Some blacks back Tea Party, despite movement’s racist reputation

The ad-hoc conservative protests against an expanded government role that started shortly after President Obama was inaugurated last year is growing into a “Taxed Enough Already” movement that is backing candidates for political office and influencing public policies. Among these movement conservatives are a small but increasing number of black conservatives and libertarians who – attracted to the tea party movement’s call for smaller government, lower taxes, and less government spending – are getting involved in the protest movement.

Kevin Jackson, a former ACORN and union organizer who currently works as an advocate for the homeless in Charleston, S.C., began attending tea party events “because I saw the Left under Obama seeking to destroy the freedoms that we as Americans have fought so hard to have, and the Left’s determination to take socialize, to over the state”, he said.

Although he has been active in Republican Party politics, Ron Miller, an information technology consultant in Huntingtown, Md. who is running for the Maryland State Senate, said that the tea party rallies were his first foray into protest movement activities. “The movement embodied my beliefs in limited government, low taxes, individual liberty and free enterprise”, he said. Miller organized and emceed the first tea party in Maryland last year, and has been a featured speaker at four tea party rallies. He has attended many other tea party events, including the large 9/12 March On Washington event last autumn.

As the tea party movement increasingly presses for changes in American politics, some observers have wondered if the movement is relevant to black America’s aspirations, issues, and challenges. Jackson questions whether black America is organized around specific goals, contending that galvanizing around the interests of 40 million African-Americans is unrealistic.

However, Lenny McAllister, a political commentator and author based in Charlotte, N.C., who has spoken at various tea party rallies, sees a linkage between the tea party movement and black America’s goals. “The vast majority of tea party activists focus on smaller government and on politics. I feel that it’s my responsibility as an African American activist to talk about things that are bigger than that,” he said. “I think a lot of tea party activists and also black conservatives seemingly miss that point: political activism must be coupled with community activism if smaller government is going to work 50 years post-[Lyndon B.] Johnson Great Society.”

McAllister added that he believes that the focus shouldn’t be on whether there are more black people in the tea party movement, but on a “smaller government, bigger people” approach. He argues that the tea party movement has focused a lot on the first half of the equation and not enough on the latter part, in articulating how smaller government remedies issues like black student achievement, single-parent households, crime, and entrepreneurship. “The issue is taking the message and crafting it to people who grew up in urban conditions and who deal with government”, McAllister said. “And if you don’t have a way to take the tea party movement and make it tangible to Charlotte, to Chicago, and other places, then that’s a problem. You have to be able to cross that bridge.”

A controversy has erupted over whether former Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo burned that potential bridge during his convention speech at the recent National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tenn. Tancredo drew accusations of racism when he stated that Obama was elected partly because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote….People who could not even spell the word ‘vote’ or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.”

Jackson asserts that Tancredo’s comments merely described much of the American electorate, and he supports such a voter litmus test. “Most of the people who vote are white, so he wasn’t talking about black people. But if he were, I think it’s a good thing that all voters have a basic literacy standard.”

However, McAllister takes issue with Tancredo’s comments. “Who determines the level of literacy, if you’re a citizen? That’s your right as an American”, he said. “Somebody died for you to have that right, should you choose to exercise it. Sometimes it’s that one issue that pushes you to vote. Putting in a civics standard and say we can’t vote is wrong. Any African-American who believes so needs to take a look at history.”

In response to critics who charge that Tancredo’s comments demonstrate that the Tea Party movement has racist motives, Miller stated, “A truly racist movement would not have embraced me and other black Tea Party activists so enthusiastically. Yes, there are fringe elements that are probably racist, but they aren’t the entire Tea Party movement – not even close”, he said. “People come up to me at these rallies and thank me for my courage, because they know I’m going to catch hell from the black community for not falling in line. From where I sit, the liberals are the ones who keep bringing up race, not the tea party movement. We emphasize what brings us all together, not what separates us.”

McAllister said that the media tends to show the more colorful and racially charged characters, but the average activist is a regular American. “People see and hear the extreme views of harsh constitutionalists, the ‘Don’t Tread Of Me’ flags, and few black people. The media focuses on the fringes”, he said. “In the middle are veterans, and people who are the grandparents of black children. I’ve seen it personally. For every instance of racism that I’ve seen and addressed personally, there are many more people who want to include African-Americans and have more dialogue.” He added that a next step is “if the Tea Party movement is able to exemplify that more, then it can be even more effective than it’s been today.”

Jackson believes that the Tea Party movement’s next steps should be to continue organizing to get conservatives on the ballot for this year’s mid-term elections and “vetting to make sure they are real conservatives like Scott Brown”.

McAllister envisions a long-term goal for the movement: sustainability. He contends that Tea Party activists must ensure “a platform of solutions that touches the communities where its policies will, one, most impact America to allow the viability of goals to be met; and, two, allow the tea party movement to be sustained and not just be a trend.”

Angela McGlowan, a tea party circuit speaker who earlier this week left a position as a FOX News political commentator to formally announce that she’s running for Congress in Mississippi’s 1st Congressional District, has black Tea Party activists hopeful that it will lead to more visibility of black conservatives. Miller, who personally knows McGlowan, is excited about her bid for political office. “A new generation of black leaders from the center-right is coming onto the scene, and it’s refreshing to see them unafraid to take a public stand for their beliefs,” he said.