Views on the Chavis controversy In white ...

August 19, 1994|By Clark DeLeon

I KNOW I shouldn't have an opinion, let alone offer one, as to whether or not embattled NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis should take a hike or be given the boot tomorrow when the 64 members of the NAACP board of directors convene in Baltimore to consider his fate. I am, after all, a middle-class, middle-age white male, which means that in such matters my opinion is considered irrelevant unless it functions in a clearly defined supportive role.

Put another way, on the team I play for in the game of racial football, I'm just another big, slow white guy who has been ruled an ineligible receiver. I can block, but I can't advance the ball toward our goal line.

NAACP board member Joe Madison didn't like the sound of that sports analogy.

"I think it's unfortunate that you would feel isolated from this conversation because we need to keep in mind that the NAACP is not a black organization; it's an integrationist organization," said Mr. Madison, a Washington radio executive and talk-show host.

I told Mr. Madison that such feelings of isolation are inevitable after listening to Mr. Chavis' end of the conversation recently. Certainly I would fall into that category of "forces outside the African-American community" whom Mr. Chavis accused last week of orchestrating the campaign to unseat him in the wake of revelations that he authorized a secret $332,400 settlement in a sexual harassment action filed by a female employee who worked for the NAACP a total of five weeks.

When asked by a reporter what exactly he meant by "forces outside the African-American community," Mr. Chavis replied, "Everybody reading that is going to know what I'm talking about."


"I don't know," said Garland Thompson, someone I figured would know because he's a former editor of the NAACP magazine, the Crisis. "I read it, and I don't know what he meant by that."

So I read it. And I figure Mr. Chavis must be talking about me and the rest of us grunts on the offensive line.

Others have suggested that by "outside forces" Mr. Chavis was referring to Jewish groups that are still upset over his public embrace of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan at the NAACP's Black Leadership Summit in June. But if Mr. Chavis wanted "everybody reading" that to know he meant Jews, wouldn't he have repeated what he said at the time of the flap over his invitation to Mr. Farrakhan? At that time he said:

"Never again will we allow any external force to the African-American community [to] attempt to dictate who we can meet with, where we can meet, and what we're going to meet about. Never again."

"Never again." Where have we heard that phrase before? And he used it not once but twice in two sentences. Now THAT'S obvious whom he meant by "external" forces, as obvious as if he'd said "Yo, Adrian!" twice when referring to an unnamed "external force" of Italian boxers from South Philly.

The ugly irony in Ms. Chavis' verbal forearm shiver at Jewish groups is that Jews have been an "inside" force in the NAACP since the organization's founding 85 years ago. In his attempt to build bridges between the NAACP and a variety of disaffected populations within the African-American community -- from black Muslims to gangsta rappers -- Mr. Chavis has been pouring gasoline on already burning bridges connecting the civil rights group to historical allies, such as white liberals, Jewish groups and, yes, the news media.

Before the summit in Baltimore in June, Mr. Chavis not only wouldn't identify which leaders representing which groups were attending, he actually scolded reporters for trying to find out. "It's not your responsibility to verify who our leaders are," Mr. Chavis said in reply to a question about how the public would know if some would-be leader falsely claimed to have attended the summit. "It's our responsibility to verify who our leaders are."

Given this lack of information and cooperation, reporters assigned to cover the summit had to file stories about the only accessible issue -- the controversy over the invitation to Mr. Farrakhan despite his public and often-repeated anti-Semitic statements.

"I don't blame the reporters for the negative publicity about the summit. They had to write about something, and they were never given any information to develop. And that's what I see as an example of Chavis' ineffectiveness," said Mr. Madison, a 10-year NAACP board member who enthusiastically voted in favor of hiring Mr. Chavis, but now no longer supports him.

"There's a misconception in the news media that Chavis led the organization into 'different' directions than the board wanted to go," said Mr. Madison. "When we started our search for a CEO, we determined the direction we wanted to go, and we chose the person who would take us in that direction. If there's any criticism of Mr. Chavis, it's not the direction; it's his lack of effectiveness in taking us in that direction."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.