Denying the racist factor doesn't make it less true

So it turns out that, contrary to what I argued in this space a few weeks back, racism is not "a major component" of the so-called tea party movement. I am informed of this by dozens of tea party activists indignant and insulted that I would even suggest such a thing.

In other news, tea party protesters called John Lewis a "nigger" the other day in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

For the record, Lewis wasn't their only target.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver was spat upon.

Rep. Barney Frank, who is gay, was called "faggot."

But it is Lewis' involvement that gives the Saturday incident its bittersweet resonance. The 70-year-old representative from Georgia is, after all, among the last living icons of the Civil Rights Movement. Or, as Lewis himself put it, "I've faced this before."

Indeed. He faced it in Nashville in 1960 when he was locked inside a whites-only fast-food restaurant and gassed by a fumigation machine for ordering a hamburger.

He faced it in Montgomery in 1961 when a group of Freedom Riders was attacked and he was knocked unconscious for riding a Greyhound bus.

Most famously, he faced it on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 45 years ago this month when his skull was fractured by Alabama state troopers who charged a group of demonstrators seeking their right to vote.

In the very arc of his life, Lewis provides a yardstick for measuring American progress. The fact that he rose from that bridge to become a member of Congress says something about this country. But the fact that people demonstrating against health-care reform chose to chant at him, "Kill the bill, nigger!" well, that says something, too.

Which is why tea party leaders have spent much of the last few days spinning the incident, deflecting renewed suggestions that their stated fears — socialism, communism, liberalism — are just proxies for the one fear most of them no longer dare speak. Some even faxed the McClatchy Newspapers news bureau in Washington to suggest, without offering a shred of evidence, that the episode was sparked by Democratic plants within the crowd.

Amy Kremer, coordinator of the Tea Party Express, went on Fox News to dismiss what she called an "isolated" incident. Your first instinct may be to cede the benefit of the doubt on that one. It seems unfair to tar nine reasonable people with the hateful behavior of one lunatic.

But ask yourself: when is the last time organizers of protests on other hot-button issues — say, abortion rights or globalization — had to apologize for "isolated incidents" like these?

Moreover, given how often tea party leaders have been forced to disavow hateful signs and slogans and even the presence of organized white supremacist groups in their midst, is it really fair to use the word "isolated"?

Is there not a rottenness here? And is not the unwillingness to call that rottenness by name part and parcel of the reason it endures?

No, my argument is emphatically not that every American who opposes health-care reform is a closet Klansman. Certainly, people can have earnest and honest disagreements about that.

But by the same token, as these "isolated" incidents mount, as the venom and the vitriol increase to the point where even proxy words no longer suffice, it insults intelligence to deny that race is in the mix.

Not that the denial surprises.

Often we tell ourselves lies to spare ourselves truths. Had you asked them, the people who locked John Lewis inside that restaurant, the ones who mauled him at that bus station and smashed him down on that bridge, would not have said they acted from a rottenness within.

No, like the ones who called him "nigger" half a century later, they would have told you they were good people fighting for principle, trying to save this country from the liberals, the socialists and the communists.

They would not have said they were racists. Racists never do.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His e-mail address is: Leonard Pitts will be chatting with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT on

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 's picture

Unacceptable? Sure!

"Name calling is unacceptable" she wrote as she decried the low iq's, mildly retarded southern stock and all those birthers and baggers among the ranks of those with whom she disagrees.  This is why we don't trust Progressives when they say they've found the formula for utopia and if we low iq types would just let them control our lives, we'd be soooo happy.  You guys have nothing but contempt for our values, our ideas and our very existences!  Trust you lot with my health care?  Uh-uh!  

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Where in his post did the

Where in his post did the Pirate name call, spit and get violent?

 's picture

Technical Q

How did you get your spiffy skull/cb's icon to stick?  I use Safari and an Apple lapper and have some small level of proficiency with the beast but haven't figured out this one yet.  Thanks.  (And when does national "Post Like A Pirate" day come around this year?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

skull icon

"all I did was do the 'old copy and paste. I found the icon on Google Images." said the Pirate's woman. Hope this helps you.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Pirate blushingly states,

The Pirate blushingly states, "Me woman set it up for me while I was at sea, although, if you ask the parrot, he'll tell you he set it up".  I'll try to find out what she did and get back to you on that.

National "Post like a Pirate" day is any day we want it to be; that's why they call us pirates.

 's picture

Pirate Prattle

And if me peg leg weren't jammed into the bleedin' scupper, I'd rise and show meself a bit more respectful for all the help ye be givin' me in my thick-skulled ignorance.  As it is, I'll be tippin' me hat to yer woman and givin' her advice a trial run.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Hope it all works for you.

