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    9/12: Race, the Tea Party Protesters and a Battle of Interpretations

    BY Garance Franke-Ruta
    09/14/2009
    by Garance Franke-Ruta on 9/13/09.

    White House spokesman Robert Gibbs today brushed aside suggestions that Saturday's protests against President Obama were in any way racially motivated.

    "I don't think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin," Gibbs said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we've ever seen."

    Online and in print media, though, the question that MSNBC's First Read on Friday dubbed "the elephant in the room" has increasingly been mentioned explicitly, as in this Sunday column by Maureen Dowd -- "Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it," she wrote -- and Colbert King's Satuday column. "There's something loose in the land, an ugliness and hatred directed toward Barack Obama, the nation's first African American president, that takes the breath away. The thread of resentment is woven through conservative commentary, right-wing radio and cable TV shows, all the way to Capitol Hill," he argued.

    "At what point do what a bunch of folks in D.C. believe privately become more public -- that there is a dramatic divide between how people in the South view Obama versus the rest of the country?" the MSNBC team had asked, concluding: "Whether it's fair or not, there is a perception growing that race is driving some elements of the opposition to Obama."

    From this question to size of the crowd to whether pictures of it were real, much about the 9-12 March on Washington is being contested and subjected to different interpretations in its aftermath.

    On the left, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder StephanieTaylor collected images of the more extreme signs she saw at the DC march in real time on her TwitPic page.

    The NineTwelvePhotoStream by a liberal photographer did the same on Flickr, adding another set, "Meet Your Conservative Movement," here. (They can both be viewed as part of a 200-photo set here.)

    And of course, what became the iconic sign of the protest, produced by the American Life League, was everywhere.

    Matthew Yglesias of the Center for American Progress focused on two shots that led him to argue that "the tea parties, like a lot of big time conservative events, are a very racism friendly environment."

    On the right, this interpretation was anticipated during the protests and vigorously contested after them. "It doesn't matter what this sign says/You'll call it racism anyway!" read one poster held aloft and captured online by brinux.

    Conservative site Newsbusters highlighted the presentations of two African Americans, motivational speaker Mason Weaver and singer Lloyd Marcus, at the rally.

    Many other conservatives simply took photos without a particular message -- such as these by the Washington Times's Amanda Carpenter, or these from Tabitah Hale of blog Pink Elephant Pundit -- that showed a crowd more in line with the one seen in images and stories from major news organizations, which focused on the anti-government message of the rallies.

    RedState.com also has an "iPhone Photo Essay" from the rally here, which showed the wide range of issues and approaches represented in the march.