names: busing, immigration, welfare, prison.

Since Obama’s been inaugurated, hell, since he’s been elected, the battle over race has taken on a different mantra:

“Let’s take back our country.”

We hear it over and over. Tea Party members say it. Republican candidates say it. Republican talking heads say it. Republican morons say it (couldn’t help it, sorry).

But what does it mean? Has Obama created a radical takeover of people’s lives? No way. Have taxes risen dramatically for all Americans? No.

But the opposition has made it clear: they don’t like government messing with their Medicare.

There are subtle messages that race continues to drive the politics: blame the immigrant as is happening in Arizona.

Vivid messages are shouted at protests.

And double-dipping, covering-all-bases messages are given by candidates like Rand Paul who was asked by Rachel Maddow whether he would have supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

“What I think would happen – what I’m saying is, is that I don’t believe in any discrimination. I don’t believe in any private property should discriminate, either. And I wouldn’t attend, wouldn’t support, wouldn’t go to. But what you have to answer when you answer this point of view, which is an abstract, obscure conversation from 1964 that you want to bring up. But if you want to answer, you have to say then that you decide the rules for all restaurants and then you decide that you want to allow them to carry weapons into restaurants.”

Huh?

Oh he explains more today saying that he doesn’t favor a repeal of the Act, but:

“This much is clear: The federal government has far overreached in its power grabs. Just look at the recent national healthcare schemes, which my opponent supports. The federal government, for the first time ever, is mandating that individuals purchase a product. The federal government is out of control, and those who love liberty and value individual and state’s rights must stand up to it.”

Wait, what?

“Government bad.”

“Government overreaches.”

“Civil Rights Act good. Sort of. No. Good. Really.”

Civil Rights Act of 1964 forcing businesses to desegregate?

“Government– hey, look, fire, over there!”

Now, the entire Tea Party movement isn’t built on racism. I don’t want people to believe that I think that. But, where the movement is taking place, racism is still prevalent.

That said, the Tea Party movement IS built on race. Like I said before, our entire political system is. The fact that there is a black president angers and SCARES many Tea Party members, especially those from the Midwest and the South.

It’s important to acknowledge this fact. If not, the entire dialogue, the entire tone of politics in this country doesn’t make sense.

It’s like reading The Great Gatsby without knowing the difference between old money and new money.

I’m going to say it one more time: politics in the United States is built on race.

Now let’s deal with it.

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