On the NAACP & boycotts

By Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
web posted August 2, 1999

A few years ago I paid a visit to my grandfather. At first he didn't recognize me. Alzheimer's Disease had robbed him of his memory. After a bit of gentle coaxing he had a sudden but pitifully brief breakthrough. While he still couldn't recall my father -- his first born son -- he did remember me as a baby. I introduced him once again to my husband and we chatted for about ten minutes about the last twenty years of my life. When the visit was over I went to my car, hid my face in my hands and wept.

Lately the NAACP has come to resemble my grandfather in more than a few ways. Both, were once strong and proud and both have been laid low by mysterious internal forces. The NAACP used to be a grand symbol of the best of Black America but as Alzheimer patients sometimes do it seems to have lost its way. The call for a boycott of South Carolina and Charleston in particular is a perfect example. There is a confederate flag flying in the South Carolina State House. It's right next to the State Flag. For this reason the NAACP has decided that black folks shouldn't go to South Carolina. Well now! In case Kweisi Mfume and the rest of the NAACP haven't noticed, its August. This is the month that many black people traditionally take their "let's go home and see the family down South" vacations. Somehow I can't imagine anyone calling up Big Mama or Aunt Pearl to say "Sorry we can't come this summer. The NAACP has declared a boycott."

As for the boycott of Charleston, I wonder if the NAACP knows how many black people in that city depend on tourism for their living? Besides all the folks in the hospitality industry there are the proud Gullah people of the South Carolina Islands. Their remarkable culture is the last link to the folkways of our West African ancestors. Who do you think buys the exquisite sweet grass baskets, and silk floral arrangements that the Gullah make? Tourists! Charleston is a treasure trove of Black history and heritage, something that the NAACP apparently has forgotten.

It's been argued that the boycott is important because of the symbolism involved. I'm a little tired of symbolic gestures. They are cheap and easy. Yes, although I was a post Civil Rights Era baby I know what the confederate flag represents. I understand why elder relatives bristle at the sight of it. I certainly wouldn't be sorry to see it banished form the State House but Black America has some very serious non-symbolic problems that should be addressed first. Too many black teenagers are getting pregnant. By doing so they are writing themselves and their offspring a one way ticket to poverty. Overall 70 per cent of our children are born out of wedlock. Despite all the advances of modern medicine we still have a shockingly high infant mortality rate and the black woman has a greater chance of dying in childbirth than white, Asian or Latino women. The leading cause of death for young black males is homicide. Black boys on average don't do as well in school as black girls and many of these boys are not going on to college after high school. Drugs, especially, crack have devastated the inner cities of America. AIDS, a plague straight out of hell has become the leading killer of black people between the ages of 24 and 35. Will boycotting South Carolina do anything about any of these problem? I don't think so.

Cheap, easy gestures won't even begin to make a dent in our problems. The NAACP used to be about grand, important things. It used to be about the advancement of all black people. It was the great champion of Black America. Many of us hoped that with the exit of Benjamin Chavis a new day would dawn for the NAACP but it's beginning to look like an organization that is in the same shape as my grandfather, dearly loved, still respected for the sake of the past but undeniably changed for the worst.

Kimberley Wilson is a conservative writer. Her commentaries have appeared in newspapers around the country. She and her husband live in Virginia where she is currently working on a book. This is her second piece for Enter Stage Right.

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