Monday, August 9, 2010

"As Long As Someone Else is on the Bottom", the racist history of the Tea Party

Nothing has quite gotten under my skin in recent weeks than being told, by Tea-Parties of course, that the Tea-Party is not racist.

Personally, I felt the NAACP was being horribly polite when they asked the Tea-Party to only denounce the “racist elements” in their ranks. You might as well have asked them to hand over their right arms, because racial animus is what’s driving the movement in the first place.

Proof of inherent racism on their part has always been there. It screams to me at every protest or a rally. Then again, I've been living with crap like this all my life, so I know what I’m looking for. You only have to look at the long, sordid history of this country to see it as well.

There have been, and always will be right-wing movements who stand in opposition to anything a Democrat does; but none seems so driven by personal animus as the Tea Party. None seems as incoherent, as lacking in policy ideas as this one is.  (Until they delineate their spending cuts, they remain incoherent in my book).

Spending under the Bush Administration (wiping out a Clinton-era Surplus) was far more profligate than it was under this President, yet Tea-Party anger did not show itself until Obama. Why? The continual chant of “they’re coming to take your guns” has never been louder, but gun rights have expanded under the Obama Administration (in ways that even I as one of his supporters, find alarming). Why? I remain an advocate for actual Socialized Medicine, but what passed earlier this year was nowhere near anything like what they have in Canada, France or the United Kingdom (I would have settled for any one of the three). What actually passed was similar to something passed by former Republican Governor (and newly minted hyper-conservative) Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, yet its passage sent these people into apoplexy. Why?

Could it be that Tea Party rage has more to do with the man that the policies, or should I say…the idea of the man?

Listen to the words they choose to assault the President: “threat to our way of life” “he can’t do that”, “he’s taking our liberty away” or its remix: “our freedom away” (freedom to do what, exactly?). The word slavery is used quite often, with the President in the role of the Slave Master.  Former Governor Palin went so far as to intimate that President Obama was a “threat to our children” at one point. They rarely say the President’s actions are wrong. Instead, they call him names: Socialist, Marxist, Fascist, Statist. Never mind that those three political philopshies have nothing to do with each other.

And mind you this is before we even get to the images of the President made up as the Joker, a Witch Doctor or a Pimp.

This is not about the President's agenda. This is about him. It doesn't seem enough to defeat him at the polls, the very idea of him has to be wiped outEverything he and this Congress have done does has to be repealed...everything.

I tell friends who were born abroad that to truly understand America, you have to understand our Civil War. The motivations around the war are important, but certain character traits that we’re now seeing first reared their ugly head back then.  In effect, the genesis of the Tea Party was back then, and not in a harbor in Boston.

Abraham Lincoln, ran for President as an Anti-Slavery Republican. All the while, the South threatened succession if he was elected.

Think about that. The South was telling the North it had no say in the matter. It’s choice wasn’t going to count (which clearly was to vote for Lincoln). It was saying that the North had no right to be a part of National Governance. “You have to do what we say”, it was telling the North. “Only our interests matter.”

If you think about the Tea Party, after having lost not one, but two elections, and their constant whine of how “they’re not being listened to?” What’s the difference?  They are telling the majority of Americans (again, Barack Obama won more votes than any President in history) that only Tea Partiers need to be listened to.

It goes back to something Jon Stewart said a while ago: “You're confusing tyranny with losing.”

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It’s a theme we’ll be seeing again.

The next irony about the Civil War was that while it was fought (by the South) in defense of the slavery, the majority of the people fighting for slavery couldn’t afford a slave themselves in a million years. Poor white men were fighting and dying for the right of rich white men to keep slaves.  (Some disagree with the shading of that statistic, but still...)

Why the hell would they do this?  It seems like a lot to ask, until you remember that the poor white man’s sense of self was on the line here.  (This is there the Andy Hall piece, linked to above, and this one dovetail perfectly.  He uses the word "vested".  The author says "sense of self."  Same difference.)

The poor white man may not have been able to afford a slave of his own. He might not have a lot of money (if any), land, or a steady job. He had one thing, though.  He knew he was better than a slave. Or put in the colloquialism of the time: “I may be poor white trash, but at least I ain’t no n----r.”

In 2006, while promoting his book Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean dropped this little bit of knowledge in an interview with Keith Olbermann:

I ran into a massive study that has really been going on 50 years now by academics. They've never really shared this with the general public. It's a remarkable analysis of the authoritarian personality. Both those who are inclined to follow leaders and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders. It was not the opinion of social scientists. It was information they drew by questioning large numbers of people -- hundreds of thousands of people -- in anonymous testing where [the subjects] conceded their innermost feelings and reactions to things. And it came out that most of these people were pre-qualified to be conservatives and this, did indeed, fit with the authoritarian personality.

