So I’ve been teasing this for a while during my rather sporadic appearances on JJP for the past few months, but I told ya’ll I was working on something I thought you guys might enjoy when it was finished.  And it’s finished!

I’ve spent the past few months working on a profile of the NAACP’s new president, Benjamin Jealous, that I think is pretty relevant to the discussions we’ve been having on JJP for the past few months. Obviously we’re in a new political moment, so it’s been interesting to see how the nation’s oldest civil rights organization has decided to handle it. The crux of the piece I suppose, is the debate over how to confront the issues facing black folks in the modern era, whether the limits of advocacy have been reached and we need to focus on services, or whether there’s still a need for social justice organizations like the NAACP:

For Jealous, mass incarceration is the civil-rights challenge of this generation. Addressing it, he says, requires more than just changing draconian drug laws; it also requires confronting poverty and a failing public-education system. Young black folks, particularly the urban poor who most need an organization like the NAACP to look out for them, are facing problems of violence, drugs, AIDS, and unequal education.

Most civil-rights activists, and even their critics, agree with Jealous that this is the biggest civil-rights challenge of the modern era — they just disagree on how to meet it. John McWhorter of the conservative Manhattan Institute says that a dysfunctional black culture, not racism, is the issue, and it can only be addressed internally. “The proper thing for a civil-rights organization to do today is to go into services,” McWhorter says.

Jealous, however, argues that the NAACP needs to stick to its roots — advocating for better public policy. Providing services isn’t the NAACP’s role, he argues. “Some people would like to see us be an alternative government infrastructure for black people,” Jealous says. “I understand where that comes from; the reality is that’s what we’ve been fighting against for 100 years. What we’ve been fighting for is for the government that we already have to respond to the needs of all people. Our focus is on the needs of black America; that’s what we do best; that’s where we’re known best. But our goal is a fully functioning democracy.”

Read the whole thing!

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