A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why I Think the Tea Party Movement is Racist

For once, I'm not posting about wine. This is a response to a Facebook post from the politicially-oriented, very conservative "Johnny's Blog Thingy!!!" that links to a video of a tea party rally in which non-ranting, patriotic people are stirred by a retired Marine's spontaneous singing of the last verse of the Star-Spangled Banner. The upshot of the post is that tea partyers are not ranting, raving, racist lunatics but are, rather, concerned patriots who are acting together to make their nation a better place.

I am certain that, despite what seems to me to be a just-barely-concealed current of real, and fierce, anger running throughout the tea party movement, most of the movement’s adherents are just like this guy and the people cheering him—honest patriots who want their country to be the greatest nation on earth and a beacon of freedom to all people.

But what most of them don’t realize is that the very idea that there is a left that is systematically waging a war on Judeo-Christian values has an insidious kind of racism built into it, even if that racism is not something consciously promulgated by the people whose actions nevertheless have this ill effect. (But I also think it's time for Americans to acknowledge that the kind of vicious racism many of us thought died with the last generation and the success of civil rights has not gone away and is still frighteningly, distressingly common.) What seems like an onslaught from the left is, far more often than not (and with full acknowledgement that the left has its share of nut cases, too) an attempt to make the U.S. a place that is open and welcoming to people who can’t trace their roots back to Thomas Jefferson, or William Penn, or one of the people on the Mayflower. It’s an effort to acknowledge that the history of the U.S. is more than just the chopped down apple tree, Davy Crockett, the shores of Tripoli, and the Saturday Evening Post. But it’s precisely this opening up of culture—this acknowledgement that we are, and always have been, a deeply, profoundly, multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-religion society—that feels like an attack to most conservatives and especially tea-party folks (who, despite the color of the man in the video, are an overwhelmingly white group), for whom the privilege that comes with being white and Christian in this country has never felt like privilege—only like basic fairness. This sense that some better, apple-pie-eating, God-fearing America has been lost and needs to be regained is, by and large, a reaction to the increasingly officially acknowledged, if also to many people unsettling, reality that U.S. history, and the U.S. itself, is far more complex and multi-colored than most of us Christian white folks ever knew, or ever could have known.

Put simply, it boils down to this: we’ve had the luxury of having our stories about the history and identity and character of the U.S. be the stories about the history and identity and character of the country. But there are lots of stories that can be told, and lots of ways to tell them. When it’s done right—as it most often is—righting that wrong is what the so-called PC revolution has been about.

I know we all have equal rights under the law. But the U.S. has always been a place that favors white Christians in terms of actual opportunity and actual justice. So even the recourse to such standards as “the law of the land” or, in educational settings, “basics,” “merit,” or “achievement” is in effect racist, because they assume that theoretical equality is the same as actual equality, when in fact legal rights and educational opportunities have always been distributed very much in favor of “us” and against “them.” My hope is that this point, articulated as I just have, resonates with the right wing of this country, who have always been distrustful of theory and its potential to be utterly disconnected from reality.

So when I think of, and portray in my own work, the far right in this country as racist, I do so with the understanding that racist effects can emanate from actions based on motives that feel pure, and even altruistic, to the people committing those actions. It’s time for all of us to acknowledge that fact and work together to build a truly, and fully democratic America, both in theory and in practice.

For other writings of mine along these lines, see this facebook exchange and this previous post on this blog.

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