I have yet to weigh in directly on the Ben Jealous-NAACP-FOX News-Tea Party episode. Between the recent death of my sister Sarai, the week I spent in New York helping to plan her funeral, the end of a summer course, looking for additional work, and working on other writing projects, not to mention the incompetence of PEPCO and Comcast in Montgomery County, I haven’t exactly been in the mood.
This post, though, will not be a kvetching session about the foibles of a highly educated, if somewhat enigmatic man. Nor will this be about the illegitimacy of a news organization that offers an irradiated-hamburger-meat kind of news. And really, I already spent too much time playing race psychologist for the Tea Party and all of its discontents in the past week. Instead, I want to focus on the dead organization that is the NAACP, which, by the way, should change its name to the National Organization for the Advancement of People of Color (NAAPC).
Within that sentence is a simple lesson, that progressive organizations working on behalf of groups of color must agitate, collaborate and develop programs to address everyday issues of their constituents as part of a broad-based coalition. This is the future of Black leadership and the social justice movement in a multicultural America. This isn’t a problem unique to the NAACP. Even for the more forward thinking organizations such as National Urban League, National Council of La Raza, and the National Congress of American Indians, new programs, movements and coalitions are difficult to sustain, financially and otherwise.
So the following proposal is for the NAACP and for identity-based social justice organizations. Because of the current funding environment and overall conservative climate, it will work in the NAACP’s favor to form coalitions with other progressive organizations. Key issues loom for all groups of color in American society, including educational reform, workforce training and development, affordable housing, small business development, and adequate health care access. These are all issues in which the NAACP, NUL, NCLR, and NCAI all share an affinity.
This isn’t a new suggestion. It certainly isn’t an adequate one by itself. These organizations should go further by approaching the foundation community, the business community, state and federal officials, and their members as a coalition. This would provide strength in numbers (i.e., dollars and constituents) and free these organizations from reinventing programs or developing programs from scratch.
If the main hindrances are around pride, turf violations, or who gets credit for the work, it need not be. Working in coalition on specific civil rights-related issues would enable the NAACP, NUL, NCLR, NCAI and other organizations to build a broader multiracial constituency. There is more than enough work to go around in addressing issues that affect many of the 110 million persons of color in the United States today. Addressing educational reform directly in African American, Latino, and Native American communities, for instance, is a task too big for the federal government to take on, much less one organization.
It isn’t sexy work, but confronting the single greatest need of persons of color between the ages of twelve and 24 – by creating the academic, cultural, and socioeconomic conditions necessary for high school and college completion would guarantee a future purpose for the NAACP. Not to mention the NUL, NCLR, NCAI, and the social justice movement. This would also give the NAACP and these other organizations the broad-based constituency necessary for political influence, something that they could all use in more sufficient quantities.
This proposal is better than the current state of affairs at the NAACP. One in which everything is about the eight-second-soundbite, about Hollywood giving Black actors more work, or complaining that leaders in the Tea Party have refused to rein in their most bigoted speakers. That’s a waste of breath and time, something anyone with a title can do.
For this to work, the NAACP must get over its Brown v. Board of Education and Civil Rights Movement hangover. The organization can and should continue its role as an agitator for the civil rights of African Americans and continue to be part of the fray with the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to redress civil rights violations. Yet we must recognize that we are forty-five years removed from the height of the Civil Rights Movement. If many White progressives are sober enough to have learned that the 1960s are over, it’s not too late for the NAACP’s leadership to recognize that activism and membership dues alone are insufficient to address civil rights needs of African Americans today (as well as other “colored people”).