I was going to make today some (likely) pretty controversial and assured remarks, but doing some more reading and thinking, I decided to tone it down a few notches, but hopefully still make my point and jump start some conversation.
15 April was tax day, and it also marks an important anniversary for the current Tea Party movement, as it was the day of the first true and major Tea Party protests. A recent NY Times/CBS News poll raises some interesting questions and issues about the makeup of those who consider themselves Tea Party supporters. (You can see the full report, or general trends, in addition to a descriptive NY Times article on the poll.)
A conversation was also held on the NY Times “Room For Debate” page (fast becoming one of my favorite places to read about trends and topics), titling the discussion, “What Tea Party Backers Want.” Contributors looked at some of the basic findings of the poll — which include racial and class background — and tried to infer (as we all do) larger ideas going on inside the Tea Party movement.
From the poll itself, I wanted to pull out question #72 for specific examination:
72. In recent years, do you think too much has been made of the problems facing black people, too little has been made, or is it about right?
|Too much||Too little||Just right||Don’t Know/NA|
|Tea Party Supporters||52||6||36||6|
I also particularly liked a few comments by Alan Brinkley, the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University, is the author of “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century,” a forthcoming biography:
The other striking finding in this poll is the importance of race and diversity, something that Tea Partiers do not emphasize in their rallies and literature. But they show very clearly the racial anxiety that many of them appear to feel. This is not traditional racism, although there are almost certainly traditional racists within the movement.
The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer “theirs,” that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.
In particular, let’s look at a phrase Mr. Brinkley used: “traditional racism.” I think what he means is bigotry, the overt feelings and declarations that whites are better than others, and certain rights should only be allowed to a particular group. This “traditional racism” brought us things like separate water fountains, “white’s only” clubs, and the illegality of interracial marriages, to name of a few. While some great civil rights laws prohibit these kinds of things, there are probably still those around who wouldn’t mind of some of those things were back.
But the larger problem here is the systematic racism that pervades society. Looking at question #72 from the survey, I’m curious how one could say too much has been made of the problems of any group. If there are problems, there are problems, and they need to be dealt with. I guess the argument might come that one believes the amount of attention given to “the other group’s problems” are too large proportionally compared to “my problems.”
And here we get to what’s happening: internalized racial superiority. As defined on the website for the People’s Institute For Survival and Beyond, IRS is:
The acceptance of and acting out of an superior definition of self, rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.
As Mr. Brinkley, I think, rightly posits, the Tea Party movement is a largely white movement based on those concerned with losing the privileges they hold based on their white race (and similarly their class status). This is, however, an issue for all of U.S. society to deal with (while 52% of TP supporters answered “Too much” to question #72, so did 22% of the rest did, too — see below). Practically, who would want to lose privileges they have? If you have a company car or extra vacation days, to see them go away would not be enjoyed. Similarly, many seniors have spoken up about cuts to Medicare — if you have something, you don’t want to lose it.
However, if we desire to be a place where all are treated equal, we must come to terms that the current structure (capitalist as it may be) privileges whites and oppresses black. Much of this has to do with the economic that favors the haves (generally whites) and oppresses the have-nots (generally people of color). It’s a cycle that many people are trying to end, but it is also one that isn’t know by many and often not talked about.
If some or all of this is news to you and you’re white (or anyone curious about all this), your next step is to read the article (just click on the title) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It will help you recognize the ways you gain privilege in ways that probably go unnoticed to you every day. When you see how much you get without even realizing it, maybe you’ll think more clearly about the ways we’re oppressing people of color by failing to recognize the problems and issues of others are really the problems of all.
**(The calculation that 22% of non-Tea Party supporters answered “Too much” to question #72 was found by showing 52% of the 19% of TP supports who said “Too much” was about 10% of the total. That meant 18% of the total who said “Too much” were not TP supporters, and 18% of the whole relating to the 81% of the group remaining leads, by ratio, to 22% of the non-Tea Party supporters responding “Too much.”)**