Someone please get this memo to my friend Ben Jealous and the NAACP.
The title is not a slam but a challenge. It is not a request – but, rather, a plea for a proper response to yet another boneheaded statement by a right-wing American.
It is 2012. Conditions are not improving in our communities for the most part. The signs are all around us. Even when things apparently seem to be getting better for most Americans (as may be the case after hearing the latest round of unemployment numbers from December), Black people continue to fall behind. It is certainly not the time to continue doing the same things we did in 2011 and before, expecting a different yet groundbreaking result.
Before I go on, I must confess: I know that I am in the minority of Black Americans that feel that the NAACP is a relevant organization in today’s political and social climate. I can pretty much assure you that I am one of the only Black conservatives that believe that the NAACP has any value to African-Americans today.
However, I have to also confess: my public patience with the organization is wearing thin.
It’s time for the NAACP to get back outside of the box, be historic once again, and help lead Black America to a better place in time. It’s time for the NAACP – and other similar organizations whose time for many has come and gone – to cement new partners and create new paradigms to uplift a people and advance America.
That cannot and will not happen as long as the only time the NAACP gets involved in political dialogue with one-half of our political system is to criticize one of its members.
Granted, many Republicans and Tea Party conservatives make it easy for Blacks to sit on the sidelines and throw insults at the minority of fools that decide that racism is justified in the Obama Era. As well, it is necessary to ask those that that risk the appearance of condoning such behalf through their silence or arrogance to get off of the fence and choose to join the ranks of equality-seeking Americans or fully punch their tickets onto the ship of fools.
However, for the NAACP, the historical obligation it holds hardly has its limits at the edge of the playing field. At a time when Blacks are losing, the NAACP comes off as a big-contract, has-been all-star that that garners the money but can’t move the ball anymore when it is time to produce.
The NAACP’s shallow slam of Republican presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum is yet another hollow notion by the organization to advocate for Black Americans. It is a way to go without both moving outside of the comfort zone of sound-bite civics and advancing the conversation from rhetoric to empowerment and uplifting change.
For true, the statements politically-damaging and seemingly unnecessary (especially in the case of Santorum). These moves on the campaign stump should be characterized as being “boneheaded.” Yet, as much as we know about how the message was delivered was questionable, we also know that the sentiment behind the message is valid at this crucial time in the history of America concerning Black people.
And we also have seen through decades of Democratic control over the voting patterns of Black Americans, we have not received the political, scholastic, employment, and healthcare results necessary to keep pace with other Americans and those within the global economic sphere, despite Democrats controlling the House of Representatives for roughly 4 decades through the 1990s and holding both chambers of the Congress for 4 of the past 6 years.
The current paradigm of being a partisan wing of the Democratic Party with special tax status (due to an unused and outdated civil rights, non-partisan label) is both misleading and toxic to Black America. It also diminishes its chances to catch up with the rest of the world.
If the NAACP truly desires to regain its historic years of lore instead of merely mimicking the messaging of the past, it will quickly refocus itself on partnering with those seeking to bring a new reality of employment, work ethic, empowerment, and equality for Black America.
President Ben Jealous – whom I like personally and root for professionally – and his leadership must do more than merely extend invitations to folks such as Gingrich to discuss issues impacting Blacks without having the relationships in place to foster trust and creative solution-making. They must immediately drop the tendency to be so reactionary whenever quasi-racist remarks are made in the public sphere, especially when the statements – on their merits, not their surface – share the same desire to empower Black people with education, employment, and advancement as equal partners in the American Dream, not de facto second-class citizens chasing a fantasy and living a collective nightmare.
Opportunities exist within the recent past of the GOP as well as the conservative base’s current makeup that afford the NAACP a chance to partner with conservatives and force both sides of the political aisle to be relational and responsive to Black America.
Continuing to ignore the call to think outside of the box and challenge one’s self without activating real solutions and partnerships, is narrow-minded at best and cowardly at worst. It is an act that is blind to the political realities within America, the current opportunities therein, and the need to avoid the temptation to do what is sexy from a public relations standpoint in order to make the substantive steps that have a lasting impact.
Republicans do not need criticism from the NAACP on behalf of Black Americans, especially when 50 years of political history dictate that Republicans have become tone-deaf to racial taunts – as long as their voting successes for the White House and Congress are unaffected. The GOP needs challenges from the NAACP, direct and persistent conversation to bring about the “smaller government” goals that conservatives pine for, a reality that would be accomplished through the improved state of education, employment, and empowerment realities for Black America. If the Tea Party movement and the recent Republican revolution have shown anything, it is that the desire for small government will prompt conservatives to think and act outside of the previous political mold. The NAACP and other Black leaders must be crafty enough to use this desire to Black America’s advantage.
“Calling out” racism in ways that hearken back to days of Jim Crow catches people’s attention, but does little else to change the realities of today’s America. As long as Jim Crow’s lingering effects on America remain nuanced and pliant, Black leaders’ approaches to engaging thought leaders and policy makers on the right must align with the conditions of our people. Otherwise, they do nothing but continue to speak loudly on the public forum without saying much of anything at all – a reality that does not create the platforms and bridges to partnerships to do anything different than political status quo. Obviously, that’s not working.
LENNY MCALLISTER is a political commentator regularly seen on CNN, including “CNN Early Start” and “CNN Newsroom.” Catch Lenny on “CNN Saturday Morning” with Democratic strategist this Saturday at 10:30 AM Eastern (9:30 Central / 7:30 Pacific) on CNN. His podcast “Getting Ready to Get Right” can be found at Politic365.