As the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People holds its 81st annual convention in Los Angeles, cries go up in the media: What's wrong with the NAACP?
Clearly this granddaddy of black civil rights organizations in America is not extolled by blacks or cursed by whites as it was during the 1950s and 1960s, when the civil rights movement shook America. The NAACP today is not the voice of the black poor, who do not join it. It is not the collector of black intellectuals, who do not join it. It is not the gathering place of white movers and shakers, who now see no compelling reason to support this organization.
The NAACP has become the organization of a thin slice of middle-class black America, struggling under the uncertain leadership of my personal friend, Benjamin Hooks.
In fairness to Hooks, I have previously cited the fact that throughout the Reagan presidency neither he nor any other black leader was in meaningful contact with President Reagan, because Reagan didn't want such contact. I have pointed out that minorities don't make progress in America when a hostile president such as Reagan is in power.
I say now that Hooks and the NAACP have been rendered almost impotent by the absence of clear-cut goals within black America. It was easy to be a civil rights leader when the enemies were named George Wallace, Bull Connor, James Eastland and Strom Thurmond -- and when the goals were simply to gain the right to ride in the front of a bus, to sit unsegregated in a theater or to send black children to any public school to learn with white and other children.
Now Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam is crossing the nation saying that ''integration has failed.'' Other blacks are saying that ''separatism'' is the only salvation. Black hope has been replaced by mindless paranoia that is rendering black America goalless and impotent, economically and politically, because those blacks who oppose integration have no viable alternative.
Hooks opened this year's convention by choosing not to exhort delegates and the thousands of black youngsters present to believe in themselves and trained intelligence; he encouraged them to wallow in the absurd notion that Mayor Barry is on trial because of the ''convenient and selective prosecution of black leaders.'' Despite an incredible array of evidence that Barry bought, used and dispensed cocaine, crack, opium and more; that he traded jobs for dope and that he was a flagrant adulterer, Hooks opened the convention talking about the ''Nazi-like'' tactics used against Barry.
Is this leadership? Or is it pandering to black frustrations and hatred that are being fanned by Farrakhan and those of his mentality?
The best part of any NAACP convention is the showcasing of black youngsters who have spurned drugs, teenage sex, shoplifting and other temptations to become certain future leaders. I wait for Hooks to tell me how he explains to these youngsters his defense of Barry.
If ''racial solidarity'' means defending abominable behavior by any and every black elected official, then ''racial solidarity'' becomes a curse upon the dreams of every black child in this land.
If Hooks doesn't understand this, we know what's wrong with the NAACP.