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When You Have To Say It: Tea Party Racism (Again) and You?

Why I continue to follow links relating to the Tea Party and whatever problematic tripe they’re spewing on that particular day, I don’t know. I only have a certain amount of anxiety medication allotted each month and I can’t afford to waste it. When I saw that the NAACP called the Tea Party a bunch of racists — oh wait, excuse me, when their delegates “passed a resolution to condemn extremist elements within the Tea Party, calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches“, my first thought was “here we go”. Because whenever a person of color — usually a black person, let’s get real — brings up race and the Tea Party, Tea Party members go straight to their first line of defense: deny vehemently that they’re racist, and then call the black person reverse racist and ungrateful. Oh, and “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ABRAHAM LINCOLN? He freed the slaves, you know. Or did you like being slaves? I guess you did, because you don’t love freedom like we do.”

Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton could probably see this coming ten miles away so they disassociated themselves real quick, as did Benjamin Jealous (really bad name to have in this case, dude, sorry), president of the NAACP. But it was too late. Something awful had to spew forth from a Tea Partier’s fingers onto their keyboard; that’s just how it works. This time, it took the form of a letter written by Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams, and it of course involves Abraham Lincoln. I’ll let you read it here, in its entirety:

Dear Mr. Lincoln

We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.

Perhaps the most the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.


Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew NAACP Head Colored Person”

So the “National Tea Party Federation“, a group that apparently represents the Tea Partiers, (but I thought this group did that? And this one?) responded to Williams’ letter by kicking his Tea Party Express group out of their sandbox. What impact this has on Williams, I don’t know, since the Tea Party doesn’t appear to be centralized. As far as I know, he can go on writing hateful, racist letters in the voice of a plantation slave under the Tea Party banner until the end of time. That’s the beauty of decentralization, right? States’ rights and all.

How does this screw-up by their self-appointed leaders help the “Yep, I’m a Racist” ground troops who are trying so hard to convince us they’re not racist that they willingly call themselves racist? Well, if anyone believed them in the first place it’d make them look pretty bad. But no one does believe them, because they’re so obviously lying to themselves and to the public, and they probably don’t even think about it. Because as I’ve always said, when a white person has to tell you they’re not racist, they’re probably really fucking racist.

And finally, to bring it home, what can white feminists learn from this? If a white feminist has to tell me they’re my ally, they’re probably not really my ally. In fact they probably just did me some harm. Not to harsh your mellow after chewing on that meaty bit of obvious racism, just to bring you back to earth. Because you’re always walking that fine line when you have white privilege. You have to work to be anti-racist. It’s not always as easy to point out the racism in things. Sometimes you have to look hard, and sometimes you have to look inward.

But I’m sure I didn’t need to remind you lovely folks of that.

47 thoughts on When You Have To Say It: Tea Party Racism (Again) and You?

  1. Feministe shouldn’t be your platform for snarky passive-aggressive potshots at a person you had a huge ugly argument with two years ago, which you won. Yep, she fucked up badly. No, she didn’t give you the closure you wanted and should have got. Go over to her house and pull her hair out. Or talk to her. Say what you mean.
    If you can’t, because you are worried about lawsuits, then by all means continue this ugly personal sniping.

    I am really disappointed in the moderators here.

  2. What the fuck are you talking about? I haven’t even been doing a blog for 2 years, dude. You need to back the fuck up off me and check your facts. Oversensitive much? I wasn’t talking about anyone in particular, but you apparently have a candidate? Well since you brought it, unpack it. Who are YOU talking about? Because I was addressing white feminists in general. I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about and unless you calm down, come correct, and speak to me with the respect I deserve this will be your last comment on any of my posts.

  3. eilish: That’s a really bizarre conclusion to jump to. Please watch yourself when you are commenting here.

    ‘I am really disappointed in the moderators here.’

    Well, yours was the first comment on this post, so I guess you mean the post itself? Again, guest posters are in charge of their own content. Though I’m really not sure what you’re referring to in your comment.

  4. Tasha,
    Pay no heed to the above comments. I have no idea what they’re talking about. All I know is, your posts are thought-provoking and valuable. As a white feminist I’m deeply appreciative of the challenge you give in providing a reminder to me (and other readers) to be aware of with my privilege and, as you say, “examine the racism” that weaves through the world in subtle and unsubtle ways.
    Thank you.

