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The Tea Party’s love affair with tokenism.

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Remember all those older, white conservatives who were upset when I pointed out that most Sarah Palin fans were older, white conservatives?   They do.   The headliners of the current Tea Party Express include a few token minority participants whose presence is designed to prevent critics like me from pointing out the obvious, i.e. that the Tea Party consists of old white people who’d denounce their Medicare benefits as fascist if they had sense enough to self-reflect.

You don’t have to take my word for it: one of their token minority presences unwittingly admitted as much in a post intended, ironically enough, to prove that the Tea Party has no problem with race:

I am a black performer/activist traveling on my third national Tea Party Express tour. We just finished our rally in North Platte, Neb. Two white families asked me to hold their newborn babies and pose for pictures. Excited white grandparents who are fans of my articles and music asked me to pose for pictures with them and their grand kids. Numerous white patriots shook my hand with tears in their eyes thanked me for what I was doing for our country. A white woman who said she was 86 years old gave me a big hug in thanks for my efforts. Polatik, our young Hispanic conservative rapper, got his usual huge positive response from the mostly older white crowd. [emphasis mine]

Needless to say, trying to demonstrate that the Tea Partiers have no problem with race by saying that the “mostly older white crowd” loves its token minorities is counterproductive.   But it also, and importantly, reminds us why the logic of tokenism is so pernicious: when your version of “diversity” involves placing in positions of power the one or two minority candidates who buy into your backward ideology, you’re inevitably going to end up with a host of Michael Steeles.

Creating structural incentives that level the playing field, however, allows for actual talent to rise through the ranks.  Instead of establishing a system in which talent will out, conservatives would rather elevate an untalented token for P.R. reasons, which is a pretty clear indication of what they’re up to: they need to protect the future status of their own marginally talented children, and if that means having to brook the presence of a Michael Steele, really, what choice do they have?

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