This week’s edition of The Economist features a must-read about the challenges ahead for the new president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Benjamin Jealous, and I agree with their assessment: A generational divide is causing friction between the advocacy group and their younger constituents, making the organization seem ineffective. Personally, I think that if the NAACP cannot make room for new ideas, along with time-tested methods of taking up our cause, then it renders them incapable of bringing radical change to black society.
I highlighted Mr. Jealous in today’s post because of his parentage and a few other interesting reasons. His mother is black, apparently, and his father is white. Besides, he’s a kindred spirit, sort of, having been a reporter. He was also a Rhodes scholar. I also think it is important for biracial children to have a robust list of heroes to emulate, aside from entertainers and athletes.
Back to Jealous’ work. One has to admit to a fracture in the black community. You have the list of grievances that says institutional racism drives a lot of the inequalities that eventually diminish the quality of our lives. They have to be confronted and rooted out, and any corrective measures that were put in place when racist practices deprived blacks of social, educational, labor and professional advancement, should be vigilantly protected. On the other hand, you have blacks who believe so ardently in self-determination and self-reliance that they’ll argue vehemently against any whiff of governmental intervention to set wrongs right.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I will never agree that we should abandon, say, affirmative action programs, because they correct generations of horrendous wrongs inflicted on blacks, and anyone else guilty of association with us. But one would have to be willfully blind not to see that blacks were deliberately singled out, and told, as James Baldwin put it “with brutal clarity”, that we were worthless human beings. Being barred from labor unions, universities and certain jobs ensured unemployment or humiliating underemployment for a whole generation of blacks. Call it reverse affirmative action. Call it racism. Call it whatever you like. It’s wrong. I recently saw a press picture in a newspaper of a wall in Spain, scrawled with the words: ‘Unemployment is humiliation’. Well, imagine the oppressive humiliation that a generation of black men had to suffer when they were deprived of education and work that was worthy of their abilities. When, in some cases, they couldn’t provide for their families. Just because of their race.
Giving one race preferential treatment for attainment of any kind is shaky policy, and the sheer presumption that blacks always need an extended hand from a guardian government to achieve in life is pandering. But at the end of the day, I say that human nature is in a constant struggle between good and evil. For all our enlightenment, we would repeat depravities like the Middle Passage in a heartbeat. When people are purged of vicious racist tendencies, then we can declare the patient cured, remove the affirmative action crutch and move on with our lives.
In the meantime, I like to enjoy simple pleasures in life. Just look at his endearing photo of his beautiful family. His wife is a professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University, and their daughter Morgan is an absolute beauty! (If I may say so, Morgan and my daughter share a few resemblances. The voluminous curly hair, the almond eyes and the dimples. Like Morgan, Baby gets her dimples from her mother.) Look at how loving they all are. It is the ideal picture of an African-American family.
Let’s hope that Mr. Jealous has a successful administration. Listen to his vision. Support him fully where we agree and be respectful where we disagree.