Should Black Folks Give the Tea Party a Second Look?

Yes, the Tea Party movement is overwhelmingly white. But this writer says the black community should stop being emotional and consider the facts.

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As a black woman in America, I have remained largely silent about the Tea Party movement and whether the movement itself is ''racist,'' as it is being charged by many in our community, including the leadership of the NAACP.

As a community, we should take a step back for a moment and learn how to stop making emotional judgments and consider the facts about the Tea Party movement.

I think we can all agree that the Tea Party movement, as it stands today, is overwhelmingly white, working to middle class, and overwhelmingly disdainful of President Obama and his policies. My concern with the movement has always been that it was too monolithic. Sadly, when this is the case, we often cannot see the substance and value of such groups because we can easily get distracted by the fact that it is all white, all black or ''all'' something that makes a majority of us feel excluded and unwelcome. In my opinion, the biggest challenge with the Tea Party movement, like the Republican Party, is that it is 99 percent white.

If, for example, you compare the Tea Party movement to the 1963 March on Washington, you will note that a respectable number of white Americans, Jewish people and others attended that historic event and participated in sit-ins, freedom rides and marches that eventually tore down racial segregation in America. It was a multicultural and gender-neutral movement, whereas the Tea Party movement seemingly is not.

But here is my concern: Black Americans for all intents and purposes are in an economic depression right now and have been since 2007, when the housing and economic crises first started to manifest. Yet we seem to be sitting passively by as the black middle class experiences the greatest loss of wealth ever. Folks, we need to be clear, with black male unemployment at 35 percent to 50 percent in some American cities (Great Depression levels) and sisters leading heads of household at alarming rates, we need to get aggressive about a black economic-empowerment agenda that should not be dependent solely on what the government can or cannot do for us.

We have debated many times on op-ed pages around the country and on TV as pundits whether it is appropriate for us as black people to criticize the nation's first black president. My position as a journalist and commentator has always been that we should support our nation's presidents when they are correct and question them vigorously when they are not -- regardless of their color or political party affiliation.

A 2009 New York Times op-ed titled ''The Recession's Racial Divide'' by Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad began by asking the question, ''What do you get when you combine the worst economic downturn since the Depression with the first black president? A surge of white racial resentment, loosely disguised as a populist revolt.'' I think that in part their conclusion about the Tea Party may miss the larger issues of why the Tea Party exists in the first place. This is something black Americans need to consider carefully. To narrow it all down to race is a straw man that we should not buy into.

What struck me about this documentary most of all was the American Revolution segment and how average, hard-working men and women rebelled against the great British Empire, in large part because of oppressive taxes. The founders, all men of means (many of who owned slaves), risked their very lives and fortunes as ''traitors'' once they declared their "independence" from Great Britain in 1776. What I think we all miss is that the colonies rebelled against economic tyranny and oppression of individual freedom and liberties. This is a key takeaway that often gets lost in the modern Tea Party debate.

In the final analysis, I think we would all be wise to consider what Thomas Jefferson warned: "Every generation needs a new revolution." Does anyone among us really believe that government knows what is best for our lives? Does anyone among us really believe that paying more taxes will solve what is wrong with the poorest and least among us? Perhaps the African-American community needs to consider what we can do to secure our own economic wealth and our own individual liberties. Make no mistake -- we are in perilous times, and to sit by passively and do nothing in the face of such deprivation is against all that we as Americans stand for.

Sophia Nelson is a contributor to The Root.

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