Monday, March 26, 2007

Rethinking the NAACP

Professor Eddie Glaude discusses his views of the NAACP on the NPR program Morning Edition. Listen Here

Rethinking the NAACP

By Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

The resignation of Bruce S. Gordon as president and chief executive of the NAACP this month portends an important and long overdue shift in black America's struggle for racial justice.

Gordon resigned after only 19 months because he disagreed with the NAACP's board on the best focus for the historic civil rights group. Gordon wanted to direct more resources toward social service programs such as wealth-building, tutoring and pregnancy counseling. The board wanted to maintain its traditional emphasis on fighting racial discrimination and advocating for social justice.

No matter where one stands in this debate, Gordon's resignation signals a critical impasse. The civil rights old guard, represented by the board, seems stuck in a 1960s mind-set that expects a particular form of response from black America -- pushing for government action to remedy the effects of discrimination. This type of response was popular, successful and necessary during the civil rights movement and, in some cases, remains a powerful form of redress.

The successes and failures of the civil rights movement, however, fundamentally changed the country's racial landscape. Of course racial discrimination remains. But we have entered what has been called a post-civil-rights age that requires an array of strategies to address the complex problems many African Americans face.

Gordon sought to extend the reach of the NAACP to include another form of African American dissent: the politics of self-empowerment. Regrettably, the NAACP was not inclined to alter its long-standing approach. Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board, rejects even the notion that we are in a post-civil-rights period, which requires imaginative and innovative struggle for social justice. Indeed, many current civil rights leaders fetishize the form of dissent most associated with the civil rights movement. They confuse principle with tactics. They behave as though marching and petitioning the government for redress of grievances is the only principled response to the maldistribution of burdens and benefits in our democracy. And they bristle at other forms of dissent, tactics designed to reach the shared goal of equality under law for all Americans. For many, it is either the old way or no way at all.

This is not to say that African Americans should no longer engage in political advocacy. But this tactic need not be the sole or primary focus of the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization. For example, the condition of many black children, from inadequate health care to poor education, begs for new and creative approaches to problem-solving. Why can't the NAACP commit some of its resources, beyond lobbying the government, to addressing the social and moral crisis faced by African American children? Can't we imagine tutoring programs as part of an agenda for social justice?

The NAACP should and must continue to fight for governmental responses to disparate health care, unfair sentencing laws and a bevy of other public policy concerns. But its leaders must also understand that the crisis in black America requires much more. If the board does not grasp this, then it has sealed the fate of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

Gordon may have lost the battle with the NAACP board to modify its emphasis, but the war is not over. We hope his departure will spark a much-needed debate in black America, and we hope that debate will change the course of our struggle.

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is a professor at Yale Law School. Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is a professor at Princeton University. Both are senior fellows at the Jamestown Project, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on democracy and social issues.

Source: Washington Post Op-ed


Anonymous said...

Quite pretentious of the professors to tell the NAACP what it should be doing. I wonder exactly what they are doing to help out the Black agenda. At the least they should help set-up College Chapters at Yale and Princeton and serve as advisors. I bet neither school has a NAACP College Chapter.

Since they are so interested in social services, exactly what are they doing in that area to help people in their immediate communities? I bet nothing. Yet they feel quite comfortable, telling people who are volunteering their time and money to help the cause what they should be doing.

We have a whole generation of middle class Black people like the professors who are standing on the backs of the sacrificies and work of others, who see no need for them to give back to others who are in need.

I say, "put up, or shut up".

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian said...

I know for a fact that Princeton University does have an NAACP chapter. I believe Yale has one as well.

And Professors such as Eddie Glaude, Cornel West, and Ronald Sullivan have been outspoken about pushing the Black agenda forward. Especially Dr. West. The fact that these men are academics and choose to push a Black agenda from the perspective of academia, does not mean that they are not qualified to speak out about what they think might improve the NAACP's service to the people. It just means we have assets looking out for our interests in the academic world. We need professionals looking out for our interests (and speaking out) in all different facets of life & all professions.... Medical doctors, Lawyers, professors, Business men and women, etc. Most of these professors are also involved in the African American studies programs at their respective Universities.... Dr. West himself is responsible for building an African American studies program for at least one University. So they ARE doing something.

I happen to agree with Professor Glaude's assessment. An organization like the NAACP has to be able to adapt to a changing social & political environment. An organization must have synergy to work.... The services and resources that it offers must match the needs in the environment (what the people need). If it doesn't offer services that match the needs of the people, then it starts to become irrelevant. That doesn't mean that the NAACP has not done good things recently.... the professor is just pointing out (as did Mr. Gordon) that the organization could do better. It can go from good to being "great" once again.

