Is the Tea Party Racist?
3) Finally, what of the "racial resentment" study, which was widely and happily cited throughout the liberal media as confirmation of their caricature of the Tea Partiers?
The numbers emerge from a study by Christopher Parker at the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race and Sexuality (WISER). Questions designed to measure "racial resentment" included whether one agrees or disagrees with the view that "Over the past few years blacks have gotten less than they deserve." That's right: if you do not believe that blacks should have gotten more in recent years, then you are harboring racial resentment. Questions such as these are designed to stigmatized conservatism. Another question asks whether "Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class." Notice the present-tense "make." Those who agree that slavery and discrimination (even now) "make" social uplift difficult are presented as acknowledging a simple reality. Those who disagree are blinded by "racial resentment."
Questions such as these do more to measure political ideology -- including core Tea Party values of self-sufficiency and responsibility -- than "racial resentment." When Parker was confronted with this objection, his response fell flat, for reasons Robert VerBruggen explains. Parker attempted to control for ideology by comparing the examples of "conservative" Republican Tea Party supporters with "conservative" Republican Tea Party critics, yet this assumes that "conservative" means the same thing for everyone and thus removes ideological differences. The study is indecisive not only because of its small sample size and its limitation to several states, but because it fails to disentangle ideology from racial attitudes.
The survey also asks whether respondents consider blacks and Hispanics intelligent, hard-working, and trustworthy. Fewer Tea Party "true believers" approved of these characterizations than the "true skeptics." What Parker did not reveal until he was pressed by others, probably because it undercut his conclusion, is that fewer "true believers" approved of these characterizations for all racial categories, including whites. Tea Partiers were more likely to forgo wholesale racial categorizations. When one measures the different rates at which positive stereotypes are applied to whites versus blacks, then Tea Party supporters perform roughly the same as Tea Party critics. Tea Party believers actually rated Asians higher than whites in every category, while "true skeptics" rated whites higher in two out of three. Further, declining to agree that "almost all blacks are hard-working" does not mean that one believes "blacks are lazy," much less that one considers such qualities racially fixed rather than culturally inherited.
It is worth remembering that even if a higher percentage of racists were found to participate in the Tea Party movement, and even if some were motivated to participate by racist impulses, in neither case does it follow that the Tea Party is a racist movement. Yet even so, the WISER study does not remotely establish that Tea Partiers are disproportionately racist or driven by "racial paranoia" to participate.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.