All Style, No Substance

The Rev. Bernice King has been elected president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Her election has been the biggest news to break out of the traditional civil rights organizations since the NAACP had a funeral for the N-word.

The reality is organizations such as the SCLC, the NAACP and others have marginalized themselves by doing little and expecting much. Moreover, corporations are complicit in this marginalization by not demanding transparency, efficiency or return on investment from these organizations that they fund to the tune of millions of dollars. The result is a patchwork of “civil rights” organizations whose mental and operational models are stuck in a time warp that is designed to do little more than continue to fund collective racial memories steeped in white guilt. In the meantime, too many Blacks that these groups ostensibly advocate for fall further into the social and economic swamp that will doom their families for generations.

According to the NAACP, “Heading into the 21st century, the NAACP is focused on disparities in economics, health care, education, voter empowerment and the criminal justice system while also continuing its role as legal advocate for civil rights issues.”

Yet the NAACP is studying the number of Blacks on television? In its report, “Out of Focus – Out of Sync Take 4: A Report on the Television Industry,” the NAACP has a stunning grasp of the obvious: there are more Whites than Blacks on television. They needed a study to tell them that?

The economic crisis means too many Blacks don’t have a home much less televisions. Perhaps NAACP researchers should consult the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which states that Blacks have a 15.4 percent unemployment rate compared with 9 percent for Whites.

Yet the NAAACP concerns itself with pontificating, perpetrating and pandering.

A review of the budget of the NAACP reveals the problem. For example, in its 2006 Annual Report, the NAACP reported spending more than $5 million on regional and branch field offices, nearly $4 million on its convention, more than $2 million on the Image Awards, $5 million on management and general support services and $207,511 on Economic Development efforts. In that same year, they had revenues of $24,160,061. 

I’m raising the question of whether the NAACP is implementing a strategy that trades on the historical memories of racism and exclusion in an attempt to continue to fund its own irrelevance. My critics will no doubt say I am against the NAACP. In fact, some may invite me to “get back on the porch.”

I am not against the NAACP. I am against an organization that would rather hobnob with celebrities than address violence in schools, high Black unemployment, Black-on-Black crime, the increasing disengagement of too many young Black boys and the under-education of too many Blacks while trolling the coffers of corporate sponsors who would give out of a misplaced sense of obligation and guilt.

To be sure, I do not believe the NAACP can or should do this alone. However, it should not take corporate funds if it does not address the issues in a coordinated way that changes the lives of generations of Black people.

First, the NAACP is largely extraneous because it does not have the capacity to provide any credible research that explains the economic disparity it is supposed to be addressing and help develop strategies to address it. According to its 2006 Annual Report, the NAACP’s Research, Advocacy and Training Division “focused on eliminating measurable racial/ethnic disparities in health, civic engagement, education, economic empowerment, criminal justice and international affairs. The Division’s newly developed research arm aims to intensify the Association’s research-based approach to advocacy by providing data and tools to support those six advocacy areas. The department contributes to the general base of knowledge on the social, economic and political issues facing African-Americans and other people of color by disseminating relevant research, and working with other institutions and organizations. The Research Department produces the NAACP Advocate, NAACP Annual Report, a bimonthly newsletter, and the biannual NAACP Special Edition reader, dedicated to addressing issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.”

 

In other words, the research arm of the NAACP is well steeped in the ins and outs of Google coupled with a penchant for Wikipedia.

 

Second, corporate donors provide significant funding to the NAACP without sufficiently rigorous outcomes and expectations. The NAACP’s Web site proudly proclaims the major corporations that support it by buying tables at its annual dinner etc. Are many of these corporations buying protection? That is, are they afraid that if they do not support the NAACP then there will be a boycott? Are many of them afraid that demanding outcomes for the dollars they give will mean they will no longer be seen as “leaders in diversity?” Is the racial atmosphere in America such that donors will face considerable risk by requiring that the NAACP impact the lives of those for whom they advocate with measurable outcomes, accountability and transparency?  For those corporations who have provided operating funds for the NAACP, what have they gotten in return? Have they poisoned the food and blamed the plate?

 

Finally, the NAACP has a rich and laudable history that has improved the lives of all Americans. Their role in furthering civil rights and equality cannot be understated. The question is, given their current mental model and their stunning inefficiency can they thrive and survive for another 100 years?

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘Post-racial’ America and an associate dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies.