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“We Shall Not Be Moved.” That was both the slogan and feeling at the 104th National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention in Orlando, Florida. Repeated strong and loud, like a line reminiscent of old Negro spirituals, the mantra permeated every speech given on Sunday’s opening mass public meeting.
“We Shall Not Be Moved” is meant to convey the enduring and unbreakable commitment the NAACP has to their agenda of political, economic, and social equality for all people, as Chairwoman and keynote speaker Roslyn Brock put it. But the sentiment meant to convey commitment to fighting for the future is in some ways a reflection on how the NAACP fails to let go of the past.
No one can argue against the rich history of the NAACP’s fight for the rights of blacks in America. It is no stretch to say that many of the rights blacks take as a matter of course in the present would not be there, but for the civil rights organization and the sacrifices of its members. Sacrifices that for people like Medgar Evers, included their lives.
Nonetheless, while the country moved on from the divisions of racial hatred in the 60’s, the NAACP has not. We are now in a country, where we have had two black Secretary of States, a black President, and where white mothers routinely hold up Oprah and Michelle Obama as role models to their daughters. Things are different, but you could not tell that from the speeches and rhetoric at this year’s convention.
Vice-Chairman Leon Russell got the ball rolling with what will surely be the mantra of the week, “they are gutting the Voting Rights Act.” This, of course, was in response to the Supreme Court throwing out provision IV of the VRA that required states like Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi to obtain permission from the Justice Department for any changes in their voting laws or procedures. It is a law unique to the south, created to combat the high level of racism 1960′s south.
In 2012, the percentage of blacks voting in those states was higher than the percentage of whites. So at best, the charge that the VRA is being gutted is an exaggeration.
Nonetheless, keynote speaker Roslyn Brock followed Russell’s lead and laced her speech with reminders of the past. Weaving in iconic catchphrases from the civil rights era: “We Shall Overcome,” or “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” Brock conflated the past with the events of our present; We are not a different country. The fight for equality is not over. Racism and discrimination is still our number one fight and the NAACP is leading the way.
In case there was any doubt about these facts, Brock channeled the collective anger over the George Zimmerman verdict. With passion and reverberating through the convention hall, Brock asked, “How many times must black men be profiled while walking black?”
She continued amidst the ruckus that Trayvon Martin did not get justice. Just as there was no justice for another black child killed 58 years ago, who also was going to the store to buy candy. The irony is stark, and while the situations were different, there is no denying the similarities.
Brock then added fuel to the argument that racism is still persistent as she went on to talk about voting ID laws as pernicious – because they caused long lines in Florida and other states. An example cited was Haitian immigrant Desiline Victor, a 102 year old Florida resident that stood in line, long hours, in 80 degree weather in order to vote for the first time.
“Even if I got dizzy I was going to vote,” she remarked to media after casting her ballot.
It’s an interesting story, but the real lesson seemed lost on both Brock and the crowd. Victor showed a commitment to voting, despite the heat, her age, or the inconvenience. Yet, Brock, indeed the NAACP organization, are enabling the complaints of young people that do not want to sit in the DMV for two hours to get an ID. The key question is never asked, “Why is it so much harder for blacks to get an ID, than anyone else?” Perhaps we are making excuse for irresponsible and languid decisions. After all, what can any adult do to live a normal, productive life without a photo ID. Checking accounts, jobs, investment accounts, mortgages and car loans, all of these things require proof that you are who say you are.
Brock ended her talk with stating that the Supreme Court is out of touch with current realities. Which realities would these be exactly? The current realities of a black President? A black man with millions of whites who voted for him. Or is it the reality of Herman Cain running for President in 2012 with millions of white, conservative voters cheering him on? The reality today is that in states with a history rife with racism, Alabama, Mississippi have a higher percentage of blacks that vote, than whites. The reality is that even with the Trayvon Martin verdict, a black person’s biggest problem every morning is not being black.
There is a saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. This is true, and we cannot forget the racial divides of the past. We cannot allow racism to exist in the modern world of present day America. But there is another adage that the NAACP either does not know, or is ignoring.
Those that are stuck in the past are doomed to remain there.
Photo Courtesy of Ben Murray