Change spurs fear in America

February 28, 2010


A few words on the meaning of tea.

They are occasioned by a recent commentary from Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. The commentary — you can find it on YouTube — scores the tea party movement as the outcry of people who haven’t yet made peace with the fact that their president is black. Everything else, said Olbermann, is euphemism. Taxes? Socialism? Budget deficit? No, he argued, when you strip away the pretenses and rationalizations, “it’s still racism,” and they hate the president only because he is black.

One is reminded of the 2008 campaign in which many of Barack Obama’s opponents insisted people only “supported” him because he was black.

It was an offensive claim, in that it assumed black was black was black and that people were so imbecilic that skin color — alone and of itself — was sufficient to win their votes. As if you could sub in rapper Flavor Flav and they would not care.

The truth, it always seemed to me, was more nuanced. People liked Obama’s policies, his eloquence, and his fierce intelligence and the fact that he was black, that his election would turn history on its ear, was a desirable bonus, but only that — icing on the cake, but not the cake itself.

I submit that a rough inverse of that dynamic now helps define the tea party movement.

Ask yourself: would we even be having this discussion if Condoleezza Rice were president? If Rice, Republican stalwart, conservative icon, and black woman were chief executive, would the first pot of tea ever have been brewed?

One suspects the average tea party participant would tell you emphatically, “no,” and that this “no” serves as his personal shield against charges of racism. How can I be racist, he would demand, when I know in my heart that I would’ve supported Condi to the max?

If you concede him that, then you have to ask yourself what it does to Olbermann’s contention that racism is the whole raison d’etre of the movement.

The answer leads us back again to nuance, albeit in mirror image. The tea party people distrust Obama’s policies, his eloquence, his fierce intelligence and the fact that he is black then becomes the final straw, the difference maker and deal breaker. To put that another way: I doubt most of the tea partiers hate Obama strictly because he is black, but it sure doesn’t help.

My point is not that Olbermann’s argument is wrong but, rather, that it is incomplete. Yes, race is obviously a component, and a major component at that, of the reaction against the president. The recurring use of racist imagery and language, the attendance at tea party events of a racist group like the so-called Council of Conservative Citizens, settles that definitively.

But ultimately, people seem moved by something even bigger than race. This is race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, “culture,” and the fact that those who have always been on the right side, the “power-wielding” side, of one or more of those equations, now face the realization that their days of dominance are numbered.

There is a poignancy to their responsive fury because one senses that the nether side of it is a choking fear. We are witness to the birth cries of a new America and for every one of us who embraces and celebrates that, who looks forward to the opportunity and inclusiveness it promises, there is another who grapples with a crippling sense of dislocation and loss, who wonders who and what she will be in the nation now being born.

One hopes they will find answers that satisfy them because the change they fear will not be turned back. No one ever volunteers to return to the rear of the bus.

So for all the frustration the tea party movement engenders among the rest of us, one also feels a certain pity for people like the woman last year who cried, plaintively, that she wanted her country back.

As if she didn’t realize that it is already, irrevocably, gone.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com


jaywalker 7 years, 8 months ago

Wow. This might be Pitts' worst column yet.

  • If you're a tea party protester you're a racist?.; way to lend credibility to Limbaugh's early claims that any dissension or disagreement w/ the new President will get one labeled a racist. Talk about a slippery slope.

  • If Condi would have run and won, the tea party protests would never have happened?; beg to differ there, Lenny. If Condi would have decided to print trillions out of thin air I'm confident the reaction would have been the same, only the size of the crowds would be larger because both parties would be sending protesters to city hall.

  • ," the attendance at tea party events of a racist group like the so-called Council of Conservative Citizens, settles that definitively"; Aaaah! Brilliant logic. An organization of bigots jumps at the opportunity to flaunt their twisted racial view-- and THAT is proof positive that the whole thing is racially motivated?!! So if proximity regardless of association is the measuring stick, does that ensure that the President is a racist radical due to his 20 year attendance at Wright's church? Ya know, I saw burning crosses in Virginia when I was in high school. Probably about 100 yards away from our car -- close enough to make me a racist?

PU, Lenny. Exceptionally weak.

texburgh 7 years, 8 months ago

Aside from the fact that jaywalker is reading stuff into Pitts' column that isn't there ("If you're a tea party protester you're a racist?" - Pitts actually takes issue with Olberman's assertion that it is all about race. He makes the point not that you're a racist but that race might be the last straw - a difference clearly way to subtle for the jaywalker) but most ridiculous is the continuing assertion that the deficit is here because Obama and the Democrats created it.

Note this line: "If Condi would have decided to print trillions out of thin air..."

Yes, Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress certainly bear responsibility for expanding the deficit. But get real. The deficit we have today was here when Obama took office. How convenient it is to forget the budget surplus of the Clinton years that was traded for massive pork-laden budgets of the Bush years and massive deficit-building through the moronic invasion of Iraq; a decision that is still costing us trillions with no end in sight.

Yes, Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have expanded it. I, for one, at least appreciate the fact that Obama's deficit spending is on the United States and in an attempt to stop economic freefall and keep people IN THE U.S working. You can have honest differences about bailing out the financial giants but you cannot turn a blind eye to the jobs that have been saved in education and infrastructure that would otherwise have gone away. And, of course, who's to know how bad things might have become if the financial giants had all perished.

If your are anti-deficit, then you are anti-Bush and anti-Republican.

Brent Garner 7 years, 8 months ago


Many of us were just as opposed to Mr. Bush's profligate spending as we are to Obama's. As for the deficit of today being there when Obama took office, I beg to differ. This president has spent more money in a shorter period of time and to less positive benefit than, it seems, any of his predecessors and this according to numerous articles on the topic. Therefore, this burgeoning deficit was not there when Obama took office but came into existence as a result of his and his party's actions.

Now, I will differ with you as well on your conclusion about whether or not Mr. Pitts brands all of us who oppose Obama as racists. Mr. Pitts writes "Yes, race is obviously a component, and a major component at that, of the reaction against the president." Let me assure you that my opposition to this Marxist in the White House has nothing to do with the color of his skin. I could not care one fig about what color a person's skin is. I do care a great deal about the ideas he or she espouses and pushes, particularly when that individual has the power to impose those ideas on the rest of us. Yet, according to Mr. Pitts, perhaps yourself, and many others with whom I have had this discussion, I am a racist. Why? Because, in the warped thinking abounding if you oppose a person who is black it has to be about that person's color not that person's ideas. Such warped thinking is illogical and wrong and, frankly, offensive.

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