University prof explains comparison between Tea Party, KKK

Campus Reform Reporter

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  • Prof. Christopher Parker of the University of Washington takes questions on race, and the Tea Party
  • CAMPUS REFORM: Most Americans think first of the KKK as one of the most evil organizations in our nation's history, guilty of horrific crimes including murders, lynchings, domestic terrorism in the name of racism on a systematic level.
     
    You must be stirring a great deal of controversy in your decision to cast a modern political movement that contains some racist elements, but is mostly peaceful, in such a horrific light. 
     
    Do you believe the Tea Party is as evil as the Klu Klux Klan once was or is?  Have you drawn clearly defined limits on the comparison. Please explain your decision to draw this controversial comparison. 

    PARKER: No, I DO NOT believe the Tea Party is on par with the Klan of the 19th Century, or even the 1950s. My comparison to the KKK is very specific: the KKK of the 1920s. This Klan departed from the Klan of the 19th Century and the mid-20th Century in several ways. The Klan of the 1920s was a national movement, not confined to the South. As a result, it was less violent than the other two versions. Further, the KKK of the 1920s was far more involved in politics mainly at the state level, than the other Klans. For a time, the KKK ran state governments in Indiana and Oregon, played an important role in the election of at least one U.S. Senator (Texas), and were a force behind the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. Perhaps this is a function of the caliber of men involved in the KKK: Many were community leaders, i.e., physicians, judges, clergy and teachers. The other Klans cannot make such claims. 

    Can we not say that the Tea Party is heavily involved in politics? Further, can we not also say that many Tea Partiers are not educated and accomplished? Finally, can we not also say that the Tea Party has an intolerant element? The answer to all three is yes. So, to answer your question, I recognize why some on the right are alarmed at the comparison, but they need to bear in mind that the comparison is VERY specific to the Klan of the 1920s: another national right-wing political movement, one with an educated, accomplished element that also has its share of intolerant people. 


    In sum, the Tea Party need not be a similarly violent or bigoted movement in order for it to be compared to the KKK, especially given the different historical context. Even though the second-era Klan (i.e., 1920s) was more politically oriented than the other KKK movements, the historical context of the 1920s allowed for far more overt racism and violence than any national movement today could hope to sustain.

     
    CAMPUS REFORM: Do you ever have conservative students in your classes? What would you do if you had an outspoken member of the Tea Party in your class. How would you view that student? How would you treat him, or her? 

    PARKER:I do have conservative students in my classes. I welcome their opinions, like I do all other students'. I teach a seminar on patriotism in which at least half of the students are conservative. As you know, patriotism is a contested concept, one that escapes capture by any ideology. I've had students sympathetic to the Tea Party in classes, but not too many: the Tea Party doesn't attract too many young folk. Still, like any other student, I welcome their opinions. Generally, once I lay out the facts-supported by data and history, they can see there's another side to the Tea Party. Likewise, for students who aren't sympathetic to the Tea Party, once that part of the allure of the Tea Party is driven by a desire for small government, they come to a better understanding of the movement. 

    Parker’s book, Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in Contemporary America, is on sale for $24.13 on Amazon.com and is ranked 130,272 in books by the online bookseller.