Tea Party thoughts

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
All Respondents 28 16 44 11
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.”)**


6 Responses to Tea Party thoughts

  1. kurt says:

    I don’t know where really to begin with you blog. I guess I’ll start with your comment about the tea parties being predominately white. I know you are a relatively intelligent man, so you should realize that in any given random sampling of the U.S. there should be about 80% white people. Why? Because that is roughly what the make up of the country is. The poll showed that the tea party movement is about 89% white. That’s really not that far off.

    You cherry picked one question and gave your opinion on a whole movement based off of that question and a couple of left leaning authors analyses. Had you reported the main message of the tea party poll, people would see that those in the tea party are for smaller government, controlled spending, and repealing of the healthcare bill. How does that in any way give validity to your argument that tea partiers are afarid of losing their “white privelaged” America? Also, you didn’t mention how the poll stated that those in the tea party are also more educated than the rest of the population. So it isn’t all southern, redneck, racist, hillbillies. You absolutely are entitled to your opinion, and it is controversial, only because it is wrong.

    My problem with the tea party movement is this: it was supposed to be a way for the commmon man to speak out and get the medias attention. Instead, politicians have hijacked it and turned it into campaign speeches.

    I’m sure I’ll get blasted by many of your left leaning friends, but that is fine. However wrong I think your opinions are, I will give you credit for your research. (Even though a majority of it comes from progressive/liberal media outlets)

  2. eric bjorlin says:

    (First, not many people post comments on my blog, so I doubt you’ll get many — if any — comments besides mine!)

    First, according to the 2000 census, the white population was counted as 70-75% of the total population (see http://censtats.census.gov/data/US/01000.pdf ), and I’m sure that number will be lower when the 2010 census numbers come out.

    I focused my writing as I did (admittedly pulling one question, but also consciously linking to the full report) because I don’t like posts going too long. And I think that the issues you mentioned as important to the Tea Party movement– “smaller government, controlled spending, and repealing of the healthcare bill” — have everything to do with white privilege, especially the healthcare bill. According to a HHS 2004 study (see: http://aspe.hhs.gov/health/Reports/05/uninsured-cps/index.htm#race ), while they report 67% of the population as white, only 1/2 of the uninsured population was white; thus, a disproportionate number of people of color were uninsured under past/current health insurance/care practices. Similarly, smaller government spending usually means less “social welfare,” which also would affect people of color more based on the generally accepted economic situation (no stats here, sorry — if it’s an issue, I’ll go looking).

    But I think my main point was to show that systemic racism is what we really need to be talking about. I agree totally that the Tea Party movement is not “southern, redneck, racist, hillbillies,” as you, kurt, put it. However, we need, as whites (and possibly as a population together), to recognize we’ve passed the easy-to-spot bigotry of race prejudice of years past. Instead, we live in a society with white race privilege that needs to be addressed, precisely because it isn’t as easy to see. It isn’t confined to this movement; I just found these reports as a good jumping off place for my larger idea.

    I think the Tea Party movement is a hindrance to ending systemic racism, but it’s by no means to only such culprit. White privilege exists as a fact for all whites, and it will take recognition, acceptance, and finally concerted effort to change if our goal is a truly equal society.

  3. kurt says:

    I think you need to also look at what percentage of race takes advantage of social welfare programs. There is a higher percentage of white people on welfare than black people.

    I truly believe you are making an unfair assumption of the tea party movement. Absolutely, there is probably some racism within the group. Why would any black person or minority join a racist group? Your assumption is the same thing that led people say that Justice Thomas and any other black conservatives were sellouts or uncle toms.


    As far as white privilege and social justice is concerned, unless I am missing something, we are still living in America. Where EVERYONE is free to go to school and be all they want to be. No one is stopping a minority from going to school. In fact, we spend more money on inner city schools, and it does nothing because they don’t take advantage of the opportunity. So why waste more money? At some point, people, no matter what race, need to take responsibility for their own actions. Social justice doesn’t work. All you end up doing is making one race dependent on another, and the other race resent that race.

    Now if you want to talk about supporting people and not allowing people fall through the cracks in our system, thats different. That’s why there is charity. Where the money given almost all of it goes to the recipient, versus taxes where it money gets siphoned off on pork.

    Now, I think it is a little sad that Biden made 4xs more than me, and I gave more money to charity than him. And I think it’s sad that Obama made 5.5 million, and I gave a higher percentage than he did. So I stop listening to progressives talk about tax structure and “doing the right thing” when it comes to social justice, when they can’t even part with their own money.

