Bush Is Not The NAACP â€˜s Problem
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One thing is certain President Bush wonâ€™t be back at the NAACP convention this year. NAACP chairman Julian Bond made sure of that when he dumped every ill from the Iraq war to the Katrina aid flop on Bushâ€™s head in his opening speech to the NAACPâ€™s 98th convention in Detroit this week. This was the sort of kick Bush in the teeth slam that Bond has virtually held a patent on since Bush took office. In fact, before Bush graced the organizationâ€™s dais last year, the NAACP had made Bushâ€™s snub of the group a ritual. The NAACP would formally invite Bush to speak. And Bush would quickly beg off with either the politiciansâ€™ standard excuse of a scheduling conflict, or simply ignore the invite. Bond would then brand Bush as insensitive, uncaring, and an enemy of civil rights and blacks.
When corporate friendly former NAACP president and CEO, Bruce Gordon pitched Bush to speak last year, and he accepted, that was a hopeful sign that Bushâ€™s deep freeze of the group had ended and the NAACP would pull its punches in pounding Bush. But with Gordon out after only 19 months at the helm, the Bush dÃ©tente is over. While Bush is a pliable punching bag again for the NAACP, the stark reality is that if Bush werenâ€™t in the White House, the NAACP would still be in trouble.
The NAACPâ€™s embrace of showy, symbolic fights, such as a gimmicky but irrelevant funeral for the N word at this yearâ€™s convention, and its blatant push of any and all Democrats, does little to solve the heavy duty problems of drugs, crime, and gangs, soaring joblessness among young blacks, and the astronomical black prison incarceration rate. The annual report cards that NAACP officials issue on racial progress in financial services, auto retail, telecommunications, and the advertising and marketing industries, and procurement and vendor relations and foundation and corporate giving has absolutely no bearing on the plight of poor blacks.
NAACP officials have talked incessantly about attracting young, fresh faces and talent to the organization. Thereâ€™s good reason. The rap against the organization is that time has passed itâ€™s aging, staid, old guard leadership by, and that it needs a youth shot in the arm. Thereâ€™s a problem with that too. The majority of young blacks were born after the titanic battles of the 1960s against legal Jim Crow segregation. They werenâ€™t forced to drink from colored only water fountains, attacked by snarling police dogs, and cattle prod welding sheriffâ€™s deputies, kicked and spat on at lunch counters, and had doors slammed in their face when they tried to get a room at a hotel.
That experience and the civil rights activism that swept away those barriers is a foreign concept to them. But that activism is precisely what made the NAACP the nationâ€™s best-known and respected champion of civil rights for nearly a century. The clash between the organizationâ€™s past and where young people are at today is probably too great to overcome.
The NAACPâ€™s dilemma in trying to rekindle the flame of civil rights activism and appeal to young people is compounded by the its top-heavy emphasis on corporate dollars to bankroll its operations. A tilt by the NAACP toward a hard-edged activist agenda carries the fearful risk of alienating the corporate donors and the Democratic politicians that the NAACP leaders carefully cultivate. The organization depend on them to gain even more jobs, promotions, and contracts for black professionals and businesspersons, to bag contributions for their fundraising campaigns, dinners, banquets, scholarship funds and programs, and increased political patronage.
The irony is that even with those corporate dollars, the NAACP still teeters on the brink of financial calamity. A month ago it closed most of its national offices and laid off 70 employees. The NAACP is in yet another fight for its life to keep the doors open, and unless it can figure out a way to stir more blacks to cough up the nickels and dimes as they did for decades past to keep the group going it faces even tougher sledding in the future.
The NAACP is at yet another crossroads. It is ridiculed by young blacks as irrelevant, criticized by activist blacks as too conservative, and ignored by the White House. Yet, despite its flaws itâ€™s still the only true national civil rights organization going. It can reclaim its cutting edge leadership and activism by mounting a no-holds barred assault on the towering social ills that still torment poor blacks.
While Bondâ€™s opening speech Bush bash was a good stem-winder, it wonâ€™t do much to bridge the gulf between the two black Americas, one poor, frustrated, and alienated and the other prosperous, and upwardly achieving. Thatâ€™s what has to happen if the NAACP doesnâ€™t want to become what many already say it is, namely obsolete.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press and Hispanic Economics New York) in English and Spanish will be out in October.