Sunday, April 11, 2010

No Earl Grey at these Tea Parties

I stumbled upon David Weigel's blog for the Washington Post and have been reading up on his notes from the inside of the Conservative movement. This one and the stories it links to caught my eye in a special way. What is the deal with the Tea Party Movement (how I hate to even validate it by calling it so!), anyway? Is it racially driven? Who are these people? Are they as stupid as their signs suggest they are?

This Gallup poll gives us the figures. About 79% of Tea Party members are white, 6% black, and 15% other. Given that the total US population is 11% black, it seems to me that blacks are only half as likely to be tea partiers as people in other races. In addition to being whiter than average, they are more likely to be wealthier than average, less likely to hold an advanced degree, more likely to be a man, and more likely to be a homemaker. Though, your average tea partier is probably not those last two things at the same time. But hey - wealthy, undereducated white men directing their anger at a black politician and his don't say.

There's a catch to that stereotype, however, despite how tempting it is to believe. Tea partiers are only more likely to fall into those categories (the non-racial ones) by, on average, a 1-2% deviation from American society as a whole. So, as the people at Gallup concluded, they really are quite representative of the general populace. Except, again, in that pesky race realm.

I'm not generally one for scaring people or pumping them up with sensationalist fears (with few exceptions - scary!), but the conclusions here seem real. Tea partiers and their fellow malcontents weigh in at 28% of the country, are everywhere, and they're just like you and me! But this difference in racial make-up, one of the largest deviations from the total population, definitely makes a person wonder.

With all the racist name-calling and bigoted protest signs floating around, I'm a little incredulous when people call the movement diverse and non-racist. Frank Rich at the NY Times found an analogue to the current outrage in the times surrounding the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Even then, when it couldn't be about anything else but race, many insisted it wasn't about race. It was about state's rights, or whatever else, as long as it wasn't about racism.

The situation now is ugly. You've got some black conservatives who defend the movement, and then white conservatives pointing to the black ones saying, "see? some of our best supporters are black!" This seems a lot like tokenism to me. But there are enough exceptions that the tea partiers can attempt to claim them as a rule. The other side can make the "exceptions to the rule" argument too, since the Tea Party's official line is that there are radicals (racists) in every group that don't represent the mainstream. What tips the scales is when one of the party leaders engages in open bigotry himself.

It seems like this whole movement is basically the "silent majority" (or, "unwashed masses," if you prefer) finally taking on a voice. Its a raw voice, a real one, untempered by speechwriters, editors, or campaign staffers. Has this racism been here all along, in people we've voted for, strategically and genteelly censored until now? Remember the racist emails about Obama in 2008? Just a few slipped out into the open, but how much more bigotry went undocumented in the circles of power?

Earl (Charles) Grey was a liberal Prime Minister of Britain who passed reform that abolished slavery throughout the Empire, amongst other progressive agenda items. Now, there's a tasty black tea named after him. I'm willing to bet these crazies (yes, that is my official opinion of the tea partiers, as a whole), are drinking something a little lighter, a little less "elitist" maybe. Sour half-and-half, maybe?


Shnickie said...

I don't have time to chase the links on your blog, but aside from one typo I'd say you're becoming quite the politcal blogger.

mattjosh said...

oh lordy - here's some more fuel for the fire: