Over at Ephphatha Poetry, Tim Wise has a very thought-provoking post entitled Imagine If the Tea Party Was Black. It's well worth reading the whole thing - the volume of examples he provides is, after all, instrinsic to the argument he makes - and it is a trenchant commentary on both the state of race relations in the United States and the preferential treatment accorded the almost all-white Tea Party movement. He begins thus:
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters - the black protesters - spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government. Would these protester - these black protesters with guns - be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.He then provides something on the order of 9 or 10 further thought experiments in a similar, eye-opening vein, and concludes with this:
In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?Meanwhile, there is this report on the Tea Party Tax Day protest in East Valley, near Phoenix, Arizona, which mentions two of the featured speakers at the event. The first was Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce, who not only has close ties to white supremacists, but a long track record of anti-immigrant activity, most recently manifested in his efforts to pass the draconian new law in his state that requires the police to stop and demand proof of citizenship from anyone they suspect of being in this country illegally. Likewise, there was Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a proud supporter of said new law, who has ties to racist organizations of his own, and a well-earned reputation for a selective, ethnicity-based law enforcement. In Arizona, at least, the Tea Baggers appear to be just fine with government oppression, as long as it's leveled at Hispanics.
To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.
As I described in No, They're Not Mainstream, when examined closely, it's pretty clear the Tea Parties are about the expression of frustration with political powerlessness rather than a serious, consistent approach to issues. Since a good portion of their anger about taxation is, in fact, aimed at a president who has actually cut taxes for most Americans, the allegedly small-government Tea Party's embrace of bigoted, authoritarian law enforcement figures in Arizona shouldn't be surprising - it's just more of the same hypocrisy.
Bill Maher agrees: