A is for advocacy

Posted on July 17, 2010. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

Another summer, another set of examples why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People continues its slide into partisan irrelevance.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in the meanings of words, so when I perused the speeches emanating from this year’s 101st NAACP convention out in Kansas City, the first word that came to mind is “advancement.”

Unfortunately, the only place it appears anymore is in the NAACP’s name. The modern rhetoric pouring forth from the convention podium the last few years has made it clear that advancement has shifted to advocacy, with a political agenda replacing people as the object.

If the national association were gathering to truly assess the advancement of colored people, it’s hard to imagine a better time for celebration, given the racial hue at the national executive level. The president of the United States is black, of course, as is the attorney general, the chief of NASA and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The secretaries of labor and interior are Hispanic, as is a recently appointed justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Blacks and Hispanics also are represented in leadership positions in many major metropolitan areas that are majority white, even in the South, as mayors, chiefs of police, city council members and directors. Yet the tenor of Roslyn Brock’s speech this week as national chair of the NAACP smacked of Chicken Little.

“Contrary to popular belief,” she told delegates, “we do not live in a post-racial society.”

Why mischaracterize the issue in such polarizing fashion? The NAACP learned long ago that crying wolf rallies the voters much better than counting blessings.

“When you consider rising hate crimes and insurgence of the teaparty movement along with conservative ideologues who seek to turn back the clock on civil rights gains,” Brock said ominously, “there is still much more work to be done.”

Rising hate crimes? The latest FBI information on hate crimes shows that there’s never been much variation, about 10 percent max, in the rate of hate crime victimization one way or the other. Overall, the relative risk in 2008 was less than it was in 1995 for blacks, Asians and Latinos.

As for the tea-party movement, Brock’s slur foreshadowed the delegates’ unanimous approval of a resolution calling for the repudiation of racism within tea-party ranks. The only problem is, there is no “tea party” organization over which anybody has any standing authority to repudiate anything.

Considering that the whole teaparty phenomenon has always been marked by the common and clearly expressed notion of lower taxes and limited government, Brock and the NAACP convention both are using stereotypical smears based on individual, anecdotal incidents. Isn’t that precisely the sort of thing the NAACP noisily battled once upon a time?

When Brock wasn’t brandishing stereotypes to bash conservatives, she was shamelessly shilling for Democrats.

“The NAACP is on the job committed to ensuring change that we believed in, change we voted for and, most important, change we know must happen in our nation,” she declared.

When a nonpartisan organization (1) adopts a Democratic presidential campaign slogan, and (2) lumps all NAACP members as a voting bloc for the Democratic president, it’s time the Internal Revenue Service investigate its status.

This wasn’t the first time that Brock addressed the convention or warned of sky-falling. Her warning when she stood before the delegates in 2005 also was “Our work is not done.”

Describing the NAACP’s role as that of a pot-stirrer to ensure that blacks not settle for things like “an erosion of affirmative action in today’s society”—affirmative action is now a civil right?—Brock asked delegates to “trouble the waters” with her.

“We will not settle for one black member of the United States Supreme Court,” she said, but she failed to explain the implied deficiency. One out of nine justices is 11 percent; that’s essentially in line with the latest population figures, which put blacks at 12.4 percent of the population.

Brock also likened high criminal imprisonment rates for blacks to “21st century lynchings.” Those aren’t words of advancement, or even advocacy. Those are fightin’ words, destructive and derogatory, much more like the kind used in a never-ending political battle.

The NAACP would do better to return to its roots and realize that, despite enormous legal and governmental policy gains, blacks still suffer from a host of intra-racial social ills that have little to do with racism.

Violent crime, rampant illegitimacy and failing schools are all local issues—beyond the reach of federal politics, but within the grasp of a large, mobilized and unified national organization that would dedicate its resources to community advancement in those areas.

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