What do the Tea party, NAACP, New Black Panther party, Shirley Sherrod and Attorney General Eric Holder have in common? They all teach us about racism.

Racism is something you can see, sense, feel and hear, yet, it’s hard to quite put into words. A precise definition is difficult to come by. The law forbids racial discrimination, yet it’s difficult to sometimes show facts that prove it. That’s why race discrimination cases are difficult to win in court. What feels and smacks of racism to many African Americans is often disregarded by some Whites as a misunderstanding. Even when something appears blatantly racist to African Americans, there’s still room for debate among Whites.

But, racism goes both ways. Contrary to what New Black Panther Party leader Malik Shabazz says, Blacks can be racist too. Shabazz says Blacks cannot be racist due to their past slavery injustices. That’s like saying that Jews, Native Americans and other ethnicities cannot be racist because of past injustices committed against them. No one’s history makes them immune from racism. One thing is clear about racism. Racism is like an addiction – many who have it are in denial.

Last week the National Tea Party Federation recognized the writings of Mark Williams as racist and repugnant. In appealing to his tea partiers, Williams clearly crossed into the land of racism with his mock letter to President Abraham Lincoln. Yet, this was not the first time that a tea partier crossed that line. This was the first time the Tea Party Federation took a stand against racist remarks among its followers. I applaud their efforts to disassociate from Williams’ remarks. Yet, I wonder what took them so long? Why hasn’t the most well known tea partier, Sarah Palin, come forward to join in a meaningful discussion on racist acts in the tea party?

In the past, there have been equally offensive or even worse racist acts committed by tea partiers. Yet, leaders turned their heads the other way or acted as if they were not responsible for the acts of fellow tea partiers. The tea party’s recent comparison of President Obama to Hitler and Lenin shows they are not only racist but ignorant of history. It’s also a slap in the face to Jews whose 6 million relatives were killed by Hitler and the Nazi regime. Where is the similarity of Nazi’s and Hitler to President Obama? The only purpose is to inflame and incite anger. That’s the results of racism.

During the health care bill debate, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleavers, D-Mo., a Black member of Congress, was spat on by a tea party protestor. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., was called the N word by a tea partier. Few things are more racist than a White person calling a Black man the “N” word. These acts were so despicable that they cried out for repudiation by the tea party. Instead, the leaders of the tea party remained silent. Last summer, former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo stated during a tea party rally that civics tests should be a requirement and prerequisite for the right to vote. This smacks clear of racism. History tells us that civics tests and literacy tests were outlawed as a condition for African Americans to vote with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Presumably, tea partiers are unaware of that law.

Many do not believe the tea party is racist. NAACP President Ben Jealous, rebukes the tea party’s repulsive acts yet falls short of calling them racist. Instead, he calls on the tea party to go further in repudiating racist acts. Ironically, Jealous called Shirley Sherrod, the recently fired African American U.S. agriculture department employee, a racist for her misquoted, taken-out-of-context remarks. He later quickly retracted his comments. Vice President Joe Biden says the tea party is not racist, but some of the tea party members express racist views. Well, I was always taught that you are known by the company you keep. In other words, if the shoe fits, wear it. Right now the tea party wears the racist shoe quite well. Is the tea party racist? To say the tea party is not racist is like saying the Klu Klux Klan had racist elements but was not racist and then cite members such as former Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. The KKK was a racist organization too.

Attorney General Eric Holder had it right last year. We are a nation of cowards when it comes to race issues. We prefer avoiding rather than having actual conversations about race issues. But, however painful the conversation, we must have it.
Debbie Hines , Esq. blogs on law, race, women and politics @ Legalspeaks.com.