Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tea Party Protests and A Birth of A Nation: Melissa Harris-Lacewell Explains

Photo: D.W. Griffith "The Birth of A Nation"
In an essay published in The Nation magazine, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, Melissa Harris-Lacewell has written of the actions of the Tea Party protesters this past weekend on the Capital Mall as the attacked members of Congress. During their passage between the House and the White House, members were called racial and homophobic pejoratives and even spat upon. One of the valley's members, Devin Nunez, responded by saying that people were so angry at the tyranny of the Democratic Party...a statement that I know will surely come back to haunt him. Liberal commentators have linked the actions of the protesters to the Civil Rights protesters of the 1960's, something that Harris-Lacewell cautions against, saying that:

"Crafting a metaphor that connects the civil rights movement and the bigoted language of this weekend's protesters is seductive. It seems so obvious given that Representative John Lewis plays a critical role in both."
"In 1965 Lewis was a disenfranchised protester fighting to be recognized as a full citizen. When he was beaten by the police, he was being attacked by the state. In 2010 Lewis is a long time, elected representative. When he is attacked by protesters, he is himself an agent of the state. This difference is critically important; not because it changes the fact that racism is present in both moments, but because it radically alters the way we should understand the meaning of power, protest and race."
"The state is the entity that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, force and coercion. If an individual travels to another country and kills its citizens, we call it terrorism. If the state does it, we call it war. If a man kills his neighbor it is murder; if the state does it is the death penalty. If an individual takes his neighbor's money, it is theft; if the state does it, it is taxation."
She raises the point that Congressman Lewis as an agent of the state, changes completely the dynamics of race in this issue. The Tea Party and other protesters are in effect saying that our government has no right to do what it is doing. According to Harris-Lacewell, they are saying that:
"This 1915 film [The Birth of A Nation] depicts the racist imagination currently at work in our nation as a black president first appoints a Latina Supreme Court Justice and then works with a woman Speaker of the House to pass sweeping national legislation. This bigotry assumes no such government could possibly be legitimate and therefore frames resistance against this government as a patriotic responsibility."
Again, I am always struck by the comments, and include several posted in response to her essay. The first, was breathtaking in displaying the individual's ignorance as he or she said
I'm not surprised that the reverse racist Ms Harris-Lacewell has it completely backwards.It was Obama and the Democrats that staged a coup last night against the constitution.
We are those who love our country and wish to restore the constitution that was trampled on last night.
The racism charges are a red herring designed to keep ignorant Americans unaware of what these Stalinists did last night.
Posted by antisocialist at 03/22/2010 @ 10:23pm
Bigotry lies at the heart of GOP politics for the past 42 years. Newt Gingrich as much as admitted this when he compared the passing of HCR to the passing of LBJ's '65 Civil Rights legislation, the seed for Nixon's southern strategy, i.e. the continuing GOP coded appeal to racism. The teabaggers are yet another good example of the corporate GOP's targets for appeals to bigotry when furthering aims inimical to the targets' real interests. Bigotry clouds judgment, that's the GOP's game, and what progressive critics are noting once again.
Posted by sloper at 03/22/2010 @ 10:45pm
Lacewell, "The Tea Party is a challenge to the legitimacy of the U.S. state. When Tea Party participants charge the current administration with various forms of totalitarianism, they are arguing that this government has no right to levy taxes or make policy. Many GOP elected officials offered nearly secessionist rhetoric from the floor of Congress this weekend. They joined as co-conspirators with the Tea Party protesters by arguing that this government has no monopoly on legitimacy."
The Tea Party is challenging the legitimacy of a Congress that would go against the wishes of the majority of Americans and ram an unwanted bill down their throats without the benefit of one republican vote. That says it all. There has never been a bill with such sweeping reform passed without a single opposition vote.
The Tea Party takes it's name from another rebellion against tyranny in Boston at the birth of our nation. This is no different.
The real conspirators this weekend were the union thugs who infiltrated the Tea Party ranks and shouted those slurs at the Congressmen. Even if it were actual Tea Partyers, they are to be condemned for those rants. There is no place in America for such language.
The very tone of your piece seems to laud a self-aggrandized ending of the so-called struggle of blacks since the Emancipation. When will be enough for you before the entire republic collapses?
Ms. Lacewell, your people will not be able to advance in this country on the scale that you would desire until they start to reject government largess and handouts in the name of phony repartions. The debt has been paid. The country is going bankrupt. The party is over. Encourage your people to develop a sense of responsibility and to stop having babies they can't pay for.
Posted by gunslinger1 at 03/23/2010 @ 12:57am

Most of the comments were supportive, but there were many like antisocial and gunslinger1 (do they realize what they say about themselves by the screen name they choose?). I included the comment by sloper as the media seem to be ignoring Newt Gingrich's equating health care reform to passage of the Civil Rights Act--both (in his mind) equally bad, no matter how much he has tried to walk it back since his initial comments.

In any case, an excellent article and one that should be read in its entirety which you can do here.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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