Perhaps it was all lost in the headline-dominating trial of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, but I am surprised, and more than a little concerned about the growing racist pronouncements from tea party advocates, especially as they relate to immigration reform.
Tea party supporters have gotten a bad rap by some who would lump them all into one large bucket and label them racist. As with any case when you stereotype entire groups, that premise is false. But while all tea partiers are not racist, there are a lot of racists who call themselves tea party supporters. It's a problem that has plagued the group for years. In 2010, Newsweek reported on a poll that showed that, as a whole, people who approve of the tea party have more racist attitudes than those who don't approve of the tea party.
Specifically, Newsweek wrote in an April 9, 2010, article, "Only 35 percent of those who strongly approve of the tea party agreed that blacks are hardworking, compared with 55 percent of those who strongly disapprove of the tea party. On whether blacks were intelligent, 45 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 59 percent of the tea-party opponents. And on the issue of whether blacks were trustworthy, 41 percent of the tea-party supporters agreed, compared with 57 percent of the tea-party opponents."
The survey shows that even outside the tea party there are many who hold racist views.
But more inside the tea party have racist views, and things haven't changed much since 2010. In fact, they appear to be getting worse.
Last month at a rally against immigration reform, Ken Crow, co-founder of the Tea Party Community, delivered a speech which included the statement: "From those incredible blood lines of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and John Smith. And all these great Americans, Martin Luther King. These great Americans who built this country. You came from them. And the unique thing about being from that part of the world, when you learn about breeding, you learn that you cannot breed Secretariat to a donkey and expect to win the Kentucky Derby. You guys have incredible DNA and don't forget it."
Even though a video of the speech is available online, the incident was reported only sporadically in a few national media outlets, or "lame-stream media" as tea partiers often quip. I don't think that most devoted tea party followers believe they are the Secretariats of the world and immigrants are the "donkey." But no one has stood up to condemn the remarks.
In a second display of overtly racist attitudes, Iowa Rep. and tea party darling Steve King made the statement about immigrants that, "For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."
To his credit, House Speaker John Boehner denounced King for his statement.
"I want to be clear, there is no place in this debate for hateful or ignorant comments from elected officials," Boehner said at a press conference. "Earlier this week, Rep. Steve King made comments that were, I think, deeply offensive and wrong. What he said does not reflect the values of the American people or the Republican Party."
What he said does not reflect the values of the tea party, either, at least the values of most of those who are just looking for smaller, less intrusive government and see our government as out of control. Yet there the statement is, without one condemnation from anyone in the group.
The tea party group is also famous for its often uttered comments about "taking back our country." The between the lines connotation in racist circles is taking it back from a black president.
President Barack Obama felt compelled, after the Zimmerman verdict, to throw in his two cents on the topic of racial attitudes in the country. But he hasn't said anything about the years of racist vitriol that has been thrown his way during his term in office.
Tea party supporters stomp their feet and cry foul whenever anyone brings up the topic of racists in their group. There are racists everywhere, they say, and they are right. But there is a far bigger concentration of them in this group, or at least there is a bigger concentration of them who aren't afraid to shout their racist views out loud, in public settings.
Those who would call the tea party a racist group are wrong. You cannot stereotype an entire group by the actions of a few. At the same time, the fact that these types of racist views go unchallenged among those who call themselves tea partiers would suggest an acceptance of the view that, on some level anyway, suggests they believe we are not created equal, contrary to what our own Constitution says.
We've come a long way since the days of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in improving relations among and between all races. But Steve King, Crow and others illustrate every day that we have a long, long way to go.