*The National Association for the “Advancement” of Colored People (NAACP) turned a major generational corner with the election of the youngest board chairperson in it’s history. Vice Chairperson, Roslyn M. Brock, was elevated to the chairmanship of the 64 member NAACP Board of Directors this past weekend in New York. Brock, 44, outlasted a contentious campaign season that began last fall after the venerable Julian Bond decided to end his 12 tenure as chairman.
She now joins the youngest National President (formerly Executive Director), Ben Todd Jealous, as the co-head of NAACP. The “two-headed” dragon leadership format is part of the NAACP dysfunction, but that not withstanding, BOTH where either born or toddlers after the civil rights movement ended. This is NOT an insignificant moment for the nation’s oldest civil rights organization that many think has outlived its relevance.
The “civil rights generation” that started, by Charles Hamilton Houston in 1934 and ended with Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter and Roy Wilkins in 1964, the greatest fight for racial equality in this nation’s history-the battle to end legal segregation, has FINALLY, 40 years after most scholars agree that the civil rights era ended (1968 to 1972, depending on who you talk to), given up the leadership.
It took a new millennium, a new century and the election of a black President for it to happen. In fact, if you had asked the question two years ago, what would you expect to see first, a black President of United States or young people running the NAACP, you probably would have to go to sleep on the question-wake up the next morning still pondering the answer as BOTH seemed an extremely remote possibility. I, myself, would have bet on the black President, even though I didn’t expect to see it my lifetime.
So, now I can add the NAACP generational transition to the two other miracles I’ve personally witnessed (the Million Man March and the election of Barack Obama being the other two). Some might simply call it progress. The civil rights generation can’t live forever, and most take their positions to the grave. I call it about time. But whatever you call it, this new youth movement in the NAACP signals something. Ís it a “new” NAACP? Does it really represent the legacy of old? Or just the name?
The greatest attributes given to the NAACP in modern times is what it did over 50 years ago-not what it’s doing today. The only thing the NAACP gives you today is a headache when you try to figure out what they’re standing for and what they’re doing to remedy the social and economic disparities black people are facing today. In fact, the NAACP barely mention black people as a part of their mission anymore. They’re into this “all people” thang, holding to their traditionally intergrationist position but with today’s “post-racial” twist. Old activists often criticize what they call “new blacks” as not standing for anything. “You ‘new’ new Negroes ain’t done nothing,” the old-timers say. Our response was often, “Cause you won’t let us do nothing, unless we take it from you.”
Well, the NAACP (which has survived many take-over attempts) gave it up this time and new blacks are being charged to take on the new issues of the 21st Century. One of the major campaign issues for the new NAACP chairmanship was the organization’s future position on gay marriage. The NAACP itself hadn’t endorsed gay marriage but both the former chairman (Bond) and the current President (Jealous) are on record endorsing same sex marriage as the “new” civil rights issue. It’s a cultural conflict issue with some inherent constitutional challenges, but a DOMINANT civil rights issue? That’s a real stretch.
Never the less, I’m on a mission to disavow this whole misinformation campaign around gays activists casually comparing the gay equality struggle to the racial equality struggle. I’m vehemently against their public education campaign, “Gay is the ‘New Black’.” So, we bout to have a very public discourse about it. Gay activists are going to have to support their contention in black communities, nationwide, why they feel “Gay is the New Black.” If they can’t, they need to stop saying it. If they won’t, we’ll make em stop saying it. This not about being anti-gay or anti-same sex marriage. It’s about addressing the integrity of their movement. The LGBT movement needs to develop a moral imperative and a public sentiment for their movement, not sensitize the public by hooking their wagon on to a successful movement of days past that had a moral imperative, stood in the face of violence to create public sentiment and made the case for cultural acceptance (limited as it is). It is not enough to say our movement is just like the “black equality” movement, because it is not. In fact, they only have remote commonalities, ONE of which was (is) cultural acceptance. The discrimination comparisons and violence aspects are greatly distorted.
Meanwhile, civil rights groups are being heavily lobbied to “come out” for gay marriage. The LGBT lobby held a reception for NAACP chairman candidates, that took on an informal candidates forum flavor, to examine where the possible next chairman(woman) stood on gay marriage. Last time I checked, this really wasn’t a salient issue at the top of most black people’s list of issues they’d like to see the NAACP address. Still, the candidates were “outed” on their positions. Brock purportedly supported the gay marriage position. Her main competition, President of the nation’s largest NAACP Chapter (and an ordained minister) in Detroit, did not and didn’t really choose to focus his candiacy on this issue. Brock won hands down, not necessarily because of her support for this issue, but the organization remains highly conflicted as to whether this is an issue the NAACP should even be dealing with. One of the first new media outlets to announce Brock’s election was the lesbian blog site, LezgetReal.com.
A signal to the gay community that they have an ally in their struggle that could tilt the NAACP their way. And that’s fine. But heading the “new” NAACP requires a “new” commitment to address the “new” post-racial period racism black America is experiencing that has them facing the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. I’d be curious to hear the “new” leadership’s position on that. In fact, I’m publicly inviting Roslyn Brock (or Ben Jealous) to speak at a public forum in the near future, and I’ll give them the first question in advance. I want to know if the “new” black leadership NAACP really think “Gay is the New Black?” We await your much anticipated response on the direction of the new “black advocacy” in America..The public debate around the “New NAACP” now begins…
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com