The Tea Party was right. Long have they railed against government intrusion of our most basic liberties. They warned us all of the threat of legislative overreach infringing on fundamental rights of Americans. Little did we know how quickly we would morph into the USSR, where the KGB could stop people at any time and ask to see their papers. And those who fail to comply or don’t have the proper forms were thrown in jail. This isn’t some dystopian fantasy; this is Arizona.
A new law was put on the books last week when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act. It is now a misdemeanor in the state to not be able to prove that you are a US citizen when you are asked to by law enforcement. Police are now required to ask for this proof of citizenship if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that someone is not American. What exactly does an illegal immigrant looks like even the Governor doesn’t know, but I’m sure if she is pulled over repeatedly because of “suspicions” she would have no hesitation in handing over her ID.
In bold type, the Contract From America displays the main overarching goals of the Tea Party Movement: Individual Liberty and Limited Government. How eager would they be to pounce on such an egregious infringement of our freedom to simply walk down the street without being harassed by The Man. How foolish would I be if I actually believed this.
The Arizona Tea Party is actively sending counter-protesters to the capitol in support of the law.
Why? What is the disconnect between what they profess to stand up for and what they are really so angry about?
A hint comes from a couple of surveys of those who support the Tea Party Movement. It turns out that they are only a bit older, whiter, more educated and more economically well off than the rest of America. Also a lot more men than women join the group. This was surprising for many people who thought that the demographics between the members of the group and the rest of the nation would be much greater. Some thought that maybe they were hurting financially and the Tea Party gave them an outlet for their frustrations. But as a whole they look not too different from the rest of America and have a bit more in the bank.
The biggest difference between the Tea Party and the rest of America comes from a survey done by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity. They have discovered that even after controlling for partisanship and ideology, Tea Partiers were 25% more likely to hold racial resentments than others. That means that Tea Partiers are 25% more likely to have negative racial attitudes than Republicans or conservatives! The Newsweek column on the study gives some examples from the survey:
When read the statement that “if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites,” 73 percent of the movement’s supporters agreed, while only 33 percent of people who disapproved of the Tea Party agreed. Asked if blacks should work their way up “without special favors,” as the Irish, Italians, and other groups did, 88 percent of supporters agreed, compared to 56 percent of opponents. The study revealed that Tea Party enthusiasts were also more likely to have negative opinions of Latinos and immigrants.
So when choosing between their professed belief of Freedom and Liberty and their racial attitudes, bigotry wins.
“Government intrusion,” “lower taxes,” “socialism/fascism,” “reckless government spending,” “where’s the birth certificate,” “take our country back”? These are the phrases spoken when it becomes socially unacceptable to say “I’m very uncomfortable that the president of the United States is a black person and I’m afraid that people who look and act like me will be removed to the margins of society.”
One more thought: The way that Tea Party protests have taken place have left a bad taste in my mouth that I couldn’t quite understand until I read this thought experiment by Tim Wise. Here’s an excerpt although the whole thing is worth reading:
Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protesters — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.
And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.