Sunday, June 24, 2012

Republican Racism Example #55: "White folks work every day so us po’ folks can get all our benefits"

Give former Ozark Tea Party board member Inge Marler credit for knowing her audience.  Speaking at the Arkansas group’s annual rally June 9, Marler thought she’d relax the crowd with a little joke.  One about black people and welfare.  Launching into her version of black dialect, Marler entertained the crowd with this story:

“A black kid asks his mom, ‘Mama, what’s a democracy?’
‘Well, son, that be when white folks work every day so us po’ folks can get all our benefits.’
‘But mama, don’t the white folk get mad about that?’
‘They sho do, son. They sho do. And that’s called racism.’”

About 500 hundred attended the annual meeting of the Ozark Tea Party this June, pictured above, and they laughed and applauded when board member Inge Marler told a joke about lazy black people living off the hard work of white people through welfare.  (Photo from  

Marler said she got her joke from the internet.   In a crowd of decent people, the racist joke would have been greeted with embarrassed silence.  Maybe someone would have stood up and explained why stereotyping black people as poorly educated, lazy rubes out to selfishly rob whites of the fruits of their labor is a pernicious lie.  Someone may have made a statement saying that Marler’s joke did not reflect the values of the people gathered.  That would be how decent people would react.  But this was a Tea Party gathering.

According to the Baxter Bulletin, the audience responded to Marler’s crude caricature of black people this way.

“The ‘joke’ was greeted with applause and laughter. There were no objections to the ‘joke’ from the floor and no one spoke with disapproval or objection to Marler’s comment except those pursued for comment by The Baxter Bulletin.”  (For more, see 

It was only after the incident got local coverage from the Bulletin, followed by national attention, that anyone with the Ozark Tea Party spoke out.  The next week, Marler had resigned her position on the group’s board.  The founder of the group, Richard Caster, claimed that he had no idea Marler was going to make her joke when she got up to speak. 

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> Ozark Tea Party founder Richard Caster thinks that too much has been made about a racist joke about blacks and welfare told at a meeting of his organization this summer. (Photo from

"I had no idea," Caster, a justice of the peace on the Baxter County Quorum Court who at age 21 is the youngest elected official in Arkansas, told the Huffington Post, "She had given me her whole speech, and it was about her growing up in Yugoslavia and coming to America. I am on stage and then she said something not like what she gave me. I was shocked. I looked at the guy next to me and he said 'oh my gosh'." Caster said he didn’t respond more forcefully because, "She is a gray-haired elderly lady, and I did not want to go up and yank her off stage.  In hindsight, I should have said something."

Caster said the controversy that erupted was much ado about nothing, saying there should instead be much more coverage of alleged rapes at Occupy Wall Street protests (allegations that implicate the protestors, but have been proven to be mostly false or to involve people not in the movement), and the investigation of Attorney General Eric Holder and the Fast and Furious drug gang weapons sting, and ethics charges against U.S. House Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).  (Both Holder and Waters, incidentally, are African Americans.)

Caster then further demonstrated his sensitivity to the disadvantaged with this comment: "It dawned on me that this little old lady got on stage and said a two-bit, retarded joke that she should not have said and it was all over," Caster remarked. "It's funny how a little old lady can cause a huge stir, and people with real power and nothing happens." (For more, see

Let’s ignore Caster’ use of the word “retarded.”  Caster failed to note that Marler’s joke is based on a hateful myth.  Most receiving public assistance work, but make too little to make ends meet. African Americans are not the primary recipients of public assistance. Take food stamps, for instance.  Children of all races represent the largest number of recipients – 47 percent.  According to the Department of Agriculture, 41 percent of those receiving food stamps have jobs – they are the “working poor” whose serf-like wages are not adequate to pay grocery bills.   The USDA estimates that only 22 percent of food stamp recipients are African Americans.  The largest group receiving food stamps?  Whites, at 36 percent.  (About 10 percent are Hispanic.  For more on this, see

Caster also misses the point about why people get outraged by incidents like Marler’s ignorant joke.  The controversy is not about the racism of some helpless little old lady, but of the entire Tea Party movement. 

The Tea Party claimed, not entirely without justification, a large amount of credit for the Republican Party capture of the United States House, multiple governorships and numerous state legislatures in 2010.   They are an important movement and their motives, including their racial attitudes, are fair game for public inspection. 

The accusation of Tea Party racism inspired a furious national debate in July 2010 when the NAACP national convention in Kansas City adopted a resolution that called  “on the tea party and all people of good will to repudiate the racist element and activities within the tea party.”  NAACP President Ben Jealous demanded that the Tea Party leadership, "Expel the bigots and racists in your ranks or take the responsibility for them and their actions.  We will no longer allow you to hide like cowards and hide behind signs that say 'Lynch Our President' or anyone else." 