20th Century (1960's) approaches will not work for 21st Century problems- Those problems being AIDS, voter disinfranchisement, High Black unemployment, crumbling public schools, poor access to good healthcare, the degradation of the Black image as it relates to Hip Hop culture (also the image and treatment of Black women), the breakdown of the African American family, Economic access, Education and job training (and the lack thereof), Young Black men and the prison system, Employment discrimination, racial injustice, the lack of good legal representation for Blacks because the cost is so high, predatory lending practices that target the poor, liquor stores (and billboards) on every other corner in Black urban communities, the lack of accountability with record companies and Black/urban radio stations across the country, The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.... the list is long. I could go on and on. But the NAACP has not really tackled any of these issues in any meaningful robust fashion at all.

Take the Shaquanda Cotton case for example. It was bloggers (Black Bloggers as a matter of fact) who kept this story going and made sure enough buzz was created for other media to pick it up. I just read over the past 24 hours that the NAACP was now interested in "looking into the case". Excuse me???? They want to review it now???? LATE LATE LATE LATE LATE!
This case started weeks ago...and the NAACP is just getting around to reacting? In order for an organization to be effective it must be able to react quickly to conditions in the external environment. This is one of the hallmarks in the study of organizational leadership.

The NAACP should have had lawyers in Paris Texas within the first week after the story broke. In terms of legal performance...the NAACP of today is a shell of what it used to be. Keep in mind, this is an organization once known for having a fierce and respected legal service. But today, the ACLU often beats the NAACP LDF in terms of reaction and performance regarding civil rights cases.

There is nothing wrong with someone like professor Glaude or anyone else challenging the old outdated Black elite culture that guides the NAACP Board.

This is an organization that seems to put more effort into the 'pomp and circumstance' of the NAACP image awards (looking cute on TV) than it does serving the people.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of people saying something, but, other than the NAACP, very few people are actually doing something!

AAPP said...

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, what has the NAACP done for black communities as a whole lately in the area of Civil Right?

What has it done lately regarding human rights? What has it done lately with voter rights? what has it done lately with the rights of black folks in New Orleans getting thier property taken away by the Federal, State and city government's? What has it done to address the re-segregation of the majority of our big city city schools? What has it done regarding the black on black crime, hate crimes, the Federal abuse of taxpayer funds airmarked for Katrina victims, yet given through no bid contracts to Haliburton?

What has it done to address the warehousing of African American men into a prison industrial complex bigger than any nation on earth. While you parade in your fine suits for an Image Award.

Tell me Ms/or Mr. anonymous, about the great work of the NAACP over the past 30 years. Tell us Ms/or Mr. anonymous. We are eager to hear.

Anonymous said...

I'll let you do your own research. That these problems have few if any people working on them, speaks to my point about people not giving back. NAACP volunteers have their hands full with the issues they are are working on. But there are more issues, than the NAACP has volunteers to cover.

The people of the NAACP, give and they give a lot. The problem is, middle class Blacks are basically takers, expecting others to solve their problems, and the problems of others. So people like the professors, feel quite comfortable throwing stones are others who are giving all they can, while they do absolutely nothing. So for the questions you raised, ask what have YOU done about them. Its time for people to stop taking, and start stepping up!

Anonymous said...

Interesting response. I look in the mirror everyday and feel comfortable about what have done and continue to do in the Washington, DC area as a volunteer and mentor to 4 black young men. It's what I do. No handouts, no support from dysfunctioning national organization chapters, just doing GOD's work 1 person at a time.

I'm a former board member of the Boston Branch of the NAACP, I think I know better than many regarding the personal time given by NAACP volunteers.

The reality is the NAACP is a middle class black organization. It has never been considered a "grass roots" organization. The NAACP has failed to develop a comprehensive membership strategy and a comprehensive leadership development strategy in local communities.

The NAACP as an organization needs to ask itself, "What are we doing at this period in American life and how do we re-define ourselves to address of the needs of the people we serve."

Otherwise the NAACP, is nothing more than F.W. Woolworth's it will go down with so many American Institution's because of a failure to respond to the the demands of the buyer.

I wish the NAACP national board well, but time is running out. How many more Katrina's can black American take, with a muted response by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?

Anonymous said...


It is great that you are giving back. That is the crucial thing. So many aren't. The more who give back the better things will get.

Some people do well in organized groups, others feel more comfortable as individual soldiers, that is fine too. Everyone won't be an NAACper, but everyone needs to find a way to give back.

The NAACP will be fine, as the people in it will see to that. As a Black institution, it will exist long after we are gone.