See why the angry, largely white grassroots movement appeals to them (and why Uncle Tom was a hero).
Charles Butler, a black, Chicago-based conservative talk show host, has been in shouting matches and called a traitor to his race because of his affiliation with the largely white Tea Party movement.
Lloyd Marcus, a black, Orlando, Fla.-based, conservative folk singer who wears a black panama hat, leather vest, white shirt and black pants, has been described as a minstrel, a buck dancer and a boot licker because he performs at Tea Party events, he said.
No matter. Butler and Marcus said they are used to getting flak over their membership to the nascent grassroots Tea Party movement. Members of the movement are raising vociferous opposition to issues that they believe are stunting the growth of America: Rising unemployment, expanding taxes, uncontrolled government spending and a mushrooming federal government.
Butler and Marcus are not completely alone in their march to the Tea Party movement. Scores of blacks and other people of color have joined it, though just how many is unknown. But it's clear they are in the minority. The latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows that the 18 percent of Americans who are members of the fledgling movement tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.
Why Uncle Tom Was a Hero
Butler said he is a member because his hometown leader, President Barack Obama, is offering the wrong solutions to the nation's problems. He is very vocal about it on "The Other Side with Charles Butler,'' which airs weekday evenings on Chicago's WVON, 1690-AM and has been on the air since 2007. Within the next several weeks, Butler plans to host a Tea Party on Chicago's South Side, Obama's old stomping grounds.
Charles Butler (Photo by Lynette Holloway)
Noticing that the Tea Party movement has flourished under Obama, some on the left have accused blacks like Butler and Marcus of being pawns in an odious, racist attempt to block the president's success. Indeed, racial animosity reared its ugly head when some people hurled racial epithets at black elected officials during a protest of health care reform.
Butler is unfazed. "I'm involved in the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party because I feel that people should be able to express themselves and their values without a filter of some other group," he said, holding court during an interview with The Root as if he were on air. "People call you a traitor. They call you all kinds of disparaging names. I couldn't care less about being called an Uncle Tom, because again, that leads to the miseducation of the Negro. Anyone who has read the book by Harriet Beecher Stowe would know that Uncle Tom was a hero. We have a lot of those fallacies going on in the community, like the Democratic Party has helped black folk. That is patently untrue."
Butler does not hesitate to turn racially charged rhetoric on other blacks. When a Tea Party protester tried to interrupt a meeting last year, which was attended by Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee: "I told him, 'We're not having any of this [N-word] [expletive] today,'' he recalled. He was widely criticized for his language, he said. But he said the protestor was out of line.
Butler, who grew up middle-class in Pontiac, Mich. (his father worked at a Pontiac General Motors plant) has been a political operative in the Republican Party for over 25 years. A graduate from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Butler said he canvassed for votes on campus for Richard M. Nixon's presidential campaign in 1972.
The GOP 'Defended' Civil Rights
He said the Republican Party represents the core values of most blacks more so than the Democratic Party. "When it comes to black people and how we participate in the political and social practice, we're conservative,'' he said. "The myth of President John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt is greatly exaggerated compared to Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon, who I consider great civil rights leaders.''
"[Slain civil rights leader] Dr. [Martin Luther] King had a number of things to say about JFK and his promise to use the signature of a pen to eliminate discrimination while appointing Southern segregationist judges to the federal bench for life,'' Butler said. "Republicans have never gotten the credit they deserve for defending civil rights.''
Butler also said the Democratic social welfare policies of Roosevelt and Kennedy negatively affected black people then and continue to affect blacks today.
Lloyd Marcus, a longtime black conservative from Orlando, Fla., agrees. He said Democrats are focused on keeping blacks thinking they are victims and dependent on social welfare. "They should be upholding [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas, and [former Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice, [both Republicans] as shining examples of doing the right thing and working hard for their achievements.''
Singing the Tea-Party Blues
Marcus has attended 150 Tea Party Express events across the nation from Washington to California and was a fixture at events on Tax Day. He is best-known for his "Tea Party Anthem.'' The first stanza is: "Mr. President! Your stimulus is sure to bust/ It's just a socialist scheme/ The only thing it will do is kill the American Dream.''
The song and other performances have garnered fiery criticism from liberals and Democrats, said Marcus, whose towering presence is hard to miss at the tea parties. He said many opponents have written him passionate hate mail. Yet, he continues to perform the anti-Obama song, which he wrote out of unmitigated disappointment.
"President Obama got 96 percent of the black vote,'' Marcus said. "I am convinced that most voted for him because he is black and didn't care what he was gonna do when he got into the Oval Office. That was a racist decision on their part. Now, simply because we are standing up and saying we don't want universal health care rammed down our throats, they are calling us racist. That is wrong.''
Marcus began attending Tea Party gatherings about a year ago. At first, he would spy about two blacks in the crowd, he said. Now, he sees up to 50. In talks with them, he learned that many are entrepreneurs. Some are former members of the military, he said, who have witnessed the negative effects of socialism in some countries abroad, he said.
"I am talking about ending social welfare for everyone, white and black,'' Marcus said. "Sure people will need a hand up sometimes, but to put people from cradle-to-grave support is evil. It doesn't allow them to blossom the way they should.''
Confessions of a Boot-Strapper
Marcus' conservative leaning began at an early age. Decades ago, he grew up in a gleaming, new housing project in Baltimore, Md. But he saw it decimated and ghettoized by ungrateful tenants, he said.
"They had no ownership,'' he said of the tenants, which turned him off of the idea of social welfare. "Here you had these folks getting all of this free health care and housing, yet they were angry and bitter.''
He said his family was rescued from the housing project when his father broke the color barrier to become one of the first blacks to enter the Baltimore Fire Department.
"When he became a fireman, it afforded my family [the ability] to move out of the projects,'' he said. "The bulk of my cousins never left the projects. They were involved in drugs and crime and became serial impregnators [creating] children they were not fathers to.''
He is in the midst of writing his memoir, Confessions of a Black Conservative, he said, which will detail his move toward conservatism. Incidentally, he was a colleague of Oprah Winfrey at WJZ-TV in Baltimore, he said.
While the Tea Party movement may never evolve into a political party, Marcus said, it is a rallying call for the major parties to listen to the body politic, especially Republican and conservative voices. He, like Butler, believes more blacks will be drawn away from the Democratic Party, as Obama administration initiatives such as health care reform and "cap and trade" policies begin to negatively affect Americans.
"I have been interviewed all over the world and asked why there aren't a lot of blacks in the Tea Party,'' Marcus said, "And what it should do to attract more blacks and women. I tell them, 'What it's doing right now.' We don't need to pander to blacks or women. I think we have too much identity politics. We are all Americans, and politicians need to deal with us accordingly."
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.