  5. Holy shit. I’m pretty disgusted that someone asked ‘anger issues, much?’ Sounds suspiciously (okay, exactly) like what men say to me all the fucking time when I’m ‘ranting’ about patriarchal oppression and the need for feminist revolution. YES, I’m angry, and YES, you have a right to be angry too. How can that not be crystal fucking clear? When we live in a white supremest, woman hating, bigoted, violent world, tell me again why we all shouldn’t be furious?

  6. Thanks Tasha, this was a great article. I’m always interested in hearing the ridiculous ways in which the tea partiers try to defend their bigotry (or call it something else). Its pathetic and I hope people can see through it.

    thanks for the great post!

    Just wishing commenters could convey respectful critiques instead of passive aggressive attacks. I know that we are more intelligent and well spoken group than that.

  7. Tasha: And finally, to bring it home, what can white feminists learn from this? If a white feminist has to tell me they’re my ally, they’re probably not really my ally. In fact they probably just did me some harm.

    Word. Applies across all privilege barriers, too.

    ell: Feministe shouldn’t be your platform for snarky passive-aggressive potshots at a person you had a huge ugly argument with two years ago, which you won.

    Thanks for clarifying that. (Snarky passive-aggressive pot-shot. FTW.)

    This strikes me as a classic way to derail the thread, too: attempting to turn this into a discussion about this “huge ugly argument” which I had no notion had happened.

    If this is a “passive-aggressive pot-shot”, it’s an excellent one. If yours was a classic thread-derail, I hope it will prove a bad one.

  8. Reading that Tea Party letter was physically painful. Thank you Tasha, for spotlighting this and how it relates to issues of privelege across the spectrum.

  9. ‘when a white person has to tell you they’re not racist, they’re probably really fucking racist.’

    Yup. I’ve never, ever heard the sentence ‘I’m not racist, but…’ unless it has been followed up by something that’s massively racist.

    ‘Anger issues much, Tasha?’

    Similar to above. If the issues Tasha discusses in this post don’t make you angry, you’re probably racist.

  10. Do you think *claiming* ally status is a form of cookie-begging? I mean, can someone declare themselves an ally, or is that a status that has to be conferred upon you?

  11. I really think the best any of us can say is “I TRY not to be racist…” if we were brought up in the USA. I can’t imagine growing up in this country and not being at least somewhat affected by racism.

    I think the issues in the article go far beyond the ‘Tea Party’ phenomenon, as I have only met one person who went to a Tea Party (a person with whom I volunteered on the Hillary Senate and primary campaign- really showed her inner racism when Hillary lost- and I had to cut her off- though I still get her spam emails) and I have seen much racism in the name of ‘libertarian’ opposition to Obama.

    I do also think it’s significant that Obama is bi-racial as many of these people are even more hostile to miscegenation than just the idea of having a ‘black’ president.

    Having said all that- I don’t think the racism of the Tea Partiers is not liking Obama because of his color. It’s the fear that he might be helping people of color as a whole. The same fear we saw when Toni Morrison made her famous comments about Bill Clinton.

  12. Wow. Awesome post. That letter is disgusting.

    “I’ve never, ever heard the sentence ‘I’m not racist, but…’ unless it has been followed up by something that’s massively racist.”

    For serious. My roommate does this all the time. There’s more than one reason why I’m moving out. Though I’ve finally started getting the courage to tell him, “What you said was racist” when he pulls shit like that. Because I DO want to be an ally, and folks like Tasha have helped me realize that it’s not meant to be easy.

    Also, word to Jesurgislac.

    Also, Elizabeth Anne, the oppressed group should get to decide who’s an ally and who isn’t. If a dude comes into a feminist space and wants to wow us all with his dudely wisdom and won’t let go of his male privilege, well, then he’s not an ally. As much as he may shout until he’s blue in the face that he’s an ally, he just isn’t one. And it’s our right as feminists to say so.

  13. Two posts I’ve gone back to again and again and again that really made me rethink myself and where/when I would ever explicitly claim ally status (as of now, usually never, except to make a point to other white folks who’ve never heard of the notion of being anti-oppression allies) and how racism can get all up in my anti-racism: Mai’a’s We Don’t Need Another Anti-Racism 101 and Kil Ja Kim’s The White Anti-Racist is an Oxymoron: An Open Letter to ‘White Anti-Racists’.

    I also subscribe to Beverly Tatum’s (author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?) definition of structural racism (and am roughly paraphrasing because I don’t have the book on hand): that to exist as a person in a social context with a racial hierarchy that privileges one’s own racial background and appearance over others’ is to be racist. To my mind, racism is not an action or a personality trait, but a state of being. As anti-racists we can work against the structure of racial privilege (and other aspects of the kyriarchy) and disavow ourselves of our entitlement to our privileges, but we can’t abdicate from being racist. Being anti-racist is fighting the current, but it’s not getting out of the water.

