NAACP Not Ready for Prime Time, by Deroy Murdock

A New Visions Commentary paper published February 2000 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202/543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.

The NAACP seems more interested in fictional black characters than real black people.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the Baltimore-based civil rights group, has generated headlines lately for pressuring the four TV networks to address what he calls a "virtual whitewash in programming." Last summer, Mfume threatened to boycott the networks "because none of the 26 new shows slated for the fall season have a minority in a leading or starring role." NBC and ABC have agreed to develop more minority parts. CBS and Fox continue to negotiate with the NAACP.

Earth to Planet Mfume: How about the black folks down here on the ground?

At best, this NAACP victory means more work for black actors on "Friends" or "Frasier." Good for them. Black writers, cameramen and production executives will prosper, as will the cast and crew of CBS’ "City of Angels," a predominantly-minority drama that premiered January 16.

But how about the millions of blacks who don’t know Lee Strasberg from Stella Adler? How about those who have not attended college and might not graduate high school?

The NAACP and the civil rights establishment desperately need a priorities transplant. Mfume and company resemble a family fighting over the remote control as their house burns down. While they promote employment for black thespians, suffrage for black felons and mercy for teen-aged black hoodlums in Decatur, Illinois, average black Americans have plunged from the radar of these so-called "black leaders."

Take education. According to a state audit last month, teachers and educrats in New York City’s government schools – home to some 390,000 black students among 1.1 million enrolled – allegedly padded high-school attendance records with phantom pupils who had moved away, been jailed or dropped dead. Higher head counts equal higher state aid, naturally. One investigator told me this scheme fraudulently funnels $30 million to $60 million per year into local school coffers "at the very least, and maybe much more."

In Gotham’s elementary and middle schools, equally ingenious staffers reportedly helped students cheat on standardized tests. Top school officials recently charged that 58 teachers and administrators gave children the answers to math and reading exams used to rank school performance.

Exhausted from such malfeasance, New York’s professional educators barely could stand up to teach. Fifty percent of fourth graders failed a fall statewide math test. In English, 67 percent flunked. Among eighth graders, 77 percent flubbed a state math exam while 65 percent failed English.

The NAACP’s response to this outrageous abuse of black kids and their mainly-minority classmates? Silence. No justice? Peace.

Willie Breazell, former president of the 800-strong Colorado Springs NAACP chapter, called for school vouchers last August. As he wrote in the Colorado Springs Gazette: "the poorest kids who need the most help are trapped in our very worst schools. If those schools can’t do the job, shouldn’t we let the kids who have been assigned to them go to schools that can?"

Although his column said "Breazell’s views are not intended to reflect those of the NAACP," headquarters forced him to resign. "I was kind of lynched, so to speak," Breazell told the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, America enjoys 4.1 percent unemployment. Black unemployment, however, is 7.9 percent. Overall, 13.8 percent of teenagers are jobless compared to 25.3 percent of black teens. The NAACP could help by marshaling its resources to boost minority entrepreneurship and deregulate urban businesses. Instead, the NAACP stayed busy last October chiding the Detroit Tigers for not hiring a minority member as manager.

Social Security also harms black men as the retirement age tends to exceed their life spans. According to the National Center for Health Statistics’ latest data, the at-birth life expectancy for a black male born in 1996 was 66 years. But he will be ineligible for Social Security retirement benefits until age 67. It is barbaric to force that child to pay into a system that offers him nothing until a year after his forecast death.

The NAACP should picket the Social Security Administration to demand a personal retirement account option. But rather than decry this program’s disparate impact on black men, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond hinted at Jim Crow when he called pension privatizers "descendants of the same groups that opposed Social Security and civil rights." Black capital apparently rides in the back of the NAACP bus.

The NAACP and so-called "black leaders" should zoom in on the needs of run-of-the-mill black Americans. If so, it hardly would matter if Ross Geller on "Friends" started dating a black paleontologist.

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