Sunday, July 18, 2010

Race Still Matters

Recently there has been a ripple or two of comments on the blogosphere about the NAACP's resolution asking the leaders of the Tea Party movement to condemn the racist signs and actions of some people in the movement. Movements are, of course, not always tightly organized and the leaders of the Tea Party movement can't control the actions of those who show up at rallies. But they can be clear in their condemnation of racist signs or actions.

As far as I know, there have been no such condemnations from the movement's leaders. In fact there have been assertions that the NAACP has made more money out of race that the slave traders ever did. There was also what its author, Mark Williams, described as a parody, a letter from the leader of the NAACP telling President Lincoln not to grant freedom to slaves because “Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. This is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop.” Williams, whom I believe to be one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, removed the parody from his website after tea partiers were invited to meet with leaders of the NAACP. He removed it but, in explaining its removal, he did not apologize for writing and posting the letter, actions that I consider to be racist.

The white, middle-class members of this movement don't seem to get it. As they experience some pain during this recession, they seem to forget just how privileged they are. Unlike people of color, they will not be stopped by the police because of their skin color. They or their parents and grandparents haven't had the experience of being unable to buy a home or rent an apartment in some towns or neighborhoods because of the color of their skin.

Certainly people of color have not been the only targets of discrimination. “Irish need not apply” signs and other forms of discrimination were far too common at the end of the 19th century. Fifty years ago I lived in a town where Jews couldn't buy homes. Racial and ethnic prejudice are still part of our common life and denying it, as the Tea Party leaders seemed to have done, doesn't help at all.

I hope that when the leaders of the Tea Party movement and the NAACP meet it will be an opportunity for the leaders of the Tea Party to get it, to understand the nature of their privileged status in this country and to see that race still matters.

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