Hope it all works for you. I'll express your response to her; she'll be aglow with delight at her ability to shed cyber light on us blokes.

 's picture

Threatening the lives of Bush

Finished watching Beck today–again. (I know, bad habit!)  Saw extensive video footage of leftist protests to Bush that included effigies of the guy being hung, given a Hitler moustache and etc.  Those leftists went on protracted vicious hate-fests that DID get videotaped for posterity . . . unlike the largely (methinks) phoney claims by today's Democrats of TeaParty rhetorical excess.  Have we had any conservative riots yet? No?  Oh course not!  Rehearse the persistent string of leftist trashings and riotings in the last ten years if you want to see what real violence looks like.  Again, gotta say: Beck got it right–former frustrated street radicals now have power in the present Administration; they want to demonize their conservative opposition by relegating them to powerlessness in the streets.  Frankly, not willing to take the bait.

Your posting starts out with some substance to argue and chew on but quickly sinks back to the turgid mix of slurs and insults that pass for dialog and reason in progressive circles . . . lower iq this . . . mildly-retarded-southerner that . . . .birther/baggers bringing up the rear.  You fit right in with the general Progressive Slur Campaign that seeks to goad the right into behaving like they used to when they were in the streets trying to destroy the country.  Now they have power at last, wear ties and have a serious opportunity to ruin America.  They can pretend to live above the shabby fray as long as you and yours will do their bidding in the trenches.

I won't accept demonization lightly and I have no plans to accommodate you by being anything but as spot on accurate and reasonable as I can manage.  Unless you intend incitement, how about you doing your bit, too, to avoid gratuitous insults and soul-satisfying slurs as we both speak truth to power.  Change the climate one posting at a time, my dear AllarieLarsen!

PS:  I have read lately about England and their Civil War-royalists/parliamentarians, roundheads and cavaliers etc.  Nasty business.  The violent passions of that bygone era feel very similar to the passions that choke us now.  I hope we here in America of 2010 do not follow Old England's sad trajectory of hatred and violence.

 's picture

Those Awful Conservative Protesters!

LP proposes the existence of a list of vague "proxy" words which he further alleges represent the one fear conservatives no longer dare speak (high cholesterol? erectile dysfunction?).  Man, that oughta tell an alert reader lots right there.  If these guys have to resort to 'proxy' words, they obviously have nothing of substance on anybody's iPhone camera worth the broadcasting and they've got several years worth of large scale opportunities to winnow and harvest.  Next to nothing!

I watched several videos of Pelosi et al ('et al', of course, obviously inserted as a transparent proxy for people of a certain color whose very existence I reportedly fear.) and their historic (lol) March on the House.  I can't see ANY extraneous crowd of hecklers,  just reporters and empty stretches of sidewalk in the videos.  The only voices I hear come from breathless reporters gushing about the symbolism of NP's giant gavel and the arm-in-arm formation.  Gimme a break!

Watched Beck last night; he nailed the whole process:  Radicals newly arrived in the seats of power want to press conservatives into the subordinate, despised roles they snuck out of.  Call us names, slur our characters enough and, didn't Joseph Goebbels tell us about Big Lies Repeated Often Enough?  LP fits right in with this crowd.  

Leonard, my friend, keep conflating that list of yours with every breathless echo of alleged victimhood cooked up by this radical crowd and their friends in the media.  Let your eyes fondle each entry as if it were another bead on an unholy rosary.  I KNOW why I oppose Obama, Democrats and Progressively minded useful idiots (technical term attributed to V. Lenin for those whose service to Bolshevism would ultimately earn them lockdown in a labor camp).  My opposition to Progressivism has NOTHING to do with the color of anyone's skin. These folks work to destroy America and turn her into Amerika (Old SDS spelling)!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Oh, Barbara, do you even know

Oh, Barbara, do you even know what "teabagger" means?

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

You got that right..

You got that right..

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Pitts is indulging in his

Pitts is indulging in his usual and customary race baiting technique. So, a white (presumably) Tea Party participant allegedly calls John Lewis a "nigger" and that's supposed to set the world off it's axis. Until blacks stop calling each other "nigger" it's pretty hard for the rest of us to take them seriously about it being offensive. It is or it isn't. Can't go both ways.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Are those more important than

Are those more important than the black man being called "nigger"? Or the Tea Party participants being called the sexually derogative term, "Teabaggers"? Or, the despicable names that Limbaugh, Palin, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, Bush Cheney have been called. Are those o.k.? It all goes around, T.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The Pirate (and the parrot)

The Pirate (and the parrot) always enjoy Scotty-O's perspective.


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