Last month, the NAACP made waves for issuing a travel advisory for Florida in response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ ruthless efforts to whitewash Black history and severely curtail diversity, equity, and inclusion programs.
"Once again, hate-inspired state leaders have chosen to put politics over people. Governor Ron DeSantis and the state of Florida have engaged in a blatant war against principles of diversity and inclusion and rejected our shared identities to appeal to a dangerous, extremist minority," Leon Russell, chair of the national NAACP Board of Directors, said in a statement.
As you can imagine, conservatives were quick to react to the news. Fox News host Laura Ingraham yawned off the statement, chalking it up to "election time." Southwest Florida Congressman Byron Donalds, who is Black, called the NAACP's decision "silly and dumb." Florida Sen. Rick Scott issued his own travel advisory, warning "socialists" and "communists" the state is "openly hostile" to them.
The truth is such a response from the right is not all that surprising. Any left of center, or even politically centrist organization is likely to endure negative treatment from right-wing quarters. Any mention of race these days is inclined to send such a crowd into spasms of rage. Nothing new to see here.
I have my complaints about the NAACP and some other Black organizations. But unlike many right-wingers, mine are rooted in substantial concerns as opposed to racial and ideological politics. The fact is too many Black organizations have failed Black folks miserably over the past 30 plus years.
Rather than focusing on tactics and effort that could provide substantial dividends for Black people (and in some cases other constituents), the NAACP and other organizations have too often resorted to performing symbolic gestures. While notable and effective for capturing initial chatter and headlines, the reality is that such efforts do little to address critical and urgent issues plaguing many communities of color.
Such inaction is not confined to the NAACP. The Congressional Black Caucus is just as problematic.
Earlier this year, a few members made a joint public statement on the abuse that Haitian migrants endured at the hands of sheriff deputies at the border, as they should have. Nonetheless, this is hardly sufficient to benefit migrants or communities of color in general.
I fully respect the past victories that the NAACP and many other forebears provided for us. There is no doubt that many of our lives, particularly those of us who are Generation X’ers and younger, are much easier and successful than they would otherwise have been without their heroic efforts. Many of us will forever be grateful for the arduous and precarious mountains they were willing to climb.
Past victories aside, we appear to be at a juncture where the political headwinds are calling for aggressive action to challenge combative right-wing, reactionary forces who seem all too eager to return our nation to an era resembling the mid-19th century.
Back in 1994, Michael Eric Dyson, distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University, wrote in the New York Times that the NAACP "must recapture its radical dimensions precisely because the problems of black Americans – unemployment and urban violence, neoliberal rebuffs of racial progress and neoconservative assaults on young blacks, economic collapse and revived racism – are most assuredly not moderate.”
Almost three decades later, his comments still ring true.
Copyright 2023 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate
Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.