Forgive me for cribbin’ Kayne but: The NAACP Convention has begun and color me bored. It’s great that a black president is going to speak in front of one of America’s largest and oldest black institution. Hooray. Yet, I’ve now had the chance to interact with the NAACP’s new leadership up close and have also been observing from afar. Between you and me, I’m unimpressed. I actually had begun to have some glimmers of hope that the NAACP could turn around and once more be a relevant and powerful organization that lives up to its name: a real National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Instead it appears destined to remain the bloated, toothless, shuffling, irrelevant, obsolete, corporate-sponsored and paid-to-do-nothing organization it has sadly become in the post-civil rights era. If you’re a member, your money is being wasted on hundreds of staff members who ain’t up to much. If you’ve considered being a member, don’t bother. If you’re following their movements, it’s probably a waste of time unless you want to chronicle the folly and maybe push back against it. The real future of the advancement of black folks is happening without the NAACP and you, by reading blogs like this one and joining this community, are a bigger part of change for us than anyone there. If you are looking for the future of black leadership, than look no further. It ain’t the NAACP fo sho. It’s you. And it’s me. Cuz that’s all we’ve got.
The NAACP has a special logo to celebrate its 100th year. And it is impressive to have a nonprofit that’s lasted so long. Many today think of the civil rights movement as having happened only during the 60s and 70s. Some black leaders from that period would have you believe that they personally saved black people. And I’m not here to diminish the great sacrifices, courage and achievements from that period. However, the age of the NAACP speaks to the length of the struggle for freedom and full citizenship for those of African descent in America. In fact, you could say that the civil rights movement goes back as far as the abolition movement — the Underground Railroad, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth – all that.
Multiple generations of my family going back to my great-grandparents have been members in the post-slavery era of the NAACP. There was a time when the NAACP was radical, cutting edge, risky and innovative. In 1909, the nation was in full post-Reconstruction mode at this time with a full-on crackdown on Indians and African-Americans. This was the age of the Ku Klux Klan, the most vicious form of which was re-launched in 1915. By the 20s, the KKK was boasted a membership of 15% of white men in America. Hating, oppressing and killing black people was mainstream. To protect African-Americans in this atmosphere and fight back against legalized and other forms of discrimation and hatred — this was part of the mission of the NAACP.
For years, the NAACP fought hard and attracted the best and the brightest of Black America to its ranks. It was powered in large part by the black middle class who sought to better their lives: personally, locally and across the nation. African-Americans from all walks of life were part of something larger than them and heroes like Thurgood Marshall and Rosa Parks emerged from the NAACP’s rank and file.
Those days seem long gone. Today, the NAACP seems determined to be a follower and not a leader. How do I know?
At the Democratic National Convention, I sat down with a small group of a handfull of top black bloggers to meet with Ben Jealous and a few members of his transition staff in an off-the-record session. It was an interesting meeting capped by a rambing story told by Jealous in which he seemed to be trying to say that he understood what bloggers were doing based on his own background. Nothing was accomplished or really agreed upon at the meeting — the goal was apparently a “meet-and-greet”. That’s fine, but I would have been more impressed with an actual working session on how to collaborate with our community to create positive change.
My second meeting with Jealous was with another slightly larger but still small group of folks in the Bay Area along with several members of his senior staff. It was a variety of leaders and thinkers with the goal specifically around how to use the web more effectively to reach a younger generation of African-Americans who largely ignore the NAACP, i.e. the internet-driven generations of Gen X & Gen Y — ages 25-45. It was an interesting session and I felt heard as someone who has effectively joined together with you to reach that generation and get some stuff done for black folks. Still, both Harvey Anderson, brother VP and general counsel of Mozilla (which brings you cool web browsers and other software) and I came away hoping but also wondering if the NAACP could actually lurch its way towards relevance again. Here’s what he had to say on his blog immediately following the meeting:
There are folks who’ll spend hours figuring out how to apply software to the problems, use social networks to spread information, make great contributions, and who may even remain anonymous, but they won’t go to chapter meetings or be involved in traditional ways. Morphing the organization to capture this kind of engagement will be essential to its future success, and I’m optimistic the current leadership will adapt. For sure it will be uncomfortable and awkward at first, but the very willingness to solicit feedback and new ideas is a really good start. Merely communicating about the needs of the institution opens up the possibility for greater engagement by larger and more diverse audiences, all for the good.
Harvey was optimistic. I, on the other hand, no longer am. Since that Bay Area meeting, I’ve seen the following happen:
Duane G. Davis Sr. 1402 Lochner Rd.Apt A Baltimore Md. 21239 Dear Ms. Lisa Madigan Concerning our recent correspondence dated 1-16-09 (08 IG 00094):regarding the issue of my request for your office to investigate my charges of political and judicial miss-conduct does needs to be addressed through your office. We seem to have a failure in our communications. During my illegal incarceration Ms. Shirl Nelson and my family members called your office and informed you that I was being illegally detained. Her phone records and my letters to Mr. Griffin is proof of my attempts to receive Due Process and Equal Protection. The Whistle Blowers Act is designed to Snitch on corrupt public official and bring them in front of the courts to have them held accountable. I have sent you information ever since 3-3-08. And every time I request your help or attention you give me reasons why you can not h
Folks will continue to feel the need to genuflect and pay lip service to the NAACP for a few more years, but this moribund, pathetic institution done sold itself down river long ago. There are a couple of things that look promising like the new Rapid Report System for reporting police misconduct and brutality but are so far, I’m not encouraged. Why do I have a feeling that all these reports online will go the way of the other reports offline — into a giant circular file.
The NAACP has become a social club geared towards frontin’ and profilin’ towards getting ahead via networking rather than getting justice via action.
The “new NAACP” looks a lot like the old NAACP. It looks less interested in the Advancement of Colored People than the Advancement of Corporate Power. It’s not that corporations are inherently bad — it’s just that they are sometimes more interested in protecting their bottom lines than in being a good neighbor to black folks.
The history of the NAACP deserves our gratitude and pride as a people. The future of the NAACP requires nothing from us. It’s unclear whether or not we really need it — black bloggers have gotten more done for civil rights than the NAACP in the past few years, frankly. The center of gravity has changed — Color of Change has more supporters now than the NAACP. And collectively black bloggers have a larger audience online than the NAACP. As Obama has quipped: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. No organization can survive this failure to respond to its audience.
Cheryl Contee aka "Jill Tubman", Baratunde Thurston aka "Jack Turner", rikyrah, Leutisha Stills aka "The Christian Progressive Liberal", B-Serious, Casey Gane-McCalla, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley aka "Marcus Toussaint," Fredric Mitchell
Special Contributors: James Rucker, Rinku Sen, Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, Adam Luna, Kamala Harris
Technical Contributor: Brandon Sheats