  14. Unlike the first comment, I like the anger of this post. It is rightful anger. I mean I can’t even clearly articulate at this point how frustrating that letter is. It reeks of racism! These are the people that think the Civil Rights Act solved all our race issues and that to speak of racism is to be automatically racist. These are the people who don’t want to examine their own privilege. Tasha’s anger is completely spot-on, but I am sure she doesn’t need anyone to tell her that!

  15. I’ll be honest: I don’t care if Mark Williams is a racist or just the most breathtakingly ignorant wanker in many moons: what he wrote is so painfully racist and directly harmful that I’m willing to leave his personal motivations out of it. (Even if I then go on to cast considerable aspersions.)

    This, of course, is what bothers me the most about the attempt to claim the ally label: the relief that I’m not like that, that I don’t believe that POC are shiftless layabouts looking to the government for a flat screen TV. Well, there’s a cookie-worthy belief if there ever was one. It’s not about what you are, it’s about what you do, and the number of people who will jump feet first into the depths of ignorance and then fish around for their good intentions, humor, or satire is alarming.

  16. My jaw dropped at the first sentence of that letter and didn’t close until I was finished. I mean, really? “The NAACP called us racists. What assholes! I’m writing a fake, racist letter in protest!”

    When it comes to things like these, I imagine that if I was standing right next to the person as I read this, I would stare at the letter, then turn and slap them up the back of the head and yell, “What the fuck is wrong with you?!”

  17. I just clicked the link and read the Kil Ja Kim article referenced in the above comment, and it’s really something every white person should read. It made me think some terrible things that truly shocked me. It’s a horrible feeling to be confronted with one’s own racism, but a necessary one.

    Oh, and: Anger issues? Seriously? Why don’t we just accuse her of having her period? Men have had great results with that dismissal in the past.

  18. It’s worth noting that Mark Williams, like Glenn Beck, was a shock jock before he got into politics.

    I’ve always thought that on the ethical scale, shock jocks were somewhere between slugs and mildew. It’s instructive that conservatism would turn to them as spokespersons.

  19. Bitter Scribe,

    HEY, slugs and mildew perform valuable functions in the ecosystem! I may not allow them to grow in my house, but, unlike Beck & Co, they do have some non-harmful functions…

  20. I’m not from the US, and experience American culture mainly through its media exports. From what I’ve seen [this post included], racism is certainly still a problem.

    Perhaps there are people who object to the policies of the current US government who aren’t racist, and who object to the policies of the Obama administration purely because they have a different fiscal point of view, but my God are they getting drowned out by the people shouting “I’M NOT RACIST, BUT…”.

    I’d like to think that such obvious displays of racism [the letter above] were long gone, and I’m deeply saddened to see that they aren’t.

  21. Just to make sure I’m understanding this correctly: The NAACP said, “Tea Party, tell the people in your group who are being racist to stop being racist” and a person who identifies as a Tea Partier responded with an overtly racist letter?

    In what universe would that make sense?

  22. You know, early on I informed the female members of Feministing that as a man, I was their ally. This was done not to make me seem like a good person, but rather to state that I was seeking to learn and that, moreover, my motives were noble.

    Not to be Captain Obvious here, but there is a racist strain in the Tea Party. But what is the deepest tragedy to me is that poor whites and poor blacks have much in common, but have been divided against each other by those who had much to gain by keeping them separate.

  23. The tea party needs to be renamed to the train wreck party. They have never been, nor have attempted to be structured in any way.

    I still can’t get over the tea party using the term “tea bagging” while hanging tea bags from their garments. I have no idea what their “cause” is at this point.

    Here’s an interesting article: National Equality vs. Tea Party

    The tea party is very hypocritical. Apparently they are funded by the very entities that they are protesting against. Well, either they’re hypocrites, or extremely dumb, I guess both. It is no surprise to me that they are being hypocritical about racism. Racism is ignorance. That letter is a prime example of racism and ignorance, and if it’s not, somebody please tell me what is.

    All this just makes my stomach turn.

  24. Comrade Kevin, for poor whites to have much in common with poor blacks, their unemployment rate would have to be over 17% nationally. It isn’t.

  25. @Comrade Kevin. But the tea party isn’t made up of poor whites. Tea Partiers are richer and better-educated than the average American.

