Monday, February 15, 2010
Of tea parties and things left unsaid
Do you know how racist white people who know better talk about black people? It's almost pathetic to listen to: when they get to the word "black" they pause; their eyes dart blankly left and right. The word itself is uttered in an embarrassed spit of a whisper; the eyes flashing anger and resentment before the sentence is resumed in a normal speaking tone. It's kind of like how straight people who hate gay people, or maybe just don't know any, say the word "homosexual," drawing out those first two syllables with clearer enunciation than they have ever used in their lives to make it a full almost sing-song "HOE MOE sexshuall."
I can't speak for what happens in the South, but in the Northeast and Midwest where I have spent my life, racist white people generally know better than to use the word "ni**er." I've certainly heard it spoken, but usually by the young and angry. Everybody knows the taboo of this word, and if racist white people wish they could use this powerful word they understand, at the very least, that it also has the power to get them into trouble.
Which brings us to the so-called Tea Party movement, which recently held its for-profit convention featuring keynote speaker Sarah Palin. Ariana Huffington keeps saying that the teabaggers represent the canary in a coal mine: that their rebelliousness against Washington's love affair with Wall Street is indicative of a tide of mass American anger. Similarly liberal New York Times columnist Frank Rich makes a sad and condemning portrayal of the relationship between politicians and Wall Street in his recent column; Rich talks about the teaparty being populist pawns for demagogues like Palin but seems somehow sympathetic to the concerns of the teaparty ranks. I usually like what these two have to say (reserving judgment, for the moment, on the institutions both of them represent). They've both pointed out that on the one hand the teabaggers criticize government spending and criticize government involvement in healthcare, they have no actual plan because they're deeply caught in contradiction. Let us not forget the infamous "get your government hands off my medicare" protest sign: how many of the baby-boomer teabaggers are now dependent on government hand-outs as they decry government spending?
But I think Rich, Huffington, and the tide of media conventional wisdom are fundamentally missing the mark in their portrayal of the so-called tea party movement. The financial populism of this "movement" is contradictory and without actionable platform because it is actually not really their main agenda. This so-called movement, which somehow materialized out of thin air seconds after the president's inauguration -- having previously had no truck with financial corruption and massive spending under Bush -- is using its financial argument to cover up its real priorities, which everybody knows and which everybody knows are not acceptable in polite society. And that is the deeply offensive and wounding notion to these resentful white people that their president is African-American and that the black, latin, and gay hordes have taken their beloved country away. The tea party's public profile makes no sense because it is a cover for their deeply entrenched racism and bigotry.
While teabaggers may be stupid at times (Who can forget signs like "Get a brain! Morans!" or "Obama! Half breed muslin!"), they're not stupid enough to use the word that they're really all thinking. These resentful white people are not afraid of what they're thinking, they're afraid of getting caught using words that they know are forbidden.
When they call Obama a socialist, a communist, a Hitler, a Muslim, an Indonesian, a Kenyan, they mean he's an outsider, they mean he's not entitled to be President, they mean he's a ni**er. The teabaggers may have a lunatic fringe who believes bizarre conspiracies about who Obama actually is, but they also have a mainstream that tolerates that lunatic fringe. It is the lunatic fringe that is the canary in that coal mine: seeing how far their right-wing argument can be pushed before it is pushed back against.
The teabaggers believe that our economic crisis was brought about by the collusion of Wall Street (Jews) and ACORN (ni**ers) giving mortgages to lazy welfare recipients who then failed, of course, to pay their bills. They don't have a problem with government spending, they have a problem with WHO the government might be spending money on. It's like how the right-wing was interested neither in Africa nor in AIDS until they realized they could get the government to spend millions of dollars on Christian churches spreading Christian-based abstinence advocacy in Africa (and in the US) and call it humanitarian AIDS relief.
The teabaggers think hate crimes legislation and marriage equality are plots to take something away from them. It's actually pretty shocking to read how outraged many fundamentalist religious leaders have been over hate crimes legislation and proposed local anti-bullying rules. They cannot believe their right to demonize gay people, to incite anti-gay hatred, might be taken away from them.
And this is really the problem: the media and political establishment ignore the foundational reality of the teabaggers at their own risk. It's interesting to talk about where the teabaggers come from in terms of our current economic crisis. Fox News and some very well-financed right-wing organizations have created astroturf that is apparently convincing even liberal commentators that it's actually grassroots. But what is grassroots here is the very American nerve of racism and resentment that the teabaggers share, beneath the skin of their somehow acceptably populist fervor.
But it's time to call a spade a spade. The Tea Party movement is a lynch mob in waiting. This is the core of nativist American fascism. Just because they're not running around in white sheets and using the word "ni**er" doesn't mean they're not thinking it. Watch teabaggers interviewed about what they believe. Their faces goes through those same darting contortions as they reach for words they know they can get away with.
This is not a populist movement; it's a racist one. This mad hatter's tea party is prelude to real trouble. Prettify it at your own risk.