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updated 7/14/2010 1:17:04 AM ET 2010-07-14T05:17:04

Leaders of the country's largest civil rights organization accused tea party activists on Tuesday of tolerating bigotry and approved a resolution condemning racism within the political movement.

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The resolution was adopted during the annual convention in Kansas City of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, spokesman Chris Fleming said. Local tea party organizers disputed claims of racism and called on the NAACP to withdraw the resolution.

Debate was mostly closed to the public, but the final version of the resolution "calls on the tea party and all people of good will to repudiate the racist element and activities within the tea party," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau.

"I hope it will empower the tea party to actually look at itself and see that there are those who are noticing things that I think most tea partiers don't want," he said.

Resolution saddens Palin
Sarah Palin, a vocal tea party supporter, said in a statement late Tuesday that she was "saddened by the NAACP's claim that patriotic Americans ... are somehow 'racists.'" The former Alaska governor said claims that tea party activists "judge people by the color of their skin" were false and appalling.

The final wording of the resolution won't be released until the NAACP's national board of directors approves it during its meeting in October. But the original called for the NAACP to "educate its membership and the community that this movement is not just about higher taxes and limited government." It said something could evolve "and become more dangerous for that small percentage of people that really think our country has been taken away from them."

Tea party activists are a loose-knit coalition of community groups largely made up of people with conservative and libertarian views who say government has grown too large, threatening individual liberties. They also believe government spending should be curtailed.

"We felt the time had come to stand up and say, 'It's time for the tea party to be responsible members of this democracy and make sure they don't tolerate bigots or bigotry among their members,'" NAACP President Ben Jealous said ahead of the debate. "We don't have a problem with the tea party's existence. We have an issue with their acceptance and welcoming of white supremacists into their organizations."

Bigotry denied
Tea party activist Alex Poulter, who co-founded a Kansas City-area group called Political Chips, disputed the allegations. He said the movement is made up of a "diverse group of folks who are upset with what is going on with this country."

Poulter said he has seen no evidence of racism within the movement.

"It's unfounded but people are running with these accusations like they are true," he said.

A group called the St. Louis Tea Party issued its own resolution Tuesday calling on the NAACP to withdraw the proposal.

Though not affiliated with either major political party, tea party activists espouse a political philosophy of less government, a free market, lower taxes, individual rights and political activism.

The group has faced occasional claims of racism, most notably in March near the end of the bitter health care debate. U.S. Reps. John Lewis, Andre Carson and Emanuel Cleaver said some demonstrators, many of them tea party activists, yelled a racial epithet as the black congressmen walked from House office buildings to the Capitol. Cleaver also said he was spit on.

A white lawmaker said he also heard the epithets, but conservative activists said the lawmakers were lying.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: NAACP calls out Tea Party for its ‘racist element’

  1. Transcript of: NAACP calls out Tea Party for its ‘racist element’

    OLBERMANN: For some time now, supporters of the Tea Party insisting it`s nearly all-white membership is not racist, some of them just happen to carry racist signs; some of them just happen to yell racial epithets at black members of Congress ; some of them just happen to sell t-shirts declaring, yep, I`m a racist. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN , as the nation`s largest civil rights group vows to repudiate the racism of the Tea Party , one astroturfer, in turn, claims the Tea Party movement has a lot in common with the civil rights movement. No, in this country. The NAACP holding its annual convention in Kansas City this week, and members will vote on a resolution condemning the, quote, racist, unquote elements of the Tea Party movement tomorrow. The resolution calling on all -- quote, "all people of goodwill to repudiate the racism of the Tea Parties and stand in opposition to its drive to push our country back to the pre- civil rights era," charging that " Tea Party supporters have engaged in explicitly racist behavior, and displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally, and President Obama specifically." The resolution also points to the incident involving African American Congressmen Emanuel Cleaver and John Lewis . Protesters hurling racial epithets at Mr. Lewis and spitting on Mr. Cleaver as they walked into the Capitol to vote on health care reform. It also cites polling data that finds 52 percent of Tea Party voters believe too much has been made of the problems facing black people . But never mind all of that. Brendan Steinhauser of the Astroturf group Freedomworks claims, "I just don`t see racism in the Tea Party much movement, and racism is something we`re absolutely opposed to." He added, "the NAACP has more of a political agenda now, but I would hope that they would appreciate the fact that the Tea Party movement has a lot in common with the civil rights movement. I`m personally inspired by what the civil right movement did. And I want them to know that." Joining me now, MSNBC contributor, columnist for " The Nation ," and associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University , Melissa Harris-Lacewell . Professor, good evening.

    MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Good to see you.

    OLBERMANN: There are videos, photographs, documented incidents and polls. How would you answer Mr. Steinhauser and the others who claim to not see any racism in the Tea Parties ?

    HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I wouldn`t quite go as far as you would, which is to assume or assert that simply because they`re predominantly white or almost exclusively white institution or organization that that necessarily means they`re racist. We want to leave room for the fact that there can be groups of people who are of the same race who are not necessarily racist. But what I do want to suggest is that he may, in fact -- Mr. Steinhauser and others, might be honest when they say, we don`t see racism . And what I mean by honest about that is that there is, in fact, a deep perceptual gulf -- and I really mean not just attitude, but perception -- between black and white Americans in the United States . It`s one of the most durable findings of social psychology, of political science, of sociology, is that white and black Americans really do see the world vastly differently. And again, not just attitudes like support for affirmative action or support for the Democratic or Republican party , but things like the fact that many white Americans misperceive the percentage of African-Americans that are in the country, will say things like, about 25 or 30 percent of the country is black, when, of course, we know that that is a massive over- representation. You know, it makes me think that sometimes maybe the reason that a white woman grabs her purse when a black man is walking towards her is because she really sees four of them instead of just one.

    OLBERMANN: I was going to ask you about this sincerity of misperception. I`ve always wondered if we`re dealing with the kind of mental euphemism that in previous -- when there have been previous backlashes against advances in relations between races, they were still in a time when it was OK to come out and campaign on the "we`ve done enough for them" platform, which was essentially done in 1966 by the Republicans . They won a boat load of seats in the House running on those platforms after the Civil Rights Acts . You can`t say something like that anymore in almost any aspect of society. The fringes, obviously, but not anywhere in the mainstream. Is this inability to see racism and to need to provide a euphemism for it internal? They need to believe there`s no racism , and therefore they don`t see it?

    HARRIS-LACEWELL: Maybe, but it could also be simply that we`ve done a really bad job in this country talking about what racism is. So many may feel that if they don`t use the " N " word or if they don`t actively keep a black person from getting a job or spit on a black person when they see them, then they`re not racist. And we haven`t done a very good job of talking about the fact that if you regularly support public policy which will have a disparate impact, creating greater inequality for people of color , that that is racially biased. And we haven`t talked about, for example, privilege, or we haven`t talked very well in the public about privilege. So that many white Americans feel like, well, I have a difficult circumstance; I`m losing my job; bad things are happening to me. So why should we be talking about race and racism ? And we haven`t talking about, for example, how white privilege operates in the context of even, you know, an economic downturn. So it could be, in part, just sort of our fault in terms of a collective incapacity to talk about what racism really is.

    OLBERMANN: One quick question about the NAACP . The quote from one of the officials to the " Kansas City Star " was, "I think a lot of people are not taking the Tea Party movement seriously and we need to take it seriously. We need to realize it`s really not about limited government." No offense to the NAACP , but did anybody make that statement a year ago when all this ugliness began?

    HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, you did.

    OLBERMANN: I`m not the NAACP , unfortunately.

    HARRIS-LACEWELL: You and I have talked about. It does feel a little late. It`s kind of like saying, passing a resolution that the BP oil spill is bad for the environment. You know, most progressives already have picked this up. You know, I think that the response from most blogs and publications will be, duh. But it does matter for the NAACP , 100 years after its founding, to take a moment to once again point out the ways that American racism , engaged in American politics , can have real effects for our lives as a country.

    OLBERMANN: Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton University , great thanks for taking some time out from your other more important work to be with us tonight.

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