On last night’s Countdown, host Keith Olbermann devoted his “Tea Time” segment to a stupefying response by Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams to the NAACP’s resolution condemning “racist elements” within the Tea Party movement. In the form of a letter to Abraham Lincoln, from NAACP President Ben Jealous, Williams took the NAACP’s historical retention of the term “colored people” in their name, and ran with it. Olbermann called on all Tea Party leaders to immediately repudiate Williams.
While Keith Olbermann focused on Williams’ giddy use of the term “colored people,” I was astonished by this gem, in the 2nd paragraph: (emphasis mine)
In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.
Really? The Boston Tea Party was significant in American history for a variety of reasons, but “that old abolitionist spirit?” The slave trade in Boston didn’t even end until 1801, which means that, had the British decided to raise taxes on slaves instead of tea, we might be celebrating the Boston Negro Party right now. If you’re going to claim to love your country, at least know something about it.
Williams continues by translating the NAACP’s mission into a series of offensive stereotypes, like a desire for welfare and a “wide-screen TV in every room.” (The latter was excised from Williams’ revised draft.) He signs the letter “Tom’s Nephew,” showing he knows how to insult a black person, even if he doesn’t know what the insult means.
Reactions to the NAACP resolution by the right have been pretty consistent, accusing the group of being the actual racists, and misstating their point. Sarah Palin was “saddened by the NAACP’s claim that patriotic Americans who stand up for the United States of America’s Constitutional rights are somehow ‘racists,'” which is tragic for her, because the NAACP never made that claim.
Perhaps Williams’ letter was designed to make the other hamfisted conservative responses look good by comparison.
In fairness to the Tea Party, I noted, at some length, the successful measures taken by Freedomworks to keep their Tax Day event free of racist signs and rhetoric. Organizers told me this was a high priority, as evidenced by warning signs and frequent public address announcements at the event. This is to their credit, but it also belies the notion that there’s no racist element to keep out.
It has also been my experience that conservatives with whom I have spoken don’t view that racist element as the main villains here, but rather the evil media who dare to show it. They see this as evidence of bias, as though it is common for news cameras to shoot video of houses that aren’t on fire.
As for the NAACP resolution, while I think they have a legitimate point, it’s also not unfathomable that they’re looking for some publicity, too. They are later to this party than a narcoleptic club kid, and have ironically revived the media’s long-flagging interest in the Tea Party movement. The Tea Party could actually end up benefiting from this, as Palin’s persecution-y rhetoric is a powerful recruiting tool for disaffected white folks looking for validation.
Update: Williams has since taken down his letter to Lincoln, leaving in its place a “personal note” saying that Ben Jealous had contacted him with “something of an olive branch,” expressing a wish to “open discussions with tea partiers regarding dialing down the unproductive shots going back and forth.”
Here’s the closest he gets to an apology:
To that end and as a reciprocal gesture I have removed the parody letter you came here to read and urge you to fight those who seek to divide us by race, no matter the color of the racist. Our fight is against tyranny and for liberty and to see that this nation continues the lofty goal of equality for all set for us by our founders. Make no mistake though, there are those for whom peace and progress is poison and they will continue to circulate the several versions of my article (Yes, there were several versions. As reasonable people pointed out to me wording that I agreed was indeed objectionable it was removed or changed by me personally.)
He calls it a “reciprocal gesture,” implying that his letter was a response in kind to the NAACP’s resolution. In case you think I’m being too cynical, Williams signs off by renewing his charge that the NAACP’s name is racist (hence, an excuse for his use of the term), and calls on his readers to spam them:
I would suggest to those offended by the term “Colored People” (the phrase that made my article so controversial) please contact the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and join me in calling for an end to their use of the racial slur and that Mr. Jealous take me up on my offer to travel with me on the next Tea Party Express so that he may meet all of you in person. His contact information is below.
I don’t know what Jealous really said to Williams, but if he’s really looking to dialog with the Tea Party, he should pick someone else.
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