The recent announcement by the NAACP of a major retrenchment due to funding shortfalls received brief coverage and got scant attention.
But I think it is an important story that should get attention, because it is a story as much about the real challenges facing our country today as it is about the NAACP.
The NAACP announced that it will cut its national staff by 40 percent and that seven regional offices will be cut — at least temporarily. Several weeks before this the organization announced a delay of plans to move from Baltimore to fancy new headquarters in Washington.
It should be of interest to everyone why the nation’s oldest and most prestigious civil-rights organization is faltering and on shaky ground.
The last headlines generated by the organization came with the departure earlier in the year of its president of only 18 months, Bruce Gordon. Gordon’s hire was an attention-getter because he was not a civil-rights-movement veteran, but one of the nation’s most prominent black corporate executives.
The decision seemed to reflect thinking that the organization needed management and fund-raising talent.
But it was a brief marriage, as Gordon clashed with the organization’s board. He wanted to roll up his sleeves and address practical problems in the community. Board members felt that the organization’s mission should be “social justice.”
In an interview shortly after he departed, Gordon analyzed the NAACP’s problems and summed them up as typical of any business that has lost touch with its customers.
Gordon touched the heart of the problem. But I would take it a step further.
Not only has the organization lost touch with the realities and needs of black America, but it is driven by an agenda that is actually damaging its own community.
I see African-American history unfolding in three chapters: slavery; Jim Crow (the period from the end of the Civil War through the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964); and the post-1964 welfare state.
The struggle of the first two chapters was a struggle against external oppression. The inspiration and guidance for these struggles was taken from Scripture and the church. Politics was the means through which the moral injustices were fought.
With the heady victories of the church-inspired civil-rights movement, blacks fell in love with the tools of battle — politics — and lost sight of the moral beacons that defined that battle.
Politics and government were transformed from the means through which we fought oppression to the very source of defining justice and for fixing our lives.
The NAACP, founded in the early part of the last century, at the height of the Jim Crow era, helped lead this politicization of the civil-rights movement after 1964.
The NAACP’s “social justice” agenda today is simply a boilerplate program of the political left.
The crisis in black America is poverty and a growing underclass — about 25 percent of our black population — whose problems largely stem from lifestyle rather than oppression. It is a social and moral crisis.
Yet the NAACP’s obsession is working to allow gays to get married rather than to restore the primacy of traditional values in our hurting communities. Traditional values are the steppingstones for rebuilding black families and rebuilding the crumbled foundations of personal responsibility essential for successful lives.
Ironically, one institution that does need dismantling, the NAACP works to defend. And that is our public school system.
We read a lot today about earnings gaps and wealth gaps. These gaps are largely driven by the increasing premiums that follow from getting educated. In 1980, a college graduate earned 30 percent more than a high-school graduate. Today it is 70 percent more. In 1980, an individual with a graduate-level degree earned 50 percent more than a high-school graduate. Today it is 100 percent more.
Otherwise stated, the penalty for not getting educated is increasing.
Fifty percent of our inner-city kids are not graduating from high school. We need school choice, both to introduce competition into education and to give these kids the opportunity to go to church schools.
In church schools, these kids, mostly from broken families, and under siege by the nihilist messages of our popular culture, would have a chance to learn and absorb values critical to live successfully in a free society. The very values that are off-limits in public schools.
Yet, the NAACP fights school choice. For reasons perhaps someone else can explain, the agenda of the political left is more important to the NAACP today than honest scrutiny of the real needs of its own community and serving those needs.
(Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education (www.urbancure.org) and author of “White Ghetto: How Middle Class American Reflects Inner City Decay.”)