ALBANY, New York (AP) — Black conservatives are used to having to defend their values, but they now are really taking heat for their involvement in the mostly white “tea party” movement — and for having the audacity to oppose the policies of America’s first black president.

“I’ve been told I hate myself,” said Timothy F. Johnson, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group of black conservatives who support free market principles and limited government.

“Black Republicans find themselves always having to prove who they are. Because the assumption is the Republican Party is for whites and the Democratic Party is for blacks,” he said.

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, lower 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.

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, Tennessee, 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?”

Associated Press writers Brian Witte in Maryland and Emily Wagster Pettus in Mississippi contributed to this