Today is not time for retreat

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

April 14, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

My advice to the NAACP is to ignore everybody's advice except my own.

I believe in your organization and the work it has done, guys. I understand what you are trying to accomplish and why. But I'm not too sure about some of these other fellows.

Ever since February when Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks announced that he would retire as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the venerated civil rights organization has been buffetted by opinions as to where it ought to go and how it ought to get there.

Syndicated columnist William Raspberry argued that NAACP leaders are woefully behind the times.

"Our civil rights generals are still fighting the last war," he wrote, "demanding that government agencies create and fund the programs we need, that the courts protect our interests, and that white America get religion even while we are losing our own."

Syndicated columnist Clarence Page noted that a great many blacks now ask of the NAACP, "What have you done for us lately?"

"Maybe now it's time to move on to new strategies to revive inner-city economies, educate our young, fight street crime and empower embattled parents in low-income households," Page wrote.

And those are just samplings from some of the people I usually respect. You should hear the advice offered from the NAACP's "friends" on the far right.

The general consensus seems to be that while NAACP leaders have focused their efforts outward, the major problems afflicting black communities today are of their own making: drug abuse and crime, functional illiteracy and unemployment, teen-age pregnancy and the decline of strong values.

Acknowledging that racism, segregation and discrimination still exist, Raspberry added, "but mostly here and there, now and then."

Problem is, this perception seems grounded in the same myths and stereotypes that have afflicted blacks since the 18th century: that black people are lazy and unmotivated and inclined to blame others for their troubles; that disparities in education, income and political power are less the result of structural inequalities in society than blacks' own misbehavior; that black leaders have become incessant whiners.

But the most glaring myth of all is the apparent assumption that the whole catalog of social afflictions is the particular and exclusive responsibility of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations.

These assertions are not only false, they are identical to the assertions made by segregationists and racists throughout history.

It seems to me that black America is at a crossroads, all right, but not because of moribund leadership. We are at a crossroads because many of us seem to have forgotten our own recent past.

The social issues that confront the black community today have always confronted the black community, including the violence, the unemployment, the poverty. They are the symptoms of isolation and powerlessness, a deliberate attempt to maintain black America in a colonial state, whose resources and labor flow outward with no return.

"Throughout our history, no one in this country has worked harder than black Americans and for less reward," noted historian Lerone Bennett.

Civil rights leaders have fought to redefine and broaden our perception of who constitutes the mainstream. They alone have consistently pushed for the kind of social, economic and political empowerment the majority of black people are calling for today.

Affirmative action and other civil rights laws are not an effort to reward the wicked and the irresponsible, but to reverse the economic and political rape of the hard-working.

It is true that the rate of black progress has slowed.

It is true that large percentages of black Americans remain isolated and disenfranchised and that the mainstream society feels no responsibility to change.

And it is certainly true that the segregationists and racists, forced to retreat in the 1950s and 1960s, have come roaring back full force.

But none of these is sufficient reason for the NAACP to retreat or surrender, or turn inward.

On the contrary, now is the time for renewed commitment.

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