The 101st annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is meeting in Kansas City, Missouri this week, and the big headlines are going to a delegate resolution calling on leaders of the Tea Party movement to repudiate racism in the "signs and speeches" of some of its supporters. Although the resolution does not call the movement racist, that's the focus of much of the commentary. The resulting controversy has given NAACP president Benjamin Jealous the best platform he has had to date to draw attention to the organization's civil rights agenda. It has also renewed charges that the NAACP is a race-baiting organization pandering to Democratic political allies.
While Dave Weigel said the NAACP "stunt" backfired, Taylor Marsh noted that the "Tea Party is becoming quite sensitive, touchy even, to the charge of racism," and wondered, "Could it be sticking?" Meanwhile, Mary Curtis at Politics Daily bemoaned the press attention to the controversy, noting that the major focus of the convention has been on the impact of the BP oil spill. (In fact here's a link to their letter to BP chairman Tony Heyward requesting a meeting to discuss their concern that African American, Native American and Vietnamese communities are being disproportionately harmed.)
First, here is the full text of the statement the NAACP issued about the resolution:
"Today, NAACP delegates passed a resolution to condemn extremist elements within the Tea Party, calling on Tea Party leaders to repudiate those in their ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches. The resolution came after a year of high-profile media coverage of attendees of Tea Party marches using vial, antagonistic racial slurs & images. In March, respected members of the Congressional Black Caucus reported that racial epithets were hurled at them as they passed by a Washington, DC health care protest. Civil rights legend John Lewis was called the “n-word” in the incident while others in the crowd used ugly anti-gay slurs to describe Congressman Barney Frank, a long-time NAACP supporter and the nation’s first openly gay member of Congress. Missouri Representative Emmanuel Cleaver was spat on during the incident, and so it was particularly appropriate that the resolution was passed as NAACP delegates gathered in Kansas City for our 101st Annual Convention. The proposed resolution had generated controversy on conservative blogs, where in some cases the language has been misconstrued to imply that the NAACP was condemning the entire Tea Party movement itself as racist. The resolution will not become official NAACP policy until approved by the National Board of Directors in October."
Indeed, conservatives have been outraged, perhaps partially because of news reports such as this story for Politico.com that inaccurately stated that the NAACP had called the movement racist. Politico quoted black conservative political candidates who said they had not experienced racism at Tea Party events. Palin charged the NAACP with tarring "patriotic Americans" with the racism brush:
"To be unjustly accused of association with what Reagan so aptly called that "legacy of evil" is a traumatizing experience, and one of which the honest, freedom-loving patriots of the Tea Party movement are truly undeserving."
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele posted a statement to Andrew Breitbart's Biggovernment.com website saying that "Recent statements claiming the Tea Party movement is racist are not only unjust but untrue." Bishop EW jackson's blog featured a roundup of denunciations of the resolution from black conservatives in Virginia, saying, in part:
“While I have great admiration for the historic contribution the NAACP once made toward equality and justice for black Americans, they have lost their way. Instead of seeking justice, they play racial politics and march lockstep with the far left. They were once independent. Now liberals say jump, and the NAACP says, ‘How high?’
In an emailed response to my request for comment on the controversy, Blair LM Kelley, Associate Professor of History at North Carolina State University faulted the press:
I think that it is unfortunate that the history of the NAACP as an organization has been forgotten by people in the media. The founding board of the NAACP was interracial, and the early years of the organization were guided by both black and white leadership. This country's expansion of rights for all Americans has been buoyed by the work of the NAACP, for example their Legal Defense Fund was instrumental in desegregating our schools, and providing legal support for the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement. Palin should seek to honor this venerable, historic organization. They are not a hate group, their anti-racist legacy has made this a stronger country.
In response to another email, Vanderbilt University Law School professor Carol Swain argued that while the NAACP might not have explicitly called the Tea Party racist, their intent was clear:
"I don't think the actual wording of the resolution matters. The resolution seems to be about discrediting the Tea Party movement. It does its harm through accusations and through guilt by association."
On Twitter, Swain also linked to an article criticizing liberal bloggers for failing to note that Rep. Cleaver "conceded" that the spitting incident might have been an accident.
Newsweek's Ellis Cose noted an interview that Jealous gave to ABC likening the tactics of some Tea Party members to the those of the White Citizen's Councils during the Civil Rights era. While the Councils rejected the violence of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, they tacitly supported their goals. Cose wouldn't go quite that far, but he did question why some Tea Party leaders don't reject such groups as the Council of Conservative Citizens, which, he noted "blatantly promotes itself as a white people's group."
Finally, Jill Tubman at Jack and Jill Politics lauded the resolution, but said the NAACP should have joined this fight long ago. And she added this warning:
" I hope Jealous & co knows that they are about to catch hell from from the far right. And they’d best get their house in order unless they want to get the ACORN treatment with sabotage attempts and “exposÃ©s”.[sic]"
Photos of Ben Jealous and second Tea Party protest from PicApp.com. Photo of protester with "White Slavery" poster from cometstarmoon's flickr photostream, Photo of Prof. Carol Swain from BBC World Service's photostream on Flickr.
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