Some tea party leaders are struggling mightily to overcome the perception that their movement is motivated, in part, by racism against the nation’s first black president:
“We don’t want the worst elements to take this over,” said Brendan Steinhauser, campaign director for FreedomWorks, a national group that helps coordinate tea party activists. “If they do, the tea party loses independents, it loses moderates, it loses people who don’t tolerate this. Being a racist is one of the worst things you can be in this society. No one wants to be labeled this.”
The challenge is made tougher by one of the defining elements of the tea party movement: No one person controls it. There is no national communications strategy. And incidents of racist slogans and derisive depictions of President Obama continue to crop up, providing fuel for critics who say the president’s skin color is a powerful reason behind the movement’s existence.
In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, most Americans see the movement as motivated by distrust of government, opposition to the policies of Obama and the Democratic Party, and broad concern about the economy. But nearly three in 10 see racial prejudice as underlying the tea party.
Lenny McAllister, a black tea party supporter, has some advice for movement leaders. In an essay for an black-oriented Web journal called “The Root,” McAllister said that, “even though some of the (tea party) messengers are black, questionable rhetoric will continue to keep folks away.”
As just one example:
It is . . . ineffective for black conservatives to advocate initiatives that . . . recall 20th Jim Crow laws. One example was when some black conservatives supported Rep. Tom Tancredo’s advocacy of literacy tests to “validate” American voters. (That serves) to turn off black voters – and much-needed independent voters – to the efforts of the Emerging Right. . .
It is hard enough for African-Americans to engage Tea Partiers when the rhetoric and language from the fringe elements of the movement promote “reloading” and “targeting” soon after violent incidents were associated with them in March. But what often keeps more diversity out of the movement are the fringe elements – within Black conservatism – denying African-American culture, African-American history, and African-American challenges with their rhetoric and language while promoting conservative principles.
McAllister and I were recently guests on Michel Martin’s NPR radio show, “Tell Me More.” Among other things, we discussed the efforts of Andrew Brietbart and other conservatives to deny that Congressman John Lewis and other black Democrats were subjected to a racist epithet on the day of the health care vote.
McAllister’s take? He noted that he wasn’t there, so he couldn’t be sure what had happened. But he said he’d seen enough racist signs at other tea party gatherings to know that racism is associated with the movement.