Editor’s note: This column is a response to the recent report, “Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Tea Party Movement and the Size, Scope, and Focus of Its National Factions.”
Tea Party leaders often deny being motivated by racial animus in general or against President Barack Obama. However, white supremacy is the core consistent subliminal theme running throughout many of the Tea Party factions.
The Obama presidency is an irritating factor – if not the dominant irritant – behind much of Tea Party nationalism. The subliminal intent in preaching that President Obama is not an American, that he is Muslim, a “witch doctor,” and to remove the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship based on birth in the United States are attempts to couch Tea Party messages in language aimed at challenging the legitimacy of his presidency.
The Tea Party strategy should be viewed for what it is – a well-funded and deliberate strategy to frustrate efforts by the first black person elected to the nation’s highest office to lead the nation away from the mess created by President George W. Bush, a white man who led the nation into its worst economic and military predicaments in recent memory.
It is also the latest in a long line of attacks against the idea that the United States welcomes people from all nationalities, creeds and ethnic backgrounds. We should not flatter the Tea Party movement and its activists by attributing their views or actions to patriotism unless we intend to define patriotism as white supremacy.
White supremacy is one of this nation’s oldest cancers, if not its most ancient and entrenched cancer. The white supremacy cancer has never been eliminated from our politics because politicians in all eras of U.S. history have used it to gain popular support from the white majority. We should not have been surprised by such a movement, especially in the aftermath of the Obama election in 2008, no matter what Obama does.
But no matter how much a cancer may spread, it never produces health. The question is not whether white supremacy runs through Tea Party nationalism. It plainly does, no matter how much people may want to deny or ignore it. The real issue is whether white Americans, and especially white people who self-identify as Christians – meaning followers of Jesus – accept the idea that Tea Party nationalism promotes sound public policy, meaning that it is healthy for the nation.
Cancer is never healthy, but masquerades in healthy tissues and organs until it can interfere with and disrupt health. Tea Party nationalism is a politically inspired philosophy aimed at building opposition to the Obama presidency based on white supremacy, but its ultimate goal is to make the United States a less inclusive society.
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White supremacy existed and influenced public policies and political strategies long before Obama was elected. Whatever may become of Tea Party nationalism, we should, like smart physicians, remain alert and aggressive in fighting white supremacy.
Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist and former slave, once said: “America has no Negro problem. The problem is whether white people have loyalty enough, honor enough and patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution.”
As I consider Tea Party nationalism, I am reminded of what Douglass said and think: “America has no Obama problem. The problem is whether white people who profess to believe in an inclusive and welcoming society for people from every nation, creed and ethnic background and claim to be followers of Jesus have loyalty enough, honor enough and patriotism enough to live up to their own Constitution and the life of Jesus and reject the white supremacist ideology that underlies Tea Party nationalism.”
Whatever impact the Tea Party has on U.S. policies, whether during the 2010 elections or afterward, will be shaped by the actions and omissions of white people who profess to support the Constitution of the United States and follow the religion of Jesus.
Those are the primary targets of the Tea Party nationalist message.
Wendell L. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.