E.D. Kain protests the sometimes elitist dismissals of tea-party folks, and -- as Jamelle Bouie points out -- some of what he says is fair. But Kain sets up an either/or dichotomy. Either you believe the tea partiers have valid concerns, or you think they're racists. Both ignore the possibility that the tea partiers' have concerns that sound valid and aren't explicitly racist, but are rooted in a history that is. Kain writes:
Is it possible that people in general have simply been more in control over their own destinies in the past, making most of their decisions at a local or state level? Then, as the federal government becomes increasingly stronger and more pervasive, that local and community control becomes more and more diminished? This isn’t a question of power over others, then, but one of power over ourselves.
But what Jamelle argues against, and what I co-sign on, is how Kain ignores the racist underpinning in local determinism:
But for all the sympathy I have for rural whites and E.D.’s defense of them, I think he is really understating — and even ignoring — the ugly prejudices and resentment that underly rural anger. There is a deep paranoia about minorities among older, rural conservatives. This might not be “racism,” per say, but it is a belief that minorities aren’t “American” in the same way as them and theirs. “Taking America back” — especially in light of rhetoric like this — means more than stopping liberals, it means making America more familiar. Which is to say, whiter.
It's pretty hard to argue that Tom Tancredo wasn't being racist when he spoke at the Tea Party Convention, where he said, "People who could not even spell the word 'vote', or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. His name is Barack Hussein Obama." But that doesn't mean that the use of such overtly racist language, when it rises to the surface, is the only time race comes into play. Conservatives have become really good at ignoring how central the concern of preserving slavery was in implementing strong states' rights in the first place, and how playing on racist fears has become tied up in anti-federal government rhetoric. Kain says that parents who don't want to have the federal government involved in what their kids learn in school is a valid concern, but he doesn't say why parents might object to the federal government, whose members they elect, being involved as opposed to, say, teacher's colleges, textbook writers, or state governments.
I don't want to suggest poor rural whites are thoughtless automatons incapable of seeing their true interests and subject to the evil machinations of politicians. But I also think the vision of a noble working class in middle America, whose feelings get hurt by arguments from liberals and who just want freedom, is just as condescending. Kain seems to be suggesting that all liberals simply dismiss the tea partiers' complaints because they think they're racist rednecks, but I think what most are doing is questioning their motivations for harboring such anger. And the view that the tea party is a movement that truly address their grievances is naive.
It also suggests that just because individuals within the movement don't harbor racism in their hearts or aren't actively racist in their individual lives, the effects of what they advocate, removing federal government protections, can't be racist in practice.
As Jamelle says:
Since the 1960s, by and large, the “control” localities have lost to the federal government is the power to ostracize and push aside marginal members of their communities.
-- Monica Potts
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