Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), upset with high rates of unemployment in black communities, had some testy exchanges with a member of the Obama administration on Monday night. Some members even accused the Tea Party of racism. A new Gallup poll highlights the nation is divided along racial lines and on the proper role of the government in combating race discrimination.
CBC members were in Miami as part of a Jobs Fair and Town Hall tour that is taking place in four cities across the nation. Don Graves, executive director of the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, represented the Obama administration during a panel discussion with members of the CBC.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has made headlines in recent weeks over comments directed at the Tea Party and the administration, scolded Graves for his use of imprecise language after Graves said that there are “folks who are going to stand in the way and block the legislation that the Congressional Black Caucus has proposed.”
“What people are you talking about?” Waters interrupted. “Say Tea Party. Say it!”
“It was Tea Party Republicans,” Graves reluctantly replied. But he added, “The president is focused on every community across the country," though "certain communities have been harder than other communities."
At which point, Waters interrupted again to say, “Let me hear you say 'black.'”
The crowd cheered Waters as Graves answered, “Black, African-American, Latino, these communities have been hard hit.”
Some in the CBC have criticized the administration's approach of trying to aid all communities who have faced stiffer challenges during the recession and want aid targeted to black communities. “A bunch of bull,” is how Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) described the Obama administration's approach.
At a similar event in Atlanta last week, Waters said, “As far as I'm concerned, the Tea Party can go straight to hell!”
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson also criticized the Tea Party Movement on Monday night.
“Let us all remember who the real enemy is. The real enemy is the Tea Party. The Tea Party holds the Congress hostage. They have one goal in mind, and that's to make President Obama a one-term president,” Wilson said.
Rev. Jackson went even further by comparing the Tea Party Movement to those who favored slavery in the 1800s and those who favored institutionalized racism during the 1960s. The Tea Party should be called the “Fort Sumter Tea Party that sought to maintain states' rights and slavery," he said, referring to the South Carolina fort where the first battle of the Civil War was fought.
"The Tea Party is a new name on an old game. Dr. King fought a 'Tea Party' in Alabama ... He had no weapons, but he confronted the Tea Party," Jackson added.
Jackson was likely influenced by a Salon article which argued that since 63 percent of the Tea Party Caucus is from the South, and none of its members are from New England, it must be inherently racist.
“It should be called the Fort Sumter movement, after the Southern attack on the federal garrison in Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12-13, 1861, that began the Civil War,” Salon’s Michael Lind writes. “Today's Tea Party movement is merely the latest of a series of attacks on American democracy by the white Southern minority, which for more than two centuries has not hesitated to paralyze, sabotage or, in the case of the Civil War, destroy American democracy in order to get their way.”
Whether the Tea Party movement is inherently racist or not has been a topic of debate since the movement began. Racist signs appeared at many of the Tea Party rallies, and some social science studies have detected racism among some of the movement’s supporters.
Some Tea Party leaders, on the other hand, have tried to distance themselves from the racist image by expelling some groups from their ranks and removing those who bring racist signs to events. Additionally, some politicians who have gained Tea Party support are racial minorities, such as presidential candidate Herman Cain, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Governor Nikki Hailey (R-S.C.). Indeed, Scott and West would be included in the 63 percent of Southerners in the Tea Party Caucus that Lind believes proves that the Tea Party is racist.
A recent Gallup poll shows strong disagreement between whites and blacks in the United States over the proper role of government in combating race-based economic disparities and discrimination.
When asked what role government should play in trying to improve the economic and social conditions of racial minorities, 59 percent of blacks answered “major role” and 50 percent of whites answered “minor role.” When asked if new laws are needed to reduce discrimination against blacks, 52 percent of blacks answered “yes” and 83 percent of whites answered “no.”
The poll was conducted on August 4-7, 2011, with a random sample of 1,319 adults in the United States. The margin of error is +/- 4 percent.