The NAACP is America's oldest civil rights organization, and for years stood as the moral conscience of the nation, fighting for the rights of black Americans to equal treatment at the polling booth, in the schoolhouse, in the courts and in the marketplace. How sad, now, that this venerable institution has been turned into a caricature of its former self.
Its leaders are stuck in a time warp, imagining they still live in a world of pick-ax-wielding bigots and lynch mobs. NAACP chairman Julian Bond, a veteran of the civil rights movement and a former Georgia state legislator, has been reduced to ugly name-calling in order to attract media attention. At the NAACP convention meeting in Florida this week, Bond accused the Republican Party of "appealing to the dark underside of American culture. . . . Their idea of reparations is to give war criminal Jefferson Davis a pardon. Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side," he told a cheering crowd.
The group no longer has an agenda, other than to "uproot the bigger '(B)ush' in 2004," as Bond promised. But the putatively non-partisan group may run into problems fulfilling that goal, given its declining status.
The NAACP has become so irrelevant that even Democratic presidential aspirants -- none of whom could hope to be elected without winning 90 percent of black votes nationwide -- can afford to boycott the group's annual meeting. Senators Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich and former Missouri congressman and House minority leader Dick Gephardt all had "other commitments" that prevented them from attending the convention.
Julian Bond may not recognize it, but racism is no longer the major problem facing American blacks. For the minority of black Americans -- 23 percent -- who lived below the poverty line in 2001, discrimination isn't to blame.
What is? A list of likely culprits would surely include the collapse of the black family, the failure of the public schools and black-on-black crime.
National Center for Health statistics indicate that with two out of three black babies born to unwed mothers today, black children are far more likely to grow up poor than youngsters from any other group. And according to the Census Bureau, black children in single mother households are nearly five times more likely to live in poverty than are black children born to two-parent families; 47 percent of black youngsters under 18 who live in female-headed households are poor compared to only 10 percent who live with two parents. The problem of illegitimacy has plagued the black community for nearly 40 years, but goes unaddressed by the NAACP or any other major black organization.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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