What the NAACP Needs: Reincarnation
NAACP 101 Years Old
This week the National Association For The Advancement of Colored People celebrates its one hundred first birthday with its annual convention, this time hosted in Kansas City.
The NAACP is one of the oldest and most influential civil rights organizations in the United States. Its mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.
The organization has been instrumental in tackling critical issues impacting people of color where no other organization could; lynching, school segregation, voter literacy tests, unfair housing practices and police brutality to list a few.
While the milestones of achievement will always be a part of history, the current status and the future of the organization are in question. The NAACP has a lot of critics- the majority of which are African Americans themselves. I count myself as one of them.
Membership has plummeted as people question- and downright challenge its relevance and effectiveness today. Former and current members say the NAACP does little to effectively advance the struggles people of color face, at the local or national level.
It has created a generation gap in the organization; those who were on the front lines of the historical struggle, and those born well after the movement reached its peak. It all translates into a grassroots leadership gap.
The new leadership of the NAACP reflects an attempt to do better. At age 37, CEO and President Benjamin Jealous is the youngest leader in its history.
The organization is aware of the perception it is out of touch. Convention goers at Bartle Hall this week will discuss, among other topics, revitalizing the organization’s 600 high school and college units, buffing up the website and making better use of social media — YouTube, MySpace and Facebook — to reach new blood.
But younger leadership, and a stronger social media presence doesn’t address how the organization operates and what issues they take on in the name of advancing equality for Black people.
The NAACP fails to use its national platform to address equity and civil rights issues at the local level, where they are most poignant in the lives of its members. We don’t need to look any further than out own back yard for examples;
The national office has been made aware of every questionable law enforcement shooting of Black men in the greater Seattle area and has never lifted a finger to advocate for necessary investigations or criminal charges against the officers.
When security guards with the Kent School District were accused of abusing Black children through unnecessary handcuffing and excessive force, the National office sought to force the local branch to clarify it was not involved in the investigation or efforts for justice or policy reform.
When Seattle Public Schools showed its acceptance of segregation with forced school closures and new student assignment plan- again, the National organization was aware- and did nothing.
It is a pattern of failure duplicated in every city with an active branch, leaving local Black communities fed up.
The organization is also heavily criticized for what many feel are corporate relationships that present a conflict of interest and influence leadership in the wrong direction.
Net neutrality is a civil rights issue. But instead of advocating on the side of the people, the organization has taken the side of corporations like AT&T to discourage the federal government from maintaining an open and free internet; AT&T contributes millions of dollars every year to the NAACP.
The final straw for most critics lies in the organization’s failure to hold the Black community accountable when needed; Black on Black crime isn’t addressed. The failing Black family structure is ignored. Parental responsibility for their child’s education is rarely, if ever mentioned. The degrading and abusive treatment Black women face at the hands of Black men has never been adequately addressed.
In short, the NAACP is quick to throw down the victim card. Self accountability? Not so much. It’s a habit that has allowed the American Black community to avoid responsibility for changing things within their control- and instead blame others for their condition. It’s time to start addressing root causes of problems on the symptoms. They have to not be afraid to call for change within our community, not just outside of it.
One hundred and one years is a long life well lived- one that eventually must come to and end. If the organization hopes to thrive for another one hundred years and advance the lives of those it represents, it needs to wriggle its caterpillar self into a cocoon and emerge as a 21st century Butterfly ready to soar to new heights- in a new direction.
Co-Produced by POLITickling and Inkognegro