  4. eric bjorlin says:

    First, some stats to correct your assumptions on welfare recipients:

    First, let’s look at poverty level, usually a good indicator of who would qualify for “social welfare.” The U.S. Census Bureau in 2007 (http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2010/tables/10s0697.pdf ) found 24.5% of Blacks and 21.5% of Hispanics below poverty levels, while only 10.5% of whites in poverty. Percentage-wise, people of color are more likely to be in poverty than whites.

    Then, specific “social welfare” stats (There are various “social welfare” programs, and if I didn’t cover some you’re concerned about, please let me know.):
    TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, stats by HHS (Health and Human Services) shows that 33% of recipients nationally are white (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/character/FY2006/tab08.htm ). Because whites make up 66% (or more) of the population, this is proportionally less than would be if TANF were equally distributed. Thus, people of color have a disproportionately higher rate of reliance on TANF than whites.
    Similarly AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) number by the Census bureau (http://www.census.gov/population/socdemo/statbriefs/sb2-95.html ) show that 7% of white mothers received AFDC, while that number was 25% for black mothers and 20% for Hispanic mothers.

    The numbers resoundingly show (I tend to believe) that current wealth disproportionately resides with whites. Should this be? Is this OK? How would we change this is we wanted to? Those (and the social justice concerns of the last 3 paragraphs of the previous comment) are maybe policy concerns I’m going to hold off on discussing for another full post.

    And then why might a non-white join a “racist” group (and Justice Thomas act as he does, etc.)? Well, again, because it’s not the overt bigotry of “traditional racism,” there’s no overt racial reason why a person of color would stay away. It’s the system that privileges some and disadvantages others, and if a person of color like Justice Thomas (or President Obama, for that matter), can make it in the system, they don’t necessarily feel a reason to fight it. Those reasons come from other sources, and not everyone recognizes systemic racism or takes issue with our current societal structure, which is why people of color might join the Tea Party movement or be a “conservative” or whatever. It doesn’t make them a sellout, so to speak, it’s just a different understanding and ideology — one I, frankly think is wrong (not telling you something you haven’t already figured out, I know, but there it is).

  5. kurt says:

    You and I both came from the same town. Same side of the tracks even. If we are going to call for social justice, then I think you could have gone to a less expensive college so that others in your class could have gone on to college. I mean, for 38k a year, think how many other kids from your class could have gone on to a state college?

    The reason you went there was because you could. You worked hard to get the grades, and you were able to swing the cost. I’m not claiming that as white privilege. I’m saying you busted your butt to achieve something.

    Seems to me, that if Clarence Thomas, Barack Obama, and many other African Americans can make it, then why can’t others? The problem has been that the government has continually told African Americans that they are victims and that only the government can help them out of their situation. Slavery was a horrible event in our past, but telling people the only way they can make it is if they rely on government help, is a form of slavery in itself. Talk about battered wife syndrome. Since the Great Society, we have spent billions of dollars on fighting poverty, and it has not made a dimes worth of difference. We have poured enormous amounts of money into inner city schools, and it has not affected graduation rates.

    If you want to fix the problem, fix the families. Ask any teacher and they will tell you that if the parents aren’t involved, it is far more likely a kid will slip through the cracks. I’m not talking strictly about black families either. This applies to all families. Once the government said, “hey, who needs a two parent home to raise a child, we’ll provide welfare for you to make,” it was the compassionate way to make a bigger problem. That’s the whole problem with government assistance. Once the government gets involved, they believe they have fixed the problem, and instead, they have created bigger problems.

  6. eric bjorlin says:

    Well, since you brought up my college financial planning, to make a long story short: my family and I would have paid pretty much the same to attend a public school in Ohio (the one I was accepted to) as we did for me to attend the private school you mention (the one with a $35K+ a year price tag). This was do to grants given to me and my family by said private school after they made considerations for what my family could afford to pay (they gave no academic scholarships; all was need-based aid). Without that aid, even with my hard work and grades, I can assure you I would not have been going to a school of that price tag.

    And in fact, I actually know that by attending school out of state, I no longer qualified for one scholarship I had received, and it thus went to one of my classmates (so in reality, by taking the free money of the private school, I may actually have best supported my classmates, specifically in that scholarship but by also allowing so the state college system to spend more money on others since they weren’t spending it on me).

    (Similarly, would it be better for those who get full athletic scholarships to an expensive private school to rather choose to take that scholarship at a public school that costs only 1/3 as much? How would that better allow others in their class to attend college?)

    Because college (even public college) is not free like K-12 education is, there are often certain restrictions on who is even able to afford even public education, especially without being burdened by loans.

    As for the rest: stay tuned for a longer look at many of the topics brought up in these comments in future posts!

    (As an aside, I’ve very much enjoyed the debate and hope you continue posting, though I’m sure neither of us too much enjoys the continued need I think we both feel to rebut the other’s comments! But that’s what makes a debate so enjoyable, too, I suppose.)

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