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Racism in the Tea Party must end

Benjamin Todd Jealous | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

It is unfortunate that at a time when our nation is enduring one of the most devastating downturns in our economy since the Great Depression, when people across American are struggling to hold onto their homes, when a precious portion of our ecosystem is facing irreversible damage along the Gulf Coast, that the NAACP is compelled to deal with a disturbing, corrosive attack from the Tea Party.

That tipping point occurred Tuesday, July 13 at our 101st national convention in Kansas City, Missouri, when our members, in a unanimous vote, condemned racism in the Tea Party. This resolution was passed because the Tea Party has been less than assertive in curbing vitriolic attacks, the spewing of racial epithets and homophobic venom on such elected officials as Representatives John Lewis, Emmanuel Cleaver and Barney Frank. We will not tolerate such disrespect, especially from an organization that seems unrepentant and reluctant to curtail the behavior of its members.

I don't think this request is asking too much of the Tea Party. We are not challenging their right to exist, gather or express themselves; they are protected by Constitutional guarantees.

But we will not stand by passively and allow its members to express themselves in ways both hateful and harmful to other citizens.

Our nation is caught in the throes of a sundry of potentially divisive issues, and it would only exacerbate the problems we collectively face to entertain bitter exchanges with the Tea Party or any other group that would derail us from our objective of One Nation, One Dream: a nation working together, not combating those who often forget how much we have in common.

It's certainly not the best use of our time to be locked in dispute with the Tea Party. Our mission, our purpose is better served keeping our eyes on the prize, and this prize of togetherness cannot and should not be sidetracked by people uninterested in building bridges of cooperation and opposed to composing a narrative of hope.

It is mutually destructive for Americans to be at each others' throats; it is counterproductive and certainly at odds with the goals of One Nation, which by its very multiracial composition is about achieving civil and human rights for all Americans.

In fact, the very formation of One Nation embodies a communal and collective desire to forge unity, to set aside the "jangling discord" that it makes impossible to gather in concert to overcome the web of groundless, unnecessary misunderstanding.

A cursory review of our nation's history presents more than a few moments when economic crises bred discontent and even bloody confrontation if, for example, we remember the Draft Riots in New York City in 1863 when jobs were at the core of the conflict between white and Black Americans. I believe that some of the simmering turmoil today may be the result of people unable to find decent employment. To be sure, these are desperate times, but we should not let the fear-mongers and bigots among us command the moment.