  26. I read even a few of his fans were put off by this letter which just goes to show how insular the Tea Party crowd has become. Mark Williams is so used to listening to his own little echo chamber of support he has forgotten to feel out the audience before he selects which level of bull he’ll be spewing.

  27. I read even a few of his fans were put off by this letter…

    Yeah, he took that post down but for some reason left up the comments. (I think. I ‘m not hunting for them.) Most of his commenters were trying to chide him in a nice way, along the lines of, “I know you’re not a racist, but…”

    He got all huffy and defensive at first, but then conceded the point:

    …on reflection and re-read I agree with you that my use of the word “massa” was ill-advised and probably offensive. That is an unnecessary detraction from my point so I have revised the offending copy… along with a phrase about “wide screen” television sets, that too could be construed as racially based.

    Regarding the wide-screens, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe they’ve replaced cell phones at the top of the List of Things That Poor People, Especially If They’re Black, Should Not Have.

  28. @Jadey – I LOVE that book. And I love that definition. I’ve quoted it myself at least twice on Feministe. For anyone who is just starting out and trying to be a good ally, read that book. It’s amazing, thought-provoking, and just wonderful.

  29. The comment about anger issues written by Blah is clearly racist. Why has it not been deleted? Leaving shit like that on here clearly demonstrates that Feministe is a white blog that doesn’t care much about racism.

  30. This letter is so bad you sort of wonder if it’s even real–that is, that someone even thought this would be funny and create it.

  31. @evil_fizz: I love it when they seem to beheading towards a call for equality and egalitarianism across the board and somehow turn it into a “what do I get?”

  32. @Bushfire The guest bloggers mod their own threads and I didn’t feel the need to remove the comment. It’s not Feministe that left it up there, it’s me.

    Leaving it up there for me just proves my point about white progressives needing to look at their own racism.

  33. @Comrade Kevin You don’t just inform someone you’re their ally. Just saying it doesn’t make it so. You need to show them that you’re their ally, let THEM make the decision that’s what you are. Too many times people have told me they’re anti-racist allies and then turned around and cosigned some racist bullshit. I determine who is my ally and who isn’t.

    Not trying to harp on you, I’m just really on edge about that issue right now.

  34. @Bushfire This non-white moderator (please don’t erase the non-white folk on this blog) read that comment about a minute after Tasha posted in response – that is, four minutes after it went up. I was hardly about to interfere with Tasha’s moderation and delete a comment she’d already responded to; her having responded was, to me, a clear demonstration of what she just commented on: that she wanted to leave it up. I was, I assume, the only Feministe moderator online at the time as it was my turn at moderating. I then sent Tasha an email asking her what degree of support she would like in her thread, as I didn’t want to leave her unsupported, nor did I want to step on her toes. Does that answer your concerns?

  35. But what is the deepest tragedy to me is that poor whites and poor blacks have much in common, but have been divided against each other by those who had much to gain by keeping them separate

    I understand this and its many variations is a core progressive belief, but it is almost certainly wrong. Even Paul Krugman has conceeded the point.

    In short, poor white males never left the democratic party, except of course in the south. But they left there primarily because of the demise of Jim Crow, where the democratic party’s one-party state artificially inflated the numbers. When they left, they only did to the degree that they started reflecting the %’s of the rest of the country.

    I can post the data and elaobarte later if anyones’s interested. But for now, suffice to say, this meme is part of progressive denialism about the reality of Jim Crow and who benifitted from it (hint, it wasn’t Nixon).

    The teabaggers are assholes and dickbags, i say as a rightwinger myself. But the death of robert byrd should tell us something about where racism and politics really intersect. The NAACP did themseles no favor by bizarrely asserting that the man who filibustered the ’64 CRA and oppossed the ’65 VRA “was a stalwart supporter of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act”

    The meme Comrade pushes is part of this denialism, and is probably exhibit A in Tasha’s thesis (though I’m unsure if she appreciates me bringing it up).

  36. Leaving it up there for me just proves my point about white progressives needing to look at their own racism.

    There’s always a crowd waiting to prove that point.

  37. I love this post probably a little too much. On an interpersonal level I find this issue keeps flaring up lately. People I considered very close friends presuming I’m over reacting to “just words” and not really allowing themselves to step out of their protected bubbles of privledge long enough to connect to anything else. It becomes deeply troubling to not only have to defend yourself from actual racism from one camp and casual racism or apathy from the other. Your commentary about allies is 100% on point and I really thank you for making a case for something I’ve been too disapointed with others to articulate properly.

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