In this column I will discuss the role of civil rights organizations in the modern era. As a disclaimer, I must let you know that I am currently the president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP, but in this column I am speaking as an individual and not in my capacity as president of the branch.
In Black newspapers all over the country you can read headlines and commentary from individuals asking where their civil rights organizations are and what are they doing. In their commentary they often speak about how these organizations operated back in the day.
You often read about people doing marches and sit-ins and publicly criticizing elected officials and others back in the day. Well, today is not back in the day, and times have changed drastically in terms of how civil rights organizations must operate.
Back in the day, racist individuals outwardly expressed racism on a regular basis. Racism was easily identified back in the day. Signs stating that only Whites could drink out of certain drinking fountains and multiple White individuals publicly calling Blacks every derogatory term in the book were acts easily identified as racism.
Today’s racism has become more complex and not as easy to identify, and civil rights organizations have had to adjust their tactics accordingly. The vast majority of the work that civil rights organizations do today is done behind closed doors, as most of the racial disputes happen behind closed doors.
For example, recently a person contacted the NAACP claiming that their boss had referred to Black children as “little niglits.” The boss had said this in front of several Black employees. When the NAACP stepped in, they were able to get the boss fired, and the company apologized to each of the employees.
Organizations like the NAACP handle issues such as this on a regular basis, but they are not often made public because in most cases those involved want it that way.
Civil rights organizations that existed back in the day are no longer the same organizations, and this is where the struggle originates. They must redefine themselves for a new generation facing a different type of racism than was faced by those who started the organizations.
Our current generation for the most part has not experienced outright, overt racism. Most of our children have never been told that they could not do something simply based on the color of their skin, and as a result they have no empathy for what the generations before them sacrificed.
Because this generation has no empathy for the struggles that generations before them endured, organizations such as the NAACP may no longer exist 50 years from now. In 1980 there were approximately 50 national civil rights organizations; now there are less than 10, and that’s if you include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The lack of overt racist acts has caused a lot of civil rights organizations to fold or simply not be relevant in their communities, and that is a problem, because racism still exists today. All one has to do is turn to conservative talk radio to hear racist comments all day long.
Although the majority of those comments may not be overtly racist, anyone with an inkling of common sense can tell that they are racist. These stations use stereotypical, satirical Black voices to make fun of Blacks. They take on-air calls from the most uneducated of our population and hold their comments to be representative of our entire community.
These stations are spreading racism every day 24 hours a day, and because it’s not overt no one challenges them. If you do, they often state that their comments are not racist because they never called anyone a overtly racist term.
Liberal talk radio is just as bad, only the racism that they spread is more on an intellectual level. Liberal talk radio acts as if Blacks are some subhuman group that needs help with every aspect of human life.
The greatest issue facing civil rights organizations today is how to remain publicly relevant when so many civil rights conflicts take place behind closed doors. Only the organizations that figure that out will be here 50 years from now.
I am afraid that, unfortunately, 50 years from now none of the civil rights organizations will be in existence, because there will be no large section of the population left that has experienced overt racism. The fact that overt racism is not as common as it once was is a great thing, but the covert racism that exists today is just as bad if not worse, because it lulls people to sleep.
Are you asleep?
Booker T Hodges welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.