01 Oct 2001 The NAACP in Wonderland: Campaign Against Network TV Ignores Serious Issues Facing Black Americans, by Kimberley Jane Wilson
It never fails. Whenever I begin to think that I may have been a little too hard on the NAACP, the organization disappoints me yet again.
You’ve no doubt heard about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s criticism of network television for not having enough black faces on TV. According to Screen Actors Guild figures, black actors were cast in just over 20% of the roles for movies and prime time television. I certainly don’t dispute the idea that TV could stand to show some more black people, but my question is this: In light of all the serious issues facing black people, isn’t hustling up acting jobs for Hollywood millionaires just a tiny bit trivial?
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume recently hosted the pilot episode for an Oprah Winfrey-style talk show for a production company called Hearst-Argyle. This company is a syndication partner of the NBC network. The unsettling thing about this new show is it’s timing. The NAACP has been nagging the networks for years now about getting more blacks in front of and behind the camera, and they’re even talking about launching a boycott of network TV. Now, it looks like Mfume may be on the road to getting his own syndicated talk show deal. He says that his pilot has nothing to do with the boycott threat and that working – indirectly – for NBC shows no conflict of interest on his part. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Obviously, if things in black America are so great that the NAACP, the organization that is supposed to be looking out for our advancement, can take the time to worry about stars like Eriq LaSalle and Vivica A. Fox, then I guess I should laugh. Right?
Wrong! And that’s why I’m almost crying.
I could go into detail about the serious challenges black America is facing now, but I’m sure you already know at least some of them from personal experience. Our youngsters, especially our boys, are falling dangerously behind in school. The NAACP has recently begun partnering with other groups in an ad campaign promoting the importance of education, but there is still much more to be done.
Single mothers now head most of our families. This is typically a one-way trip into poverty, and somebody should be preaching that grim fact from the rooftops. But the NAACP remains mute. Young black men are filling the nation’s prisons. Their crimes are primarily against other blacks, so this potentially affects all of us. Going to jail is not “keeping it real,” and breaking the law is not striking a blow against “whitey.” The NAACP ought to make it a crusade to get that message out. Instead, they’re worried about how many black faces are on some mindless television sitcom.
Back when Kweisi Mfume was still called Frizzell Gray, he made some big time mistakes. After his mother’s tragic death when he was only sixteen, Mfume dropped out of high school and embarked on a dead-end lifestyle that included gambling and fathering five children out of wedlock by four women. He might have stayed on this aimless path, but he managed to turn himself around. Mfume went to college and eventually became a community activist, radio personality and a congressman.
I wish Kweisi Mfume would spend more time talking about his life as Frizzell Gray! He could do so much good for so many young black men and boys by offering them his powerful message of redemption, hope and personal responsibility. Instead, he and the NAACP are wasting precious time with this silly campaign against network television.
Network television has long been referred to as a vast wasteland, but actually it’s more like an open sewer meandering through our living rooms. Looking on the bright side, I hope that the NAACP actually does call for a boycott. I sincerely hope that black families across America join in by tuning out.
The more our kids turn off the boob tube and pick up a book the better. In the meantime I’m going to re-read Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps it will give me a clue about where the minds of the NAACP’s decision-makers can be found.
(Kