by: Eugene Robinson, Op-Ed
Washington - That was quick. We now have proof the NAACP was right.
When the nation's leading civil rights organization passed a
resolution condemning displays of racism by tea party activists,
leaders of the movement reacted with umbrage so thick you could cut it
with a knife -- then demonstrated that the NAACP's allegation was
On Sunday, the National Tea Party Federation announced it had expelled
one of the movement's most prominent figures -- a California blowhard
named Mark Williams -- because of the outrageously racist things he
had said about the NAACP.
Ejected along with Williams was his whole organization, Tea Party
Express, which had been a particularly active, high-profile group.
The last straw was a "satirical" letter that Williams, a right-wing
talk radio host, posted on his website. It was supposed to be a
missive from NAACP President Ben Jealous to Abraham Lincoln, and the
Tea Party Federation deemed it "clearly offensive." With good reason.
Here is one passage: "We Colored People have taken a vote and decided
that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means
having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences
along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored
People and we demand that it stop!"
Amazingly, it gets worse:
"Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their
demand that government 'stop raising our taxes.' That is outrageous!
How will we coloreds ever get a wide-screen TV in every room if non-
coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party
expects coloreds to be productive members of society? Mr. Lincoln, you
were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room
and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please
repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we
That's not satire, it's hate speech. The national federation should be
commended for moving quickly to cut all ties with this unreconstructed
bigot. But Williams is not some obscure figure from the movement's
outer fringe. He's a big player.
Tea Party Express lists as its "national sponsor" a political action
committee named Our Country Deserves Better, which spent about
$350,000 on Sen. Scott Brown's winning campaign in Massachusetts and
is pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into Nevada on behalf of
candidate Sharron Angle. Tea Party Express boasts on its website of
having staged rallies featuring such speakers as Sarah Palin, Ann
Coulter and one Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the
Have the rest of the movement's leaders never noticed Williams'
rhetoric before now? His most recent obsession, before the NAACP flap,
has been a crusade to halt construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan
near Ground Zero. He has called the proposed structure a place where
Muslims would honor the al-Qaeda hijackers and "worship the
terrorists' monkey-god." He has called President Obama an "Indonesian
Muslim turned welfare thug."
If Williams is now a pariah in tea party circles, that's progress. But
this episode should prompt the national leadership to look inward and
acknowledge -- not just to the rest of us, but also to themselves --
that ugly, racially charged rhetoric has been part of the movement's
stock and trade all along. If the tea party groundswell is to mature
into something important and lasting, it needs to purge itself of this
And if the Republican Party is going to try to harness the tea party's
passion on behalf of GOP candidates, responsible leaders need to make
clear that racism will not be tolerated.
Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to talk about the
NAACP flap when asked about it Sunday, and Sen. John Cornyn
volunteered that accusing the tea party of racism is "slanderous."
It's not slander if it's the truth, senator. No one can deny that some
fraction of the tea party's considerable energy is generated by
racism. Excommunicating Mark Williams was a start to disowning and
discarding this element -- but just a start.
And by the way, remember when Attorney General Eric Holder urged us to
have a national conversation about race? Well, this is how we do it --
awkwardly and episodically, almost always in reaction to a specific
event. We don't talk, we shout and grumble. It ain't pretty, but it's
the American way.
Eugene Robinson's e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
(c) 2010, Washington Post Writers Group