Why the Left Needs Racism
What do you get when you cross a corny old joke with a network news report? Something like this:
A black guy walks into a tea party, and a white lady says to him, “You know, we don’t get many African-Americans in here.” The black guy replies, “And at these prices, it’s no wonder!”
The joke, at least as we originally heard it, involves a kangaroo and a bartender. The news report, brought to our attention by the fellows at NewsBusters.org, involved NBC reporter Kelly O’Donnell and (BLACK) tea-party activist Darryl Postell. O’Donnell approached Postell at a Washington rally, and hilarity ensued:
O’Donnell: There aren’t a lot of African-American men at these events.
Postell: [laughs] Right.
O’Donnell: Have you ever felt uncomfortable?
Postell: No, no, these are my people, Americans.
Another joke, attributed to our friend Rich Miniter circa 1991, goes as follows: What do you call a black man at a conservative event? Guest speaker. To the New York Times’s Charles Blow, this is no laughing matter. Blow visited a tea party in Dallas last week and didn’t like what he saw:
I had specifically come to this rally because it was supposed to be especially diverse. And, on the stage at least, it was. The speakers included a black doctor who bashed Democrats for crying racism, a Hispanic immigrant who said that she had never received a single government entitlement and a Vietnamese immigrant who said that the Tea Party leader was God. It felt like a bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad.
The juxtaposition was striking: an abundance of diversity on the stage and a dearth of it in the crowd, with the exception of a few minorities like the young black man who carried a sign that read “Quit calling me a racist.”
Blow was especially put off by Alphonzo Rachel, a black comic who spoofs the president by performing skits as “Zo-bama.” Blow sums up the experience this way: “Thursday night I saw a political minstrel show devised for the entertainment of those on the rim of obliviousness and for those engaged in the subterfuge of intolerance. I was not amused.”
Blogger Conor Friedsdorf notes that there is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose quality to the Blow approach:
In any context except a Tea Party, the vast majority of liberal writers would praise the act of highlighting the voices of “people of color” even if they aren’t particularly representative of a crowd or corporation or university class. Let it happen at a rally of conservatives, however, and this winds up on the nation’s premier op-ed page. . . .
It’s this kind of piece that causes people on the right to think that on matters of race, they’re damned if they do, and they’re damned if they don’t–if they don’t make efforts to include non-whites they’re unenlightened propagators of privilege, and if they do make those efforts they’re the cynical managers of a minstrel show, but either way, race is used as a cudgel to discredit them in a way that would never be applied to a political movement on the left.
Or, for that matter, to any nonpolitical institution that aspires to become more inclusive. Imagine Kelly O’Donnell questioning a black man in a largely white company or university or country club or suburb the way she interrogated Darryl Postell. She would come off as clueless and prejudiced–as, come to think of it, she does. (Kudos to NBC for airing this revealing though embarrassing footage.)
The political left claims to love racial diversity, but it bitterly opposes such diversity on the political right. This is an obvious matter of political self-interest: Since 1964, blacks have voted overwhelmingly Democratic. If Republicans were able to attract black votes, the result would be catastrophic for the Democratic Party. Even in 2008, the Democrats’ best presidential year since ’64, if the black vote had been evenly split between the parties (and holding the nonblack vote constant), Barack Obama would have gotten about 48% of the vote and John McCain would be president.
To keep blacks voting Democratic, it is necessary for the party and its supporters to keep alive the idea that racism is prevalent in America and to portray the Republican Party (as well as independent challengers to the Democrats, such as the tea-party movement) as racist. The election of Barack Obama made nonsense of the idea that America remains a racist country and thereby necessitated an intensifying of attacks on the opposition as racist.
These charges of racism are partly based on circular reasoning. Among Blow’s evidence that the tea-party movement is racist is “a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Wednesday [that] found that only 1 percent of Tea Party supporters are black and only 1 percent are Hispanic.” Other polls have put the black proportion as high as 5% (and, as Tom Maguire notes, Blow misreports his own paper’s Hispanic figure, which is actually 3%). But with blacks constituting some 12% of the population, there’s no question that the tea-party movement is whiter than the nation as a whole.
Yet to posit racism as an explanation is to ignore far more obvious and less invidious causes for the disparity. The tea-party movement’s racial composition reflects a pre-existing partisan alignment: The movement arose in opposition to the policies of a Democratic government, and the vast majority of blacks are Democrats, or at least vote for Democrats. Pride in the first black president, a normal and wholesome attitude, reinforces this partisan allegiance.
There’s another factor that might keep blacks away from tea parties: the perception, whether true or not, that the movement is racist–a perception that liberal politicians and commentators have worked tirelessly (and tiresomely) to propagate. Add to this the risk of race-based opprobrium from fellow blacks and even from white liberals for deviating from the way blacks are “supposed” to think. Charles Blow’s nasty descriptions of the blacks at the Dallas tea party reminded us of an Associated Pres dispatch we noted April 7:
They’ve been called Oreos, traitors and Uncle Toms, and are used to having to defend their values. Now black conservatives are really taking heat for their involvement in the mostly white tea party movement–and for having the audacity to oppose the policies of the nation’s first black president.
So, there aren’t many African-Americans at the tea parties? At these prices, it’s no wonder!