Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is the Tea Party Upsurge a "White Power" Movement in Disguise?
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

The more I observe the Tea Party movement, the more it seems to resemble the movements that overthrew Radical Reconstruction and returned the South to "White Rule."

It’s not that the rhetoric of the Tea Party mirrors the white supremacist oratory that accompanied the end of Reconstruction, or that it has violent allies that engage in murder and intimidation that way the Ku Klux Klan did, it is that the Tea Party movement is composed of white people who feel that the world has been turned upside down, that their status has fallen, and that their livelihoods are at risk, because a Black man is in power.

The overwhelming emotional response to the Tea Party movement among working class and middle class whites- which I have seen first hand in the working class neighborhood where I have a vacation house- bespeaks more than a concern about deficits and government waste. It reflects a sense that the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President threatens whites of modest means in some profound and elemental way, a feeling that has been stoked by accusations that President Obama is a Muslim and not a US Citizen.

Unlike the people who overthrew Reconstruction, who openly argued that the United States was founded as a "White Man’s Country" and could only prosper if it remained that way, I am not sure that most Tea Party activists would use openly racial reasoning to proclaim the illegitimacy of the Obama Presidency. But their sense of displacement and outraged dignity seems every bit as powerful as that of white southerners after the Civil War ruled by coalitions of Black and White Radical Republicans whose governance was secured by the presence of federal troops.
When talking to Tea Party supporters, you get an overwhelming sense that they view President Obama as an "imposter," someone whose presence not only defies long standing American traditions, but threatens them personally.

There is also a peculiar chemistry in the movement that deserves interrogation; its propensity to bring like minded white people together in settings where they can express rage and disappointment in a way they could not easily do at work, in school, or even in places of recreation where they might have to share space with people of different racial backgrounds,

The energy released in such gatherings is extraordinary, as is the release of inhibitions. White people who feel constrained from expressing racial resentments in multiracial gatherings, seem to feel "liberated" by Tea Party gatherings. Finally, they can be themselves. Finally, they are in a place where "real" American values and traditions are honored.

What we have here is not the explicit conflation of "authentic" American identity with White Supremacy a major theme in American political culture well through the 1960’s, but rather the IMPLICIT conflation of patriotism and American values with some communally affirmed ideal of Whiteness that no one is willing to acknowledge and talk about

But the implicit quality of the Tea Party’s practice of white solidarity doesn’t make it any less real. No one can observe, or attend Tea Party events, without feeling the potential of the group to "turn on" people of color whose presence somehow offends the group ( as the Black man with the skullcap did at the Ground Zero mosque protests). The emotional investment in Whiteness among Tea Party activists is something its own leaders need to come to grips with and which the rest of us need to view with trepidation

Just because the Tea Party has not yet spawned violent actions, or an underground terrorist wing, doesn’t mean that it will not do so in the future. The emotions calls upon are extremely powerful, and the traditions it invokes have a long and tragic history.

Make no mistake about it. The Tea Party is not just a crusade to restore Fiscal Integrity. It is a White Power movement that has the power to weaken and possibly unravel the thin fabric of civility that holds American society together
Mark Naison
August 26, 2010