Ben Buchwalter

On its Birthday, the NAACP Becomes Inclusive
February 12, 2009, 10:45 am
Filed under: Civil Rights, Race | Tags: , , , ,

As the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, celebrates its 100th birthday today, the organization’s leader signals an interesting change that speaks loudly to the shifting tone of race relations in today’s society. The NAACP will move away from addressing African American issues exclusively and focus on improving equality among all people across the world.

According to the 36-year old President Benjamin Todd Jealous,

“The No. 1 challenge we face is the lack of outrage in this country about how everyday people are treated, and so that is what I’m focused on now,” Jealous said. “We’ve practiced one formula with great success and need to continue to transform this country, not just for black people, but all people.”

In the near future, the NAACP plans to focus on health care, Darfur’s genocide, and climate change.

This is an interesting evolution, and I think a really good one. Many successful nonprofit organizations and political action committees expand once they are successful with their original mission. The NAACP has had incredible success desegregating the United States and making society safer for African Americans. Applying this organization to other American minorities and internationally oppressed populations could be extremely powerful.

But there are two major risks associated with the NAACP’s expansion.

  • The NAACP should not spread itself too thin. One of the reasons it has been so successful in the past is that it has had one mission: to advocate for racial equality using the legal system and democratic modes of opposition. If the NAACP expands its programs without expanding its base of support (financially and socially), then it risks squandering its incredible potential.
  • Also, the NAACP should not send the message that racial issues are fixed in the United States. Yes, things are much better than they were 50 years ago, even 20 years ago. But a much subtler racism remains in American cities, towns and rural communities that often manifests itself in housing discrimination, workplace inequality, and delicate daily interactions.

The NAACP’s growth touches on a reader diary I noticed on the Daily Kos yesterday. The author suggested that we should do away with Black History month because 1) it is condescending to African Americans, and 2) It is not necessary to elevate this minority over other American minorities.

Doing away with black history month is unrealistic, unnecessary, and unproductive. But it does raise questions about why we visibly honor African Americans in February, but barely notice the months dedicated to Hispanic Americans (September 15-October 15), Asian Americans (May), and most notably, Native Americans (November). Is it anything more than collective national guilt for our history of slavery and government sponsored racism? If so, why aren’t we as repentant about our involvement in the Native American genocide?

This speaks to one major issue that lurks behind racial dialogue in the United States. Do we elevate African American history and the history of American oppression to the detriment of other major American minorities (which have not exactly had a free ride)?

Jealous’ vision for the future of the NAACP indicates that this should not be the case. And I hope that the neo-NAACP will be equally as successful as it has been in the past 100 years to help increase equality between Americans of all backgrounds.


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