Is The Naacp's Relevance Fading? They Think Not, I Still Think So

by John McWhorter | March 24, 2009

Julian Bond and Benjamin Jealous claim that my criticism of the modern NAACP is mistaken in my writing that discrimination today is "elusive." They present a list of assorted facts, such as that black people have been more likely to have subprime housing loans.

However, neither this nor the other cases Bond and Jealous present are clear and indisputed cases of discrimination. All are ones in which reasonable people have disagreed that bias against people because of the color of their skin is the reason for the phenomenon in question.

"We could list volumes of statistics that reveal a nation still racked with discrimination and disparity," Bond and Jealous write. More properly, however, they are referring not to discrimination but to disparity.

There are those given to pointing to a problem that affects black people to a greater extent than white people and proposing that this must necessarily indicate racism of some kind, with a corollary implication that anyone claiming otherwise is either naive or a racist themselves. This is a shopworn, melodramatic debate team trick--a rhetorically effective oversimplification of a complex reality.

I maintain that for a national organization with the betterment of black people in mind to address all of these cases and others as instances of bigotry is to neglect the problems most important in today's black America.

The local, low profile cases Bond and Jealous list that the NAACP has pursued in recent years are admirable in themselves. However, they have proceeded independently of fresh approaches to alleviating black suffering on a national scale. This was not true of the NAACP decades ago.

Race may still matter, but I maintain that it does so in ways increasingly elusive indeed. To say that racism is elusive means not that it doesn't exist, but that it exists to a sharply lesser extent than before, and is increasingly intertwined with issues of class and--yes--cultural legacies.

This means that an NAACP that devotes itself to policing America for "discrimination" will, itself, be one whose impact is increasingly elusive to those outside of it. It may well be that Bond and Jealous are satisfied with that. Some of us, however, are disappointed.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/john-mcwhorter/the-naacps-relevance-fading-they-think-not-i-still-think-so