Mfume's dreaded words offer a much-needed dose of reality

July 17, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THE HISTORIC event occurred on July 8, 2002, in Houston. Mark it on your calendar. It doesn't happen often, and indeed may never happen again.

But a black leader in America, the one who heads the country's oldest, most powerful and influential civil rights group, actually used the dreaded "b" word. And he used it immediately after the word "black."

Here is the precise quote of NAACP President Kweisi Mfume as revealed in news reports on the organization's annual convention, which concluded last week in Texas' largest city.

"Black bigotry is just as cruel and evil as white bigotry," Mfume told NAACP delegates in a keynote speech.

Yes, the "b" word in this case is bigotry. But you're not supposed to say it, imply it or even utter it in a hushed whisper as being a condition that can afflict anybody of the African-American persuasion. Oh, whites can be bigots. And Asians. And Jews.

But African-Americans? Can't be. That's been the scuttlebutt for years. Of course, proponents of this nonsense carefully cloak their argument in semantics. Blacks can't be racist, they insist, because racism requires power and blacks have no power.

This flapdoodle has been rampant in the black community since at least the late 1960s, when some African-Americans, in the search for their roots and identity, lost their ever-lovin' minds in the process. Other blacks, however, rejected the "blacks can't be racist" theory, among them, curiously, members of the radical-left Black Panther Party.

Whatever the sins of the BPP were, its members weren't guilty of believing blacks couldn't be racist. Former SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) members Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Toure) and H. Rap Brown were also BPP members. Neither lasted in the party. Depending on whose story you believe, Carmichael and Brown either left or were booted out, with doctrinaire BPP members accusing the two of "black racism."

In the early 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech in which he said that "black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy." Mfume's statement of a week ago echoes that sentiment, and it's high time one of today's black leaders did.

Mfume, according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, also cautioned delegates to beware of excesses from "the far, far left" and the "far, far right," expressed support for the armed forces and President Bush's war on terrorism and whipped off another quote anathema to today's liberal black leadership, one that included the dreaded "r" word: responsibility.

"[Mfume] challenged African-Americans to `take responsibility for our lives' and stop blaming whites for all of their problems," the Journal-Constitution story read.

In sharp contrast to Mfume's words were those of NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond, who a day earlier charged that Bush and the FBI were "spying on law-abiding citizens" under the guise of fighting terrorism. Bond added that the Bush administration is part of a "right-wing conspiracy" of "an interlocking network of funders, groups and activists" who are "the money, the motivation and the movement behind vouchers, the legal assault on affirmative action and other remedies for discrimination, attempts to reapportion us out of office and attacks on equity everywhere."

Bond didn't mention whence came the conspiracy to substitute whole language for phonics, self-esteem for discipline and God only knows what for the memorization of basic arithmetical facts that led to the precipitous decline and pathetic state of public schools today, but we know this much: It wasn't from the right.

Once again, two distinct voices beckon to us from the ranks of the NAACP. One is the voice of confrontation and rancor that talks of right-wing conspiracies and compares Bush administration members to the Taliban. (Let's all note that had Bush followed the advice of the left, the Taliban would still rule in Afghanistan.)

The other is the voice of moderation, reason and reconciliation. Which is the real voice of the NAACP? Americans of all races eagerly await an answer.

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