He's not going to take it anymore: In 2010, NAACP President Ben Jealous demanded that Tea Party leaders "expel the bigots and the racists in your ranks."  (Photo from 

Tea Party figures exploded with fury against charges of intolerance. The St. Louis Tea Party responded with a resolution of its own the same month.  In part, the resolution read:

“Whereas, it is a hallmark of America that we settle our disputes civilly and avoid the gutter tactic of attempting to silence opponents by inflammatory name-calling, and
Whereas the very term ‘racist’ has diminished meaning due to its overuse by political partisans including members of the NAACP, and

Whereas, the NAACP had an opportunity to preserve some semblance of legitimacy by standing up for Ken Gladney, the victim of a vicious racist battery conducted by a black avowed communist, even labeling him an ‘Uncle Tom’, but chose instead to use the opportunity to mock the St. Louis Tea Party, and

Whereas, the NAACP has refused to denounce the New Black Panther's call to murder white cops and their babies, and

Whereas, the NAACP does its entire membership a grave disservice by hypocritically engaging in the very conduct it purports to oppose,

Now therefore be it resolved that the St. Louis Tea Party condemns the NAACP for lowering itself to the dishonorable position of a partisan political attack dog organization  . . .”   (For more, see and

The St. Louis Tea Party did the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy proud, linking the NACCP with communism for its supposed failure to respond to an isolated assault by a marginal black Marxist attacking a conservative African American, and to the microscopic New Black Panther Party that is spotted in the United States less often than UFOs.   Setting aside the diversionary tactics of the  St. Louis Tea Partiers, the accusations of racism have not been fabricated have thin air and the charges are not inspired by pure partisanship.  The actions and the words of the Tea Party itself condemn the movement as bigoted.   Marler’s joke and her audience’s approving reaction are only the lily-white tip of a big, sheet-wearing iceberg.

The Tea Party is certainly not the only highly segregated institution in the United States.  Take the Republican Party, for example.  Or, sadly, most churches.  Or, almost six decades after the Brown v. Board school desegregation case, most public schools, colleges and universities.  But the Tea Party is one of the most Jim Crowed political movements in America. 

About 80 percent of Tea Partiers are non-Hispanic whites, according to a 2010 Gallup study in 2010 (as opposed to 64 percent in the general population).  Only six percent are African American (compared to 12.6 percent in the general population).   More important than the monochromatic nature of the Tea Party, however, are the antebellum beliefs and racial language of the Tea Party rank and file.  

According to the 2010 Gallup study already cited, only 35 percent of white Tea Partiers said they thought blacks were “hardworking”  (in distinction to a still appalling low 55 percent of the general white population that does) and only 45 percent said that African Americans were “intelligent” (compared to 59 percent of the wider white population.)   Such beliefs – that blacks are not as smart as white people and they seek to avoid responsibility – lay at the heart of Marler’s joke.  (For more on Tea Party demographics, see .  For more on the NAACP resolution and the angry Tea Party response, see

As noted in a previous post (“Those White GOP Voters In Alabama and Mississippi at about 21 percent of the white members of the Tea Party-dominated GOP in Alabama believe that interracial marriage should be illegal and 29 percent – almost one third – in Mississippi think so-called “miscegenation” should be banned.  About 45 percent of the largely Tea Party supporting white Republicans in Alabama incorrectly believe that President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim, white a majority (52 percent) in Mississippi hold on to this racist myth.

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> Racist signs such as the one above, calling President Barack Obama a "monkey," have been commonplace at Tea Party rallies, despite the furious denials of movement leaders who that the hundreds of such pictures are faked.  When reality is unpleasant, the Tea Party believes just deny it.  Unpleasant facts will disappear down the Orwellian memory hole. (Photo from    

Tea Party signs and t-shirts have abounded with depictions as President Obama as an ape. A one-time leader of the movement, Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express, posted on his blog a “satirical” letter in which “coloreds” complained to President Abraham Lincoln about emancipation because “slavery had been a great gig.”   According to the New York Daily News:

“In the voice of slaves, Williams wrote: ‘Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house.

‘We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!’

He went on to say blacks don't want taxes cut because ‘how will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?’’  Williams became a leader of the Tea Party Federation, an umbrella group that aimed to coordinate the actions of 65 different Tea Party organizations across the country.  His Tea Party Express group was kicked out of the federation when the Express organization refused to fire Williams.” (See 

Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams wrote a blog post that described slavery as "a good gig" for the "coloreds."  (Photo from

In March 2010, Tea Party protestors shouted “nigger” at veteran civil rights campaigner and Georgia Rep John Lewis (and “faggot” and “homo” at gay Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts) as the Democratic delegation entered the U.S. Capitol to vote for President Obama’s health care reforms. Tea Partiers also spat at another black member of Congress. "I heard people saying things today I've not heard since March 15th, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus," South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, then the House majority whip, said. "This is incredible, shocking to me." (See

Over and over Tea Partiers, and Republicans in general, try to pretend that people like Marler are marginal and exceptional to the conservative movement, that the Tea Party protestors calling Obama a monkey and Rep. Lewis a “nigger” don’t reflect the heart of conservatism.  But as one example after another of conservative Republican racism piles jp, that argument holds less and less water.  The whole point of modern conservatism has become to turn the clock back to the 1950s, to strip African Americans and Latinos of voting rights, and to force Mr. Lewis and others to return to the back of the bus. 

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).
(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 
“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).
He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night’: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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