In his fascinating analysis of the ideological roots of the Tea Party, Sean Wilentz downplays the racial aspect of the Party's attacks on President Obama, arguing that "'socialist' is not a racial slur." As Taylor Branch demonstrates in Parting the Waters, however, white segregationists often labelled civil rights protesters communists. (Branch relates an amusing anecdote of a young white girl in Pike County, Miss., who asked the jailed SNCC activist Charles McDew to "say something in Communist" and thrilled to hear him speak to her in Yiddish.) Perhaps the Tea Party's penchant for calling Obama a socialist is the contemporary form of this crude attempt to describe African Americans who challenge the status quo.
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