ALBANY, N.Y. – They've been called Oreos, traitors and Uncle Toms, and are used to having to defend their values. Now black conservatives are really taking heat for their involvement in the mostly white tea party movement — and for having the audacity to oppose the policies of the nation's first black president.
"I've been told I hate myself. I've been called an Uncle Tom. I've been told I'm a spook at the door," said Timothy F. Johnson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group of black conservatives who support free market principles and limited government.
Johnson and other black conservatives say they were drawn to the tea party movement because of what they consider its commonsense fiscal values of controlled spending, less taxes and smaller government. The fact that they're black — or that most tea partyers are white — should have nothing to do with it, they say.
"You have to be honest and true to yourself. What am I supposed to do, vote Democratic just to be popular? Just to fit in?" asked Clifton Bazar, a 45-year-old New Jersey freelance photographer and conservative blogger.
Opponents have branded the tea party as a group of racists hiding behind economic concerns — and reports that some tea partyers were lobbing racist slurs at black congressmen during last month's heated health care vote give them ammunition.
But these black conservatives don't consider racism representative of the movement as a whole — or race a reason to support it.
Angela McGlowan, a black congressional candidate from Mississippi, said her tea party involvement is "not about a black or white issue."
"It's not even about Republican or Democrat, from my standpoint," she told The Associated Press. "All of us are taxed too much."
Still, she's in the minority. As a nascent grassroots movement with no registration or formal structure, there are no racial demographics available for the tea party movement; it's believed to include only a small number of blacks and Hispanics.
Some black conservatives credit President Barack Obama's election — and their distaste for his policies — with inspiring them and motivating dozens of black Republicans to plan political runs in November.
For black candidates like McGlowan, tea party events are a way to reach out to voters of all races with her conservative message.
"I'm so proud to be a part of this movement! I want to tell you that a lot of people underestimate you guys," the former national political commentator for Fox News told the cheering crowd at a tea party rally in Nashville, Tenn., in February.
Tea party voters represent a new model for these black conservatives — away from the black, liberal Democratic base located primarily in cities, and toward a black and white conservative base that extends into the suburbs.
Black voters have overwhelmingly backed Democratic candidates, support that has only grown in recent years. In 2004, presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry won 88 percent of the black vote; four years later, 95 percent of black voters cast ballots for Obama.
Black conservatives don't want to have to apologize for their divergent views.
"I've gotten the statement, 'How can you not support the brother?'" said David Webb, an organizer of New York City's Tea Party 365, Inc. movement and a conservative radio personality.
Since Obama's election, Webb said some black conservatives have even resorted to hiding their political views.
"I know of people who would play the (liberal) role publicly, but have their private opinions," he said. "They don't agree with the policy but they have to work, live and exist in the community ... Why can't we speak openly and honestly if we disagree?"
Among the 37 black Republicans running for U.S. House and Senate seats in November is Charles Lollar of Maryland's 5th District.
A tea party supporter running against House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Lollar says he's finding support in unexpected places.
The 38-year-old U.S. Marine Corps reservist recently walked into a bar in southern Maryland decorated with a Confederate flag. It gave his wife Rosha pause.
"I said, 'You know what, honey? Many, many of our Southern citizens came together under that flag for the purpose of keeping their family and their state together,'" Lollar recalled. "The flag is not what you're to fear. It's the stupidity behind the flag that is a problem. I don't think we'll find that in here. Let's go ahead in."
Once inside, they were treated to a pig roast, a motorcycle rally — and presented with $5,000 in contributions for his campaign.
McGlowan, one of three GOP candidates in north Mississippi's 1st District primary, seeks a seat held since 2008 by The National Republican Congressional Committee has supported Alan Nunnelee, chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, who is also pursuing tea party voters.
McGlowan believes the tea party movement has been unfairly portrayed as monolithically white, male and middle-aged, though she acknowledged blacks and Hispanics are a minority at most events.
Racist protest signs at some tea party rallies and recent reports by U.S. Reps. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Barney Frank, D-Mass., that tea partyers shouted racial and anti-gay slurs at them have raised allegations of racism in the tea party movement.
Black members of the movement say it is not inherently racist, and some question the reported slurs. "You would think — something that offensive — you would think someone got video of it," Bazar, the conservative blogger, said.
"Just because you have one nut case, it doesn't automatically equate that you've got an organization that espouses (racism) as a sane belief," Johnson said.
Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, suggested a bit of caution.
"I'm sure the reason that (black conservatives) are involved is that from an ideological perspective, they agree," said Shelton. "But when those kinds of things happen, it is very important to be careful of the company that you keep."