Saturday, July 17, 2010

...on the Tea Party Resolution

In August of 2000, a former President of the Dallas Branch of the NAACP, Lee Alcorn, made bigoted and anti-semitic comments about then Vice-Presidential nominee Joseph Liberman. Upon learning of the comments, the NAACP's National Office immediately took action issuing a clear and unambiguous statement repudiating the comments, removing Mr. Alcorn from office, and immediately suspending his membership in the Association. Our then National President Kweisi Mfume described the comments in a public statement by stating that "I find them to be repulsive, anti-Semitic, anti-NAACP and anti-American. Mr. Alcorn does not speak for the NAACP, its board, its staff or its membership." The response was so swift and so unqualified that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) followed by issuing its own public statement praising the NAACP's handling of the situation.

I was in attendance at the NAACP's National Convention last week. I was a voting delegate on the floor of the convention and proudly voted along with 2,000 of my colleagues from around the country in favor of the resolution calling upon the Tea Party to speak out and condemn racist signs and acts within its ranks. I also had the privilege of attending the NAACP's National Board meeting where they also voted unanimously to state its position for the record also calling upon the Tea Party Movement to repudiate racism within its ranks.

Neither the resolution, nor the Board's stated position identified the Tea Party as a Racist movement. And for the record, it is not. The Tea Party Movement is a coalition of generally conservative people who are actively protesting policies and positions of the Government and Administration as is their right. As a great believer in the power of argument AND the power of protest, and as a leader in a historic institution built on the foundations of both, I fully support their right to do so unabridged, because in protecting their rights I protect my own. It should also be noted that there are a number of persons of various political stripes who are both active in the Tea Party Movement AND are members of the NAACP. I have a number of very dear friends who are quite active in the Tea Party movement, and while we may disagree politically, I would state unequivocally and for the record that among them are any number of wonderful folks who I greatly admire and deeply respect. Our disagreements do not make us enemies, and I would not sign on to or support any statement or resolution that called their character into question.

But that said, the question here is not whether the Tea Party Movement is racist, but rather, what is the Tea Party's responsibility in dealing with expressions of Racism from self identified members of their movement? By thus far refusing to acknowledge or repudiate expressions of racism from within their ranks, the Tea Party's notoriety and media access has made it an effective conduit through which these bigoted and and intolerant sentiments are publicly legitimized and even commercialized. By not acknowledging and not responding to these statements, the Tea Party has afforded the blanket defense of a "legitimate political protest" to even the most grotesque expressions of bigotry. And THAT is what this resolution is about... It is not our intent to offer blanket condemnations or to fight a media war against the Tea Party, but we, as the Nation's oldest and largest Civil Rights Organization, can not sit idly by as racial intolerance becomes commercialized.

We are calling upon you to 'close the door' and not let groups like Stormfront or others use your movement as a platform through which to propagandize their message of race prejudice and xenophobic nationalism.

On our watch, we are increasingly seeing talk radio hosts and television pundits exploiting a rising tide of racial animus to gain market share. On our watch, we have now seen sitting Congressmen demeaned by racial and sexual epithets. On our watch, we have seen photos of the White House lawn covered with watermelons, depictions of the President as a monkey, a pimp, a beggar, as uncle Ben, and a terrorist. We've heard the POTUS referred to as a racist, a Muslim, an Arab, a Kenyan, an African, a foreigner, a magic Negro, and a man-child. We've even seen pictures of the FLOTUS as a primate. Here is a VIDEO of a vendor selling "Yup, I'm a Racist" t-shirts at a tea party event in Kentucky.

The pace is quickening and the lines of decency are being blurred.

Even in response to the NAACP's resolution, Mark Williams, a spokesperson for the Tea Party Express, responded by posting a racist and inflammatory "Letter to Lincoln" on his blog essentially stating that Black folks were lazy, don't want to work, want others to take care of us, and want to put "wide screen TV's in every room" at someone else's expense. And as evidence of the growing commercialization of unchecked intolerance, venerable news organization CNN chose to describe the letter as merely "satirical". [Note: Mark Williams has since taken the letter down but a copy of it can still be found HERE on Roland Martin's Blog].

These are the very images, insults, attacks, and distortions that the NAACP has fought against since DW Griffith's release of Birth of a Nation. We have stood for more than 100 years against the forces of intolerance and racial hatred, and so we MUST speak out today.

It's gut check time. We are declaring our principles. And we call on you to do the same. I will go on record as stating that I do not believe the Tea Party is a racist movement, and I ask, as we did at the convention, that YOU join us in saying so...

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