14 July 2010

Tea Party Etiquette: Listen Carefully to Others

Right-wingers may be defensive by nature. Some work under the assumption that they'll be subject to ad hominem attacks for taking "unpopular" stands, that their motives and character will be questioned. Consider the "Frustrated" letter-writer from last week; he assumed that he would be called a racist for being a fiscal conservative and opposing the welfare state, even though he made no overtly racist comments in his letter. People like him may assume that their critics are irrational fanatics who really believe them to be racists, or that the critics are simply lying demagogues. Either way, this attitude toward critics may result in a tendency to preempt criticism by interpreting it as an ad hominem attack before what was actually said to them, or about them, fully sinks in.

Something like this seems to have happened after the NAACP approved a resolution calling on the Tea Party movement to repudiate the racists in its midst. In a knee-jerk response, both immediate and predictable, representatives and champions of the Tea Parties, including Sarah Palin, reacted with outrage fueled by the assumption that the Tea Party movement as a whole had been accused of essential racism. While the final text of the NAACP resolution hasn't been released yet, what's been quoted expresses the opinion that there are racists within the TPs, not that the TPs are themselves fundamentally racist. Unless Palin and her pals want us to believe that there is not one racist, not one person disdainful toward blacks or other minorities, attending the Tea Parties, their reaction has been overblown and strategically clueless. It only allows the NAACP, not to mention the Democratic party, to broadcast from now 'til November that the TPs and their GOP allies refused to repudiate the racists in their midst.

To be fair, no apology or repudiation from the TP ranks would suffice for every NAACP member. Some people are bound to believe, fairly or not, that anyone who advocates economic or social policies believed to be disproportionately harmful to blacks, even if only because blacks are disproportionately poor, is a racist. In many circles, racism has come to be defined as any practice or opinion that is merely unfair, rather than hateful, to black people. Even when conservatives call for a color-blind society, their corollary demand for an end to compensatory policies like affirmative action condemns them to face the race card so long as some people see color-blindness as a refusal to recognize or rectify racial inequality. Since the anti-racist ideal of fairness presumes a state-mandated distribution (or redistribution) of wealth, that ideal can never be embraced by TPs whose own ideal of fairness comes down to individual just desserts and the right to keep what's yours. While blacks may endorse Tea Party ideals on an individual basis, it's unlikely that the TP movement can come comfortably to terms with the heirs of the civil rights movement. But the instant backlash against the NAACP resolution makes any reconciliation even less likely.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The TPs can deny their bigotry all they want. But just like other things they choose to believe it doesn't make it true. The "right" or "conservative" wing has long been entrenched in discriminatory policies. Jim Crow laws, the fight against integration in public schools, etc. all point towards an inherent racism within their very beings. Of course, on the other hand, people like the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton certainly don't help matters by claiming "racism" in any confrontation between a white person and a black person.