Saturday, June 30, 2012

The NAACP: A Search for Relevance in the 21st Century

The question of "relevance" ever haunts the NAACP these days, and for good reason. As it is presently constituted, it is irrelevant.

Start with the name, NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was in 1994, fully 18 years ago, when I wrote to the NAACP leadership, after attending one of their membership banquets at the Hilton in downtown Kalamazoo. I implored them to change their name to NAAPC - National Association for the Advancement of People of Color. Sounded like a no-brainer as we approached the 21st century. This particular membership drive was geared toward young people. I suggested: "What young people would join an organization whose very name - "Colored People" - insults them? The leadership rejected my idea.

Why does the NAACP persist in denigrating itself and the people it supposedly represents? Because the NAACP is a dancing bear - it dances for its supper.

Deep down, the NAACP knows it has not accomplished anything in years. Perhaps the leadership - Ben Jealous, et al - imagines there would be no donations to the NAACP at all, except those donations have come because of that iconic name. Unfortuantely, the very name - NAACP - has become synonymous with self-congratulatory fetes, and subsequent lethargy.

Recently, the NAACP passed a resolution in support of same sex marriage as a civil right. Many wonder why the NAACP would take up this issure considering the majority in the African-American community rejects gay marriage. All seem to agree, however, that is was an attempt to "remain relevant," (and cash in on what political pundits are calling an abundance of "gay money.")

There are bigger issues in America, like the resolution put forth by this citizen declaring the institution of slavery in America a Crime Against Humanity. Such a resolution in the hands of a once-august entity such as the NAACP, could help bring this nation to the brink of racial healing for which it so deeply longs.

Then there is Major League baseball and its system of apartheid (better known as "Jim Crow baseball") that has persisted since baseball's inception in 1839. And though this forced segregation ended in 1947 with Jackie Robinson's entrance into the Major Leagues, the achievements of those Negro League stars who toiled in that separate (but equal) league are whitewashed from baseball history as though they never happened. This, too, is a post in the structure that helps sustain the racial divide in America. We cannot change baseball's sordid past, but with the NAACP's help, we can correct it.

And what of this criminal justice system which consistently preys upon poor families in America? There is little pretense at "justice" there anymore - it is just "criminal" the way they squeeze monies from these poor families even as they drain them of their hope.

America's prison system has become a den of human rights abuses - none more egregious than its penchant for keeping men and women imprisoned who, anywhere else, would be free. Even China and Iran compare favorably.

Now they seek to privatize their prison industry - prison for profit.

Where prisons' goal becomes profit, it conflicts with the liberation interests of humans everywhere. The very trajectory is contrary to the course of justice set forth in the U.S. Constitution. And America's prisons beome plantations - people, once more, are made chattel. Who will speak up for these dispossessed?

Want relevance, NAACP? Change your name. Then, declare a moratorium on feasts and fashion shows. Get back to earning your celebrations.

Justice has been known to skip a generation - no fault of its own. It happens most often when those charged with protecting the rights of others go to sleep at the switch. Fortunately for us all, justice marches on.

Wake up, NAACP. You've been asleep too long. Justice is up ahead. If you try, you may intercept her at that next great moment in history. If you do not, you will go down as the biggest mat-head since Rip van Winkle.

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