To the surprise of some, Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have pushed attention away from the recent NAACP resolution condemning racism within the Tea Party Movement. Instead, they've asked that the nation focus on jobs and the economic recovery effort.
At the NAACP national convention this week, held in Kansas City, Jackson had this to say:
"We will not be diverted or otherwise distracted by any other message except putting America back to work," Jackson said a day after convention delegates approved the resolution. "We want jobs and justice and peace."
Sharpton had his own words about the Tea Party:
"They talk about restoring dignity. They are really talking about restoring a time before the federal government intervened and protected the rights of people," Sharpton said. "There clearly are some racial leaves in their tea bag," Sharpton said. "But this is not just about race. It is about how you see government."
The NAACP resolution, approved this week, calls for Tea Party activists to "repudiate the racist element and activities" of the organization. Tea Party spokesperson Mark Williams told the Associated Press that the NAACP was just "race-baiting and fear-mongering." He seems to believe that the organization's allegations are completely unfounded:
"I'm not surprised they are jumping into the fray here, because the NAACP just tapped a Gulf oil well full of cash contributions that will arrive from this resolution," Williams said. "And I know Al and Jesse want their piece of it. The slave traders of the 16th century should have been as good at exploiting Africans as these people are, because it's just disgusting."
I wish I could give you a complete take on why the NAACP felt the need to pass a resolution condemning Tea Party racism. My speculation is that its goal is to weaken the group's appeal before the midterm elections by putting it on the defensive. It's quite clear that there are some within the Tea Party who seem to push for ideas and legislation that would move the racial time clock backward, but it is difficult to make the entire organization responsible for those who are the most extreme.
By putting the Tea Party Express on its heels and making it confront racism within its ranks, the NAACP achieves the goal of getting the organization to condemn a portion of its membership and take a less-aggressive stance. Perhaps this is the reverse of the "Sister Souljah Moment," similar to the 1992 incident in which Bill Clinton criticized Jackson and Rainbow Push for their affiliation with the controversial hip-hop artist.
The Tea Party Express must hold itself accountable for the activities of its membership, but I am certainly surprised that the NAACP felt this issue was even worth its time.
I cannot say for sure why Jackson and Sharpton are distancing themselves from the NAACP resolution. At the very least, I am in agreement with the fact that they are focusing on jobs, which matters far more than the activities of the Tea Party. Additionally, the NAACP has made its position on the Tea Party clear, so there is no point in Jackson and Sharpton beating that same political drum. I also suspect that the Obama administration wishes to keep racial issues under the rug, since the last thing it needs is for America to remember that Obama is black.
It does appear to be the case that labeling the Tea Party membership as racists likely strikes a chord with the organization. By being labeled in such a way, its appeal to moderate Republicans is going to keep dropping. Personally, I would consider the Tea Party to be a populist fad gone bad that won't be around for the next election. But then again, that's just my two cents.
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Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a Scholarship in Action resident of the Institute for Black Public Policy. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered to your e-mail, please click here.