Its déjà vu all over again as the mainstream media trumpet the ascent of the so-called tea party movement. In its rush to frame the recent victory of Republican State Senator Scott Brown in the Massachusetts Senate race as a tea party triumph mainstream media have given more ammo to the politics of racial hysteria. Last fall’s health care reform inspired outburst of anti-Obama anti-government hysteria officially inaugurated a return to the in-your-face “populism” of angry white men. Thinly disguised as saber rattling against big government, race-baiting propaganda has been revitalized as the Republican strategy for taking back the country. A bolded asterisk should be stamped on these tired broadsides, as big government never includes defense, domestic law enforcement, prisons, functioning stoplights or pothole free roads for ozone shredding SUVs.
Instead of critiquing the real roots of these spasms of white supremacist “reclamation,” mainstream and even some liberal-progressive media have largely parroted the view that there was some new and unprecedented backlash in Massachusetts. Head scratching pundits counsel Democrats to “listen” to the sentiments of the tea baggers and stop parodying them as ignorant philistines. Yet Massachusetts state Attorney General Martha Coakley was simply a weak candidate. Like most Democrats she took the support of black and Latino constituencies for granted and failed to do the campaign trench work required to win election. Kowtowing or trying to “understand” the motives of a narrow segment of the Massachusetts electorate simply legitimizes a long strain of American politics that dates all the way back to Strom Thurmond's twenty-four hour filibuster against the 1957 Civil Rights Bill.
If a really dumb space alien landed in the middle of a tea party protest they wouldn't need a decoder ring to tell them what the demographic “411” is when it comes to power and privilege in the United States. Before Massachusetts, so-called disaffected white independents were only one slimy teabag away from their “birther” brethren. In the 2008 campaign Obama won a mere 43% of the white vote, greater than either Gore in 2000 or Kerry in 2004, but miniscule when considering the carnage left by the Bush administration. As historians have noted, the Democrat Party has never recovered from the mass exodus of whites after the passage of the 1964 Civil and 1965 Voting Rights Acts. Hence, the post-racialism which conservatives tout as an outcome of Obama’s election has simply never been borne out in the numbers.
On the black side of Flat Earth, black conservatives valiantly uphold this dramatic tradition of casting the universe as one giant self-reflection. Recently, in commemoration of King's birthday, African American commentators were trotted out on MSNBC and NPR to assess the nation's racial climate. Questioned by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews during a race roundtable John McWhorter, a pundit at the conservative Manhattan Institute, proclaimed his love of segregation, noting that it's a good thing—Cleveland, Philadelphia, D.C., Detroit, Milwaukee, Baltimore and South Los Angeles aside—when black people live together. On NPR conservative watchdog Joe Hicks swaggeringly boasted that he could go anywhere in the country without fear of legal barrier, reminding the listening audience that King probably would have opposed affirmative action had he been alive today.
Like their white counterparts, black conservatives hew faithfully to Ronald Reagan’s old caveat that facts are “stupid things.” On the phenomenon of lending discrimination against homebuyers and homeowners of color they can't be bothered to read decades of research documenting the institutional basis for segregation. On the issue of African American over-incarceration they point to black matriarchs like the fictitious Mary Johnson of the film Precious and baggy pants wearing young black males. Over-incarceration is merely a symptom of poor blacks' refusal to assimilate. Similarly, the fact that blacks and Latinos are more likely to live in areas that are environmentally toxic, with little access to healthy shopping alternatives is really just evidence of their failure to learn how to say “ask” instead of “axe” in order to take advantage of all the higher paying private sector jobs that would spring them from the ghetto.
The conservative tradition of cultural and historical illiteracy is now a permanent and defining part of the political landscape. Due to its influence the general tenor of the country is proudly unabashedly hostile to evidence and documentation. Global warming is a liberal conspiracy. Evolution is cultural propaganda and any research-based evidence is deeply suspect. The Supreme Court's recent ruling giving corporations free reign to influence peddle and steal elections have liberated them from “second class citizenship.” The Fox regime’s scant coverage on Haiti, coupled with “Boss” Limbaugh’s reduction of the nation’s mammoth death toll, destruction and human suffering to a money pit exacerbated by too much global welfare, is bolstered by the witch-hunting moral authority of Pat Robertson. The media’s new love affair with the tea party phenomenon is entirely in service to a racist narrative in which capitalism and imperialism are endangered and the white electorate is the underdog minority. In the hype of the old its 1995 all over again, and the militia are massing at the gate.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and the author of the forthcoming book Moral Combat: Black Atheism, Gender Politics and Secular America.