By Jonetta Rose Barras
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Watching the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual Image Awards in February, I found myself asking the question I always ask: Why, in an age of integration, do blacks still need our own Oscar-like program to honor "the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts"? Come to think of it, why do we even need the NAACP?
The organization is as anachronistic as colored-only water fountains and white-only bathrooms. Its racial focus perpetuates the evils it claims it wants to eradicate, and its audiovisual rendering of America as "them vs. us" abets the nation's balkanization.
In its heyday, the NAACP was a bulwark against racism: It protected African Americans and demanded economic equity. It deserves praise for helping alter American society. But its mission and method have become obsolete.
I don't mean this as a post-racial diatribe. Racism is not completely dead. But it isn't the bogeyman it once was, and the NAACP hasn't recognized African Americans' new status or 21st-century realities. It's stuck on permanent replay, seeing the battles of the past in every situation.
"It has been less than forty-five years that all black Americans have exercised their rights as full citizens," NAACP chairman Julian Bond said recently. "Only my father's generation stands between [me] and slavery."
See what I mean? The NAACP is like a favorite elderly relative, telling the same story every time he sees you.
The NAACP doesn't have to become a permanent wing in the new black history museum on the National Mall. It can save itself by abandoning its arcane, analog view of the world and accepting that the 21st century is all high-def. It could expand the definition of "colored" to more than just blacks. Or it could adopt the Bill Cosby agenda and go deeper inside the black community to address beliefs and behaviors that block greater advancement.
At the very least, it should drop the Image Awards. After all, celebrating one-dimensional characters like those in Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" isn't that far from praising the 1950s portrayals of blacks in "Amos 'n Andy," is it?
Jonetta Rose Barras, a Washington author and political analyst, blogs at jrbarras.com.