NAACP, Tea Party’s Racism and Lost Perspective

Challenging Tea Party racism: Good. Making it the race story: Bad.

By Kai Wright Jul 16, 2010

[Ta-Nehisi Coates makes some typically solid points]( about the uproar that’s ensued from the NAACP’s bold declaration that the Tea Party’s got race issues. (Actually, they said only that the Tea Party should take responsibility for plainly racist rhetoric tossed around by those in its ranks.) I’ve argued that the [NAACP’s resolution was disappointing](/archives/2010/07/stop_the_presses_naacp_says_tea_partys_got_race_issues.html)–not because it was wrong, but because there are so many better conversations for the NAACP to stir up around its 101st convention. I still believe that, but Coates makes a fair point:

I have long been one to question the NAACP’s relevance. Moments like these remind me that I have been very wrong. It is not my style to spend my days attempting to enlighten or embarrass the Tea Party. But someone has to do it. Someone has to say, "It’s not OK." That is not work for "sensible" people. But it’s work that has to be done. Someone must hold the line.

Here’s his argument for why: It’s not the obviously foul stuff like spitting on black congressmembers and [comparing the NAACP to slave traders](/archives/2010/07/tea_party_racists_show_theyre_racist.html) that so desperately needs challenging; it’s the Tea Partiers’ ability to shift the frame on bigotry and its consequences.

I think it’s worth, first, considering the record of American racism, and then the record of the Tea Party and its allies. Racism tends to attract attention when it’s flagrant and filled with invective. But like all bigotry, the most potent component of racism is frame-flipping–positioning the bigot as the actual victim. So the gay do not simply want to marry, they want to convert our children into sin. The Jews do not merely want to be left in peace, they actually are plotting world take-over. And the blacks are not actually victims of American power, but beneficiaries of the war against hard-working whites. This is a respectable, more sensible, bigotry, one that does not seek to name-call, preferring instead change the subject and strawman. Thus segregation wasn’t necessary to keep the niggers in line, it was necessary to protect the honor of white women.

Well said. And Coates goes on to cite examples of Tea Party surrogates running this game. So, sure, the NAACP should speak up and counter this stuff. And yes, the right’s ridiculous reaction to the organization doing so has helped prove the point. And we do our fair share of Tea Party coverage here at ColorLines, too. But man, what if the NAACP had figured a way to bait everybody into debating, say, the role of racism in creating [the shocking disparity in joblessness](/archives/2010/07/race_and_recession_update.html) instead? How cool would that have been?