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The Tea Party's David Webb Talks Racism and NAACP

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Conservative African-American radio talk show host David Webb is nothing if not provocative. On his daily show, Webb is more likely to discuss patriotism and politics with FOX News contributors than he is with members of the NAACP, which he recently condemned for practicing what he calls "selective racism." Webb is also the co-founder of the New York branch of the controversial Tea Party movement, the Tea Party 365. In a conversation with ESSENCE.com Webb addresses the Tea Party's seemingly racist image, his charges against the NAACP and getting more people of color to join the Tea Party.   ESSENCE.com: How did you get involved with the Tea Party 365? DAVID WEBB: Last April, a mutual friend introduced me to Kellen Gaida who had done a small rally at City Hall Park [in New York City] on February 27th. We just talked, and because I pay attention to news and politics, I was interested in what he had to say. I agreed with the principles as far as reigning in government, having real accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility; all those things that came out of that whole Rick Santelli rant. It's nothing due in any part to the president; it was due to government overall. That's when I said, 'Okay I'm on board, we'll do the April 15th rally.' We thought we'd get a few thousand people and that number was exceeded. They stopped counting at 12,000 people. ESSENCE.com: Is Tea Party 365 different from the Tea Party? WEBB: The idea was that we would be here doing this every day of the year, not just when it was appropriate. We're independent just like most of the Tea Parties. There are tens of thousands of groups across the country, from groups where there's only 50 people to groups where there's thousands. Tea Party 365 was founded as a policy group. ESSENCE.com: What are the Tea Party 365 founding principles? WEBB: Tea Party 365 has three E's: Education, Events and Elections. Educate people, have events that allow one to draw attention to the message, and let people take it to the elections. What are issues around that? Fiscal responsibility -- now that's a broad term but it narrows down to a couple of things: Limited, effective and constitutional government. Limited in its scope and size, and effective in its operation of what its powers are, as enumerated in the Constitution. In other words, a government that serves the people by doing its duty to protect them, not wading into immigration or otherwise. It's just that the government needs to operate properly, and it hasn't for a long time. This is not all on the Obama administration. This goes to a government with a system that hasn't worked the way it should for years. ESSENCE.com: How did the ideas expressed by the Tea Party gain traction? WEBB: Much like the very first Tea Party, there was a seminal moment when a bunch of men put on some Indian garb and said let's go toss tea into Boston Harbor. For this tea party there was a seminal moment when Rick Santelli went off on the Chicago Exchange and people caught on to it. That moment took hold. ESSENCE.com: And that "moment" never occurred during other administrations? WEBB: People are looking for the answer. It just didn't happen. We had spending under Bush that was bad, certainly. Bush doubled spending, Obama tripled what Bush doubled. One of the things that pissed off the American people was the hubris of politicians who didn't read the bills. When you're buying off [Louisiana Senator] Mary Landrieu with $300 million and [Nebraska Senator] Ben Nelson with up to $500 million ... If your policies are so good and you have the majority, you should be able to pass these bills. As a matter of fact if all the Democrats are on board with all these policies there would be sweeping legislation. ESSENCE.com: When we see Tea Party rallies and there are people with images depicting President Obama as a tribesman with a bone through his nose, that kind of imagery comes off as racist. Is this what the Tea Party is about? WEBB: I want to make a distinction here: A picture of President Obama with a bone through his nose -- if that is to be considered racist -- is no more or less racist than Condoleezza Rice with a monkey baby [as drawn by a Palestinian cartoonist]. And if we weren't calling those images of Condoleezza Rice racist, then can we honestly call the imagery of Obama racist? If you take a Bush Hitler (and everybody can Google that, they're out there -- they've Hitlerized Bush and Obama) it's the same insult regardless of skin color. Are there racists that have been identified within? Dale Robertson was a guy that was denounced by groups all across the country for being racist. That's the only clear instance that I or anybody else can honestly attribute to racism. And he was not even a Tea Partier. I'm not saying they're not out there, but those views were around before the Tea Party. ESSENCE.com: You say that the Tea Party is not racist, but you have to admit that there's a messaging problem. WEBB: If I were running the messaging for the Tea Party, I'd be sitting down and saying, 'Guys we need to put this out.' And by the way, we are working on that. When that picture goes out there from the left-wing media and you perpetuate a message, that's what certain people are going to see and believe. ESSENCE.com: So what do you make of someone like former Tea Party Express spokesperson Mark Williams who recently wrote a mock letter to Abraham Lincoln from the NAACP asking him to repeal emancipation? WEBB: The letter was clearly offensive. I'm a Black man, but I'm a human being first. It's not Jonathan Swift satire, but Mark Williams has a history of hyperbole, of over-the-top offensive writing. I haven't seen all of his statements to speak to what he says, but he defends the things he writes. If it wasn't offensive and he believed in it, and this is my opinion, why take it down from your website? If David Webb puts something out there believe me I would never have a reason to take it down.  At the same time if I could honestly say the man is a racist and I knew that, I would have no problem saying it. I am not going to do that to another human being, agree or disagree. ESSENCE.com: You've recently accused the NAACP of practicing selective condemnation of racism. What did you mean? WEBB: I'll use the most recent example: King Shamir Shabazz of the new Black Panther party stood at a polling place in Philadelphia carrying a batton threatening people and making statements like 'You're about to be ruled by the Black man.' That's an example of a racist group that advocates a racist rule and mantra. When they talk about killing cracker babies I want you to flip that imagery. If a man with a White sheet and a White hood stood at that polling place, and then went and stood at a street fair and said the only way we're going to get through to the Black man is if we kill some Negro babies, which they have. Is what that KKK member is saying racist? Then why isn't what King Shamir Shabazz is doing racist? That's selective condemnation. If the NAACP is going to attack racism as an issue, then attack it in all its forms, not just the White-Black dynamic but the Black-White, the Black on Black and the White on White. There are examples of racism in this world that will always be there in some form unfortunately. ESSENCE.com: What are your thoughts on the Shirley Sherrod situation? WEBB: Where I am on that is I need to look at all the facts. I interviewed Andrew Breitbart and I gave him a chance to explain what he was putting out. ESSENCE.com: Would you interview Shirley Sherrod? WEBB: Yes, I would. I'm a journalist in those roles. I'm a commentator at times and frankly I like to talk about the issues when I'm talking to either sides or anybody. If we're going to get ahead as a culture, we don't always have to agree but we need to start with open, blunt and sometimes brutal, dialogue. I've done Gayle King's show a couple of times. She's clearly a Democrat who didn't know anything about the Tea Party, but in two segments in the past week she's taken a different look at it. This is what honest journalism is about. Now are there bad actors out there on both sides of the divide? Absolutely. They do a disservice to the American people and that's one of the reasons you and I are having this discussion because if people don't act properly we never get past these and deal with the real issues. If we're talking about Mark Williams we're not talking about racism and the racism charges by the NAACP. ESSENCE.com: New York Times columnist Charles Blow recently wrote a column about attending a Tea Party rally where there were few faces of color and the ones there felt like a "bizarre spoof of a 1980s Benetton ad." What do you make of that? WEBB: It's pathetic and sad that he wrote that. When I did the April 15th rally [in New York City] the misreporting on that was so incredible that it was disappointing. AP [Associated Press] said there were 2,000 people, CBS said 5,000 and a 'few Black people.' And my answer to that is I didn't realize there was a minimum requirement of Black people at a rally to legitimize it. Most Black people are Democrats; I would say that's a fair statement. Blacks represent 12% of the U.S. population -- there's fewer of us. It's that simple. If the Democrats had a rally, they'd have more Black people because there are more Black Democrats. ESSENCE.com: Are you concerned with getting more people of color into the Tea Party? WEBB: I'd like to see people of color pay attention because this isn't a Black-White thing, it's a green thing. I'll recant an event for you: I walk out of the Gayle King show with Janks Morton, author of "What Black Men Think," and a man in a dashiki looked at me, half-pointed and said, 'Tea Party?' And I say, 'yeah.' He said, 'Brother, keep it up...I don't know everything about all of it but I know that you sound honest and we gotta do something for the community.' He didn't say whether he was a Democrat or a Republican, and I didn't ask. I don't care. He was thinking about the economic end in the Black community. Education builds better communities. Families lead to better education. Better education leads to entrepreneurial skills in the Black community. One of the reasons we grew out of civil rights is because we built businesses. That's all broken down. Now we're in an entitlement society and circled by a system that says 'We will provide for you' rather than provide the opportunity to provide for yourself. ESSENCE.com: Do people in Black communities really have the sense that they will be provided for? I personally live in a Black neighborhood and people there certainly don't feel like they will be provided for. WEBB: Here's what I say to that: I conducted a Black Forum on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and what I wanted people in the Black community to see was this: you can take your own power and take control. You can have real empowerment by demanding that you be given that opportunity to act on your own. Demand better education, and keep your families together. I'm not a social conservative. I'm an American Constitutionalist. I'm talking family. Forty years ago 80% of Black children were born to two-parent homes. Daddy was in the house. Entitlement programs in the 80s were five babies meant the woman got five checks. Daddy didn't need to be there. ESSENCE.com: Well, he couldn't be... WEBB: He couldn't be there or else she wouldn't get five checks. That changed our culture to where 82.3% of Black babies are born to single parent households. ESSENCE.com: Weren't those programs under Republican governments? WEBB: It was a Republican program that Reagan couldn't get passed and [Bill] Clinton did something about it. Clinton could because he had street cred with the Black community and the unions when he signed workfare into law. It wasn't perfect but people started working their way out of it. It wasn't a perfect policy but there were some good strides there and out of that, for a while the fastest growing middle class segment was the Black male. That's Bureau of Statistics numbers from the 90s. We were able to go to school and a lot of us graduated and came out with a better chance. When you combine all that we were on the way up, it wasn't perfect but we had a chance. ESSENCE.com: And the Tea Party is not Republican, correct? WEBB: The Tea Party was not started by a Republican but it fit closer with what should have been core Republican values, which went away in the latter part of the Bush years. ESSENCE.com: We're reading that some Republican senators are hesitant to side with the Tea Party. Why is this? WEBB: I don't think I could credibly give you an answer except that I just don't know if there is a clear answer. Check back in tomorrow for Part Two of ESSENCE.com's conversation with David Webb.
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