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'Tea party' and diversity: bad rap from liberals or a genuine need?

Tea party group FreedomWorks this week launched a 'Diverse Tea' website aimed at promoting diversity within the movement. Local tea party officials across the US speak about their views of diversity.

By Sara JohnsonContributor / September 17, 2010

Many photos snapped at tea party rallies – such as this one at the Capitol on Sunday – seem to show only white people. The group Freedom Works hopes to change that perception.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP



"Tea party" activists know the rap against their movement: It's for white people.

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Many tea partyers out in the grass roots don't argue much with that characterization. In photos snapped at tea party rallies, most of the faces in the foreground – and the background – are white. While some tea party members insist that their political insurgency is "not about race," others are bothered by the absence of people of color and want to remedy it.

Count among them, apparently, Freedom Works, a tea party organization. On Tuesday, its leaders announced the debut of "Diverse Tea" – FreedomWorks' new website and campaign aimed at promoting diversity within the tea party movement. The site proclaims the movement's open door: “We are black, brown, and white. We are Jew and gentile. We are from different communities, various backgrounds, and all races, colors, and creeds.”

“I get a little tired of the diversity talk of liberals,” said FreedomWorks leader and former House majority leader Dick Armey at a Monitor breakfast for reporters on Monday.

Of course, "diversity" means different things to different people, and in the absence of many black, Hispanic, or other racial and ethnic members, some tea partyers like to tout their diversity of ideas.

To Robert Cressionnie, a member of the Tar River Tea Party in Rocky Mount, N.C., that means calling out both Democratic and Republican politicians for actions at odds with tea party principles.

“I have been just as hard on the Democrats as the Republicans,” says Mr. Cressionnie in a phone interview. “I play no favorites when it comes to political parties.”

Cressionnie lives in Nash County, where 42 percent of the residents are something other than white, according to census data. He says the diversity issue is “being played up more than it should.” The tea party’s message, he adds, “transcends race.”