The authoritarian personality, those more likely to do the following (or demand to be followed) are more likely to be Conservative. 

Think about that in relation to those poor white Soldiers fighting for the rights of Slaveholders in the Confederacy.  Think about that in relation to those Tea-Partiers protesting on behalf of Insurance Companies during the Health Care fight.

It is the idea that the person above you, should be above you as if by divine providence. They’re above you for a reason. Just accept it.

Of course, any hierarchy is a lot easier to accept when it’s not you at the bottom. Thanks to slavery, there would always someone else at the bottom.

But what happens when the hierarchy is challenged? What happens when someone says “we don’t like you keeping other human beings in perpetual servitude”? We get the Civil War. What happens when someone decides they should have the right to vote? First you get Reconstruction, and an eighty year delay until the Civil Rights movement.

What happens…if you get a Black President?

We get the Tea Party.

When the hierarchy is challenged, people benefiting (or vested in it) from it will always erupt to madness and rage. Watch this segment from Eyes on the Prize, focusing on the Little Rock Nine in 1957. Watch toward the 7:00 minute mark when the black students finally get into the school.

(For the record, the white lady who saved Elizabeth Eckford’s life wasn’t identified in the film. Her name was Grace Lorch. Her husband, Lee, is still alive today, and is a friend of the family.)

Look at the reaction of the crowd and tell me it doesn’t remind you of some of the lower moments of the Tea Party Movement.

Where is this rage coming from? There’s nothing about the mere presence of black people that should offend. Black people are a constant presence in their lives. They’re in their homes, preparing their food, serving their food, handling their children, cleaning up after them. They are everywhere. In a major sense, nothing about the lives of these angry White People has changed.

Yet everything has changed. The idea of what their lives are like has changed. The moment the Little Rock Nine enter that High School, they’re not at the bottom anymore. They’re the equals of a lot of white folk, maybe more.

And when true equality starts to be achieved, what do the people who have benefited from inequality do?  What do these authoritarians do?

They turn on the authority.

My favorite part was the little woman, her face scrunched up in anger, shoving that Police barricade, then turning away in shame, because she doesn’t want to look like that for the camera. The hierarchy is great when it insures that you’re up, and someone else is down. The nano-second it can’t guarantee that, what good is it?

And now we return to the Tea Party already in progress.

The President of the United States is, in most respects, the ultimate authority figure for this country. Constitutional realities dictate equal roles for Congress and the Courts, but the relationship between any citizen and their Government is really formed between the citizen and the President, through the Television.

And now that ultimate authority figure staring at them through the tube is a black man.  Don't tell me that that's not making a difference..

If the normal position of the Authoritarian Conservative is that the man at the top must be respected, what do authoritarians do when that person can’t be respected because he is, because of his nature, allegedly beneath them?

The President may have been elected over a two-year time frame, with every move subjected to public scrutiny, and every mistake magnified a thousand-fold but if you're one of these Authoritarians, he must have somehow cheated his way into office (Birthers). This is where the racism begins.  Even if he didn’t cheat his way, he cannot be allowed to do anything while in office (Tenthers; Deficit Chickenhawks). In any case, we will make him listen to us, despite the fact there was an Election, and he gained more votes than anyone in American History.  And if he does something without my permission (once again, only the consent of the quote-unquote Southener matters), then we will leave this union (Rick Perry, and too many others).

How else could an obvious inferior been elected to the highest office in the land?  "Above me," in the authoritarian mind.

When you hear a Tea-Partier say, he’s a “threat to our way of life” how does that sound now?

We you hear one of say “he can’t do that”, isn’t he’s really saying “He can’t tell me what to do”? (And you can replace “he” with the six letter epithet of your choice).

We one of them pipes up with “he’s taking our liberty away” or the equally logic-free “he’s taking our freedom away”, you can assume it means, he’s taking away my place in order of things. Hell, it was said in a New York Times poll, Tea Partiers said yes to the question of whether too much been made of the problems facing black people?

African-Americans have been listening to white people for a long time. We’ve been doing it for four-hundred years. Our lives have depended on it.

When you are thought of first and foremost as chattel, your lives aren’t valued very much. The prospect of near-instaneous death was a daily fact of life. Thus, listening to White people isn’t a hobby. It can’t be.

We know how to listen to you. We know when a threat is at hand. We know when our lives are in danger. It is a fear that is passed on from generation to generation. I have grown up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., nowhere near any ghetto or slum in the world, and I am telling you, my children (when I have them) will learn this as well.

When I look at the Tea Party, I know what I’m hearing. I know where they stand, because I have heard it all before.