Arguing that Black Lives Matter is not the black equivalent of the Tea Party seems simple and obvious enough. However, some writers are convinced that the two organizations are either directly parallel to one another or should be viewed as equally worthwhile social investments. New York Post writer Robert George, reflecting on the actions of Black Lives Matter protestors at Netroots event in Arizona last year, quipped that Black Lives Matter is nothing more than “a Black Tea Party.”
Of course it’s not. What’s that old saying? It’s like comparing apples and oranges. And for one very simple reason: one is on the right side of history. The other occupies the wrong side of it. Take a wild guess as to which one I believe is on the right.
When people say that Black Lives Matter is similar to The Tea Party, they’re typically referring to the fact that the origins of both movements are the grassroots, outside the establishment. The Tea Party was started by Chicago bond dealers and swelled to a loosely knit coalition of right-wingers protesting such legislation as Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Black Lives Matter was founded by three Black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi — out of northern California. They were (and remain) community organizers who formed the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag in response to police brutality and state violence following the acquittal of Florida neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman, who had been charged with stalking and shooting a 16-year black teenager named Trayvon Martin.
Some commentators who draw political parallels between BLM and TP point out the “ideological” differences. However, this distinction is only made in passing. Others are content to focus on the superficial common traits. They stop short of shining a light on the protest tactics these movements share. One may as well draw intellectual satisfaction from observing that both Ku Klux Klan and Black Panthers used guns and language to carry out their agenda.
At a deeper level — the level that matters — the Black Lives Matter and Tea Party movements are nothing alike. The organization that produced Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz is not the same as the one that produced Garza and Cullors.
Granted, it may be fair to acknowledge that certain resistance strategies adopted by grassroots social movements such as street demonstrations, marches and social media, are nonpartisan and neutral. But to leap from this admission to suggesting that the two groups are the same kind of response to the state, that one is as worthy as another, is completely absurd.
The Tea Party is a radical, far-right movement. It is anti-establishment to the extent that the establishment opts to negotiate with its left-leaning counterpart to maintain some sort of awkward balance and false peace between liberal and conservative social and economic principles. Small government, across-the-board lower taxes, reduced government spending, and “blue lives matter” — these are the indispensable touchstones central to the Tea Party program, no matter the circumstances.
Members of the Tea Party see no fundamental difference between TARP and ARRA, between aiding luxury financial firms and corporate America and aiding the masses of the country’s working population. For the Tea Party, the problem is not the existence of a capitalist state, but a state, period. It is a pro-people, so long as by “people” we mean a republican citizenry split apart like atoms, so long as human nature is taught as essentially corrupt and immutable and so long as poverty is popularized as incurable, an agent of eugenics.
More importantly, tea partiers — on principle — are hostile to the Black Lives Matter agenda; an agenda which is, at bottom, the antithesis of everything the Tea Party stands for. Everything. Much of this has to do with how the opposing groups define state abuse or, in the words of Garza, “state violence.”
In fact, Garza’s comment on what exactly BLM means by “state violence” is worth quoting at length in our effort to highlight the unbridgeable gap between the two organizations:
“When we say Black Lives Matter, we are talking about the ways in which Black people are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity. It is an acknowledgement that Black poverty and genocide is state violence. It is an acknowledgment that 1 million Black people are locked in cages in this country — one half of all people in prisons or jails — is an act of state violence. It is an acknowledgment that Black women continue to bear the burden of a relentless assault on our children and our families and that assault is an act of state violence. Black queer and trans folks bearing a unique burden in a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of us like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes us and profits off of us is state violence; the fact that 500,000 Black people in the US are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows is state violence; the fact that Black girls are used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war is state violence; Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state-sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze us into boxes of normality defined by White supremacy is state violence. And the fact is that the lives of Black people — not ALL people — exist within these conditions is consequence of state violence.”
Even when reading the full statement, one is hard-pressed to find notions of anything remotely progressive about poverty in Black Lives Matter program. And one is hard-pressed to get the sense that protestors organize around the proposition that society is comprised of individuals, not a community, or detect that BLM is preoccupied with keeping the state from “stealing” money from individual income earners by lowering taxes, not democratizing the workplace and creating the necessary conditions for the equal distribution of wealth.
And, after listening to this, one is definitely hard-pressed to argue that the movement for Black Lives is a pro-capitalist project.
High-profile tea partiers like Marco Rubio may empathize with BLM’s pursuit of criminal justice reform. But let’s not confuse empathy with agreement on solutions. And let’s not confuse apples with oranges, even if both are fruit.