Overheard on MSNBC: Grayson burning cross email ‘opens the door’ for discussion on race

Jeff Poor Media Reporter
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On Wednesday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “Martin Bashir,” two guests suggested there was some merit to Rep. Alan Grayson’s Ku Klux Klan email.

The Florida Democrat sent out a fundraising email earlier this week with an image likening the tea party to the Klan. The image showed two Klansmen in the background with a burning cross used as the “t” in “tea party.” (Related: Alan Grayson (D-FL) trolls tea party: ‘No more popular than the Klan’)

Grayson has refused to back off from the extreme attack. (Related: Grayson stands by KKK-tea party comparison: ‘Tea party is the home of bigotry and discrimination in America today’)

MSNBC’s commentators backed up Grayson. Angela Rye, a Democratic strategist, told host Martin Bashir there was no need for Grayson to apologize for that email and noted that it draws attention to race issues.

“I don’t think Alan Grayson should apologize,” Rye said. “I do understand the commentary around, you know, maybe he went too far. What I cannot accept, though, is why we can’t really have an honest conversation about tea party and bigotry. They continue to promote the kind of bigotry that led Mr. Grayson to send out this particular email and enabled him to raise funds from it. There are obviously segments of the society that agree with him.”

“If we’re talking about, you know, the GOP-led or tea party-led secession plan immediately after Obama was elected to his second term, or the visceral reaction to Obamacare, or even Romney saying, ‘those people and their free stuff,’” she continued. “There is a clear racial tinge to a lot of the rhetoric from the tea party and there are some even within the Republican Party itself, which is why someone like Judge Carlo Key put out an announcement saying he’s leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat. So there are some clear discussions that we need to have to his last point. But, yeah, there is definitely some bigotry there we need to discuss.”


 James Peterson, professor at Lehigh University, echoed Rye’s sentiment and said there was plenty of blame to pass around for the Republican Party and the tea party for their use of what he called “racialized discourse.”

“I don’t know if he should apologize or not,” Peterson said. “I think what’s interesting is that this — it is a sensational ad. But it does open the door for us to actually have the conversation that people have been talking about. Unfortunately, sometimes that sensationalism leads to the right kind of discourse, which is for a long time now been trying to think about the ways in which the tea party and a small minority within the Republican Party use the southern strategy, play on issues of race in order to score political points. If you think about the history of populism in this nation and the ways in which race has been used to sort of fragment poor white folk from poor people of color, it seems to me that the rhetoric of the tea party has been coded that way.”

“And so while it’s very, very difficult to always pinpoint that, this kind of ad helps to draw more attention to it,” he continued. “But any time we’re talking about states’ rights, any time you think about the ways in which they were racialized things about entitlements, 47 percent and so on and so forth. When you talk about secession for some of these states in the South, when you have a number of different — people running for president, using racially coded language like ‘food stamp president’ and all this other stuff, the n-word rants, all of the things that came out of that suggest to us there is a there there, Martin, a racialized discourse that undergirds the tea party’s rhetoric and at the end of the day, these kind of ads help us get access to it for those folks who aren’t paying attention to subtle nuances.”

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