The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization founded in 1909 to fight racists, now provides indulgences to them.
Disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s lifetime achievement award, revoked by the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP in the aftermath of his racist remarks, buttresses suspicions that collecting donations, not advancing the interests of people of color, serves as the group’s raison d’etre.
It could be worse. Jim Jones, the year prior to killing more black people in a day than the Ku Klux Klan have in the last century, received a Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from the Reverend Cecil Williams’ Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. At least the Los Angeles NAACP had the decency to honor a man who merely aired nasty thoughts rather than acted upon insane ones.
Racism remains a recalcitrant sin for an age that dismisses the whole notion of sin.
The public scourging of the Los Angeles Clippers owner, followed by the inevitable groveling public confession to come, demonstrates as much. More so does the soul-cleansing exchange between the reputed racist Sterling and his local branch of the nation’s largest civil-rights group. Like the whoremonger’s romantic relationships, the Clippers owner’s interaction with the nation’s oldest active civil rights organization played out as a strictly quid–pro–quo affair. He provided money. They gave him an ego boost and, if not arm candy, eye candy for his office wall. One can almost hear Sterling argue, “How can I be a bigot with the NAACP’s imprimatur saying otherwise?”
The latest blunder follows a plethora of recent embarrassments. From the national organization filing an amicus brief for cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal in 2000 to the Detroit chapter honoring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright with a keynote speaking slot weeks after ABC News revealed his “God damn America” sermon and unique theories on the invention of AIDS, the NAACP has lost its way. When Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, for instance, the head of the Dallas chapter of the NAACP cried foul. “And if we get a Jew person, then what I’m wondering is, I mean, what is this movement for, you know?” Lee Alcorn asked. African Americans, he insisted, “need to be suspicious of any kind of partnerships between the Jews at that kind of level because we know that their interest primarily has to do with, you know, money and these kind of things.”
Like any large membership-based organization, the NAACP suffers from joiners and crackpots using its reputation to push unsavory ideas. Though this affliction appeared present at the creation, the organization then took steps to divorce itself from members who disgraced it.
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black folk author who helped create the outfit in 1909 with a group of concerned whites, repeatedly humiliated the group. “The thinking colored people of the United States must stop being stampeded by the word segregation,” Du Bois insisted in the January 1934 issue of the NAACP magazine, The Crises, which he edited. He wrote there that same year: “I fight segregation with segregation.” White segregationists began to cite Du Bois approvingly to justify their discrimination. The NAACP wisely cut ties.
Two years later, the NAACP founding father journeyed to Nazi Germany, where he came up with “The German Case against Jews,” a crude apologia that excused Third Reich anti-Semitism as a “reasoned prejudice” based on “economic fear.” He endorsed eugenics, a horrible idea exposed as such once applied in the nation he had disgracefully praised. Nevertheless, the NAACP reconciled with their founder after the war before having to again shun him for his extremism. He praised Stalin and Mao, accepted a Lenin Peace Price, joined the Communist Party USA, and renounced his American citizenship. When Du Bois died in Africa during 1963’s famous March on Washington, civil-rights leaders only quietly acknowledged his passing.
The juxtaposition of the movement’s triumph on the National Mall, and the demise of a shunned intellectual-turned-crank in Ghana, spoke more loudly. Then, the NAACP ran from its members hostile to its mission. Now, as the creeps have hijacked the mission, mission creep has set in.
How can one take seriously a civil-rights organization that repeatedly held up a man as hostile to African Americans as Donald Sterling for honors and awards?
“What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation,” Eric Hoffer famously wrote in The Temper of Our Time. Surely an NAACP that trades honors for cash has evolved into the first of the undesirable entities outlined by Hoffer.