In November of 2008, a prime debate was whether the United States – with Barack Obama’s election – lived in a post-racial society. Fifteen months later, the answer is a resounding, “hell, no.” The proof: last week’s shooting in Alabama, where a disgruntled white professor murdered three minority professors; and the growing success of the Tea Party movement, which is overwhelmingly white and increasing vocal in its violent dislike of the nation’s first black president.
As I write this, I’m looking at the faces of the victims in Friday’s “tenure shooting” at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Two of those who died – Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis – are African-American, while the third person who passed away, Gopi Padila, was born and raised in India. When I saw their photos for the first time a few hours ago (while perusing the New York Times), their race – and that of the accused shooter, Amy Bishop – was an instant wake-up call. Yes, Bishop may have been, in the words of a Boston Herald report, a “far-left political extremist who was ‘obsessed’ with President Obama,” but she may still have had issues with non-white people in authority. Only Bishop can really address this subject, but until then, the void is being filled with speculation — as in an opinion piece headlined, “Alabama Professor, Amy Bishop, Is A Racist Murderer.” In the piece, African-American commentator RK Byers points out the races of Bishop’s victims and asks:
One can imagine that as Amy Bishop continued to shoot, bomb and kill people with impunity, eventually this obsession (with Obama) might have played itself out with some horrific results.
The “results” that the Tea Party movement envisions include less government — and less of Obama. Much less. The movement wants to make him a one-term president, and it will do anything legally possible to accomplish that goal. The same New York Times that featured the faces of Bishop’s victims had an in-depth article on the Tea Party’s growing membership, which happens to be predominantly white. MSNBC host Keith Olbermann has repeatedly called the party “The Tea Klux Klan.” On Monday night, Olbermann — in a Special Comment called “Beware Fear’s Racist Temptation” — apologized for using such “incendiary” language, and then questioned the party’s members directly, suggesting they were being consciously or unconsciously racist in their virulent anti-Obama stance:
Ask yourself, when you next go to a Tea Party rally, or watch one on television or listen to a politician or a commentator praise these things or merely treat them as if it was just a coincidence that they are virtually segregated. Ask yourself: Where are the black faces? Who am I marching with? What are we afraid of? And if it really is only a President’s policy and not his skin, ask yourself one final question: Why are you surrounded by the largest crowd you will ever again see in your life that consists of nothing but people who look exactly like you?
The New York Times didn’t address the issue of the Tea Party’s white makeup, but the article did describe the movement’s geographical connection, in Idaho, to the white supremacists Richard Girnt Butler and Randy Weaver. The article also sussed out the gun-oriented tendencies of some of the movement’s high-profile supporters, such as Indiana senatorial candidate Richard Behney, who told Tea Party enthusiasts that he’d take up firearms if this year’s mid-term elections were unfavorable. “I’m cleaning my guns,” he reportedly said, “and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too.”
Frightening. Behney’s remarks don’t reflect the sentiments on all Tea Party members. Nor does Bishop’s shooting spree mean that race is a factor whenever a white professor gets disgruntled by a tenure process overseen by minority administrators. One thing is certain, though: As we enter the second year of Obama’s presidency, the continuing economic squeeze is causing people to act in ways they could never have imagined when Obama took his oath of office under the banner of “hope” and “change” for the better.
(Author’s note: An earlier version of this posting said it was Roland Martin who wrote the opinion piece, “Alabama Professor, Amy Bishop, Is A Racist Murderer.” That was incorrect. The author of the opinion piece is RK Byers, as is noted above.)