If the Las Cruces Tea Party wants to be taken more seriously, it needs to consider why so many have viewed its float as offensive and demonstrate a greater sensitivity for their feelings and opinions.
Political correctness can certainly be taken too far. But ignoring it completely can be offensive and shut down dialogue.
In our society, the flag has two competing meanings. One is about states’ rights, Southern heritage and independence; the other is about slavery and racism.
Including the flag in displays might be appropriate in certain circumstances if it’s presented in the proper context. The Tea Party says it was attempting to do just that – create a float that recognized New Mexico’s history and the flags that flew over it.
The technical problems with their attempt have already been discussed widely, so I’ll mention them only quickly here: The Confederate flag probably never flew over New Mexico; if any flag of the Confederacy ever did, as local historian (and occasional NMPolitics.net contributor) Christopher Schurtz pointed out, it was probably the Stars and Bars.
Second, the Tea Party failed to include Spanish or Mexican flags on its float. Both have had a much greater and more lasting impact in New Mexico than the Stars and Bars. Any attempt to recognize this state’s history that fails to include those aspects falls far short.
Disregard for others’ opinions and feelings
But this isn’t the first time the Confederate flag has flown at a Tea Party event in Las Cruces. Stephen Jones documented another incident for the lefty blog Democracy for New Mexico in 2010.
And, as you can see in this screen shot that I took from the Las Cruces Tea Party’s website, the group has a photo of a black man – Al Sharpton – with the words “Socialist, Marxist, Maoist, Leninist, Communist” above it and, below the photo, the statement “In our midst! These vermin need to be checked at the door!”
I realize the Tea Party probably intended the use of “vermin” to refer to socialists, Marxists, etc. The image of Sharpton is actually an embedded video that, when you play it, shows a number of left-leaning people – some black, most white – talking about redistributing wealth to the poor.
But one has only to do a quick web search to find the racist underbelly of society that refers to black people as vermin. Those who call the Tea Party racist think it’s conveying exactly the message it wants to convey.
Maybe the Tea Party hasn’t thought about that, or maybe it’s simply disregarding the way some people might interpret the web page. I think it’s disregard for the opinions and feelings of others.
If I give the Tea Party the benefit of the doubt, the best-case scenario is that it has demonstrated the same disregard with its use of the Confederate flag.
‘Well, to hell with them’
Tom Cooper, the group’s treasurer, rejected the way some feel about the Tea Party using the flag in its float. The Albuquerque Journal quoted him as saying critics “need to wake up and get a life,” and, about those who view the flag as a symbol of racism, “Well, to hell with them.”
That’s an intentional and combative dismissal of the valid and understandable opinions and feelings of others.
I’ve been a defender of the Tea Party in the past. In this instance, I’ve written nothing for more than a week as I watched this controversy play out, considered various opinions and did my own research.
At the end of the day, I don’t think the Tea Party – in Las Cruces or elsewhere – is an overtly racist organization. But there are certainly some signs, including the continued display of the Confederate flag, of a culture whose people once fought and died to defend slavery.
So, in addition to an apparent heritage of racism and discrimination among some in the Tea Party, we also see a group that tends to be, at best, dense or uncaring about how its actions will be viewed by others.
In this instance, I find the Tea Party’s use of the flag – and its combative reaction since – indefensible. I understand why some see it as racist.
‘This nation truly is a wonderful melting pot’
Days ago, the Tea Party posted on its website (It’s no longer there, but here’s a screenshot) a letter that stated this:
“I think there is not a person of European descent in this community who feels slavery was a good idea, or that racism is something of value.
“The war, in fact, was one of State’s rights and economics. It is terrific that the Union won that war. If it had not, there would have been no United States to pull Europe’s tail out of the fire, twice. There would have been none of the great contributions of this nation’s people, of all races, have given to this world. This nation truly is a wonderful melting pot of the world’s people. And her measures welcome of people of all colors and races can stand as a testament of God’s good work and guidance.”
Great. Then start acting like you believe that. Regardless of whether you feel it’s fair, many people take offense at the use of the Confederate flag. People who oppose slavery and those who have supported slavery and discrimination have viewed the flag as a symbol of white supremacy. Do you really want to join the Klu Klux Klan in flying this flag in the 21st Century?
Using the flag to recognize a chapter in our history might – might – have been appropriate, if the Spanish and Mexican flags were also included and other steps were taken to ensure the Confederate flag was being recognized but not glorified. That would have demonstrated cultural sensitivity and presented a more accurate picture of New Mexico’s history.
Spanish and Mexican influences have had a lot more to do with the development of this state than the Confederacy.
Absent those flags, the Confederate flag should have been excluded.
Don’t be so insular
The combative stance the Tea Party has taken since the parade demonstrates why it’s still a fringe group, at least in Las Cruces. “To hell with them?” Not if you want to be taken seriously. The Tea Party must demonstrate a willingness to listen to the concerns of others, to try to understand others’ opinions and feelings and worldviews.
In other words, if you truly believe this nation is a “wonderful melting pot,” don’t be so insular.
Our society is built on the premise that we must work together to move forward. We can’t do that if we’re not trying to understand each other. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to understand the Tea Party, which is why I’ve ended up defending it from the bad rap I believe it often gets.
Not this time.
If the Tea Party wants to be taken more seriously, it needs to consider why so many have viewed its float as offensive and demonstrate a greater sensitivity for their feelings and opinions.