Bush Is Not The NAACP ‘s Problem

One thing is certain President Bush won’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 Bush’s head in his opening speech to the NAACP’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 organization’s dais last year, the NAACP had made Bush’s snub of the group a ritual. The NAACP would formally invite Bush to speak. And Bush would quickly beg off with either the politicians’ 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 Bush’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 détente is over. While Bush is a pliable punching bag again for the NAACP, the stark reality is that if Bush weren’t in the White House, the NAACP would still be in trouble.

The NAACP’s embrace of showy, symbolic fights, such as a gimmicky but irrelevant funeral for the N word at this year’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. There’s good reason. The rap against the organization is that time has passed it’s aging, staid, old guard leadership by, and that it needs a youth shot in the arm. There’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 weren’t forced to drink from colored only water fountains, attacked by snarling police dogs, and cattle prod welding sheriff’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 nation’s best-known and respected champion of civil rights for nearly a century. The clash between the organization’s past and where young people are at today is probably too great to overcome.

The NAACP’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 it’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 Bond’s opening speech Bush bash was a good stem-winder, it won’t do much to bridge the gulf between the two black Americas, one poor, frustrated, and alienated and the other prosperous, and upwardly achieving. That’s what has to happen if the NAACP doesn’t want to become what many already say it is, namely obsolete.

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