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White Racial Resentment Bubbles Under the Surface of the Tea Party Movement


The simmering movement is the whitest phenomenon on the national scene, evident not just in its Caucasian numbers but in the bedrock beliefs stirring its anti-government contempt.

February 5, 2010 |
Editor’s Note: Rich Benjamin’s commentary on the underlying “white grievance” currents in the Tea Party movement were buttressed Thursday by the statements of Republican Tom Tancredo, the opening speaker at the Tea Party convention. Tancredo told attendees that President Barack Obama was elected because “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country,” an allusion to how Southern states used literacy tests as part of an effort to deny suffrage to African American voters before the civil rights era.

The Tea Party movement, holding its first convention this weekend, is angling to be the most revolutionary force in American politics in name and in deed, since at least the 1960s counterculture. Only this time, the political insurgents command a party of Flour Power, not flower power.

The simmering movement is the whitest phenomenon on the national scene, evident not just in the millions of Caucasians committed to its cause, but in the bedrock beliefs stirring its anti-government contempt.

How fitting, therefore, that Sarah Palin keynote the movement’s first organized confab. Neglected in all the fevered conversation around the movement’s meteoric rise, and Palin’s selection, is any useful reflection on what the cause and this figurehead stand for: white racial resentment. Packed beneath her beehive is a spitfire brew of optimistic, yet aggrieved whiteness. Palin embodies a bizarre, sometimes alluring, combination of triumph and complaint that many Caucasian Tea Partiers identify with through and through.

Deciphering the racial codes on the movement’s ubiquitous placards does not require a doctorate in semiotics. One popular sign shows the president’s face and a caption: “Undocumented worker.” Another combines Obama’s image with this caption: “The Zoo Has an African Lion and the White House Has a Lyin’ African!”

Aside from the festive, ad hominem attacks against President Obama, the Tea Party’s leaders and its rank-and-file rarely mention race in debate, instead tucking it just under the surface of “nonracial” issues like health care reform, public spending, immigration, and pointedly, taxes.

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