The National Tea Party Federation recently booted the Tea Party Express. This was, of course, in response to Mark Williams allegedly racist (rather than satirical) blog post. While some folks have created the impression that the Tea Party Express has been officially removed from the Tea Party movement, this is clearly not the case.
Unlike the two national parties, the Tea Party movement has no overall leadership or hierarchy of command. As such, while one organization can assert that it is banning or expelling another this really amounts mainly to posturing and statement making. Of course, much of politics is doing just that-making empty gestures for political points. Of course, taking a stand against racism can be more than a mere political gesture.
While it is reasonable and right to be concerned about the pernicious force of racism, charges of such racism should be made carefully, and need to be based on actual racism. Being critical of Obama’s policies is not racist. Using unflattering comparisons or modified images relating to Obama also need not be racist. After all, white presidents have been subject to such treatment (often by other white people).
This is not to deny that there are racists in the Tea Party movement. It would be odd if there were not, given that the two main political parties have racist members. As noted in an earlier post, it is not merely having some racist members that make a movement racist. Rather, it is the ideology and values of that movement. While the Tea Party movement has been linked to racism, the main concerns of the movement do not seem to be tainted with racism.
In various conversations I have heard people consider that the charges of racism against the Tea Party might be attempts (conscious or not) to wield that political sword to wound the movement. It does, of course, provide an all too easy and convenient avenue of attack: rather than engaging the actual political views of the Tea Party movement or addressing its criticisms, one can simply tar them with charges of racism. I suspect that there is some merit to these claims. The Tea Party does seem to be shaping up as a potentially significant political force. As such, it would hardly be surprising that the Democrats and the left would be attempting to weaken it.
It is also worth considering that some (perhaps even all) of the people accusing the Tea Party folks of racism are sincere in their belief. However, the sincerity of a belief is no measure of its truth. It could be argued that those who are very sensitive to racism will tend to perceive certain attacks on Obama as racist, even when they are not. For example, to claim that comparing Obama to Stalin is racism seems to be an error. After all, the point of this comparison is based on an alleged shared ideology between the two men rather than any reference to race. In other case, concerns about racism are better founded (such as the use of monkey comparisons).
Finally, it is well worth keeping in mind that some of the charges of racism could have merit and these should not be dismissed as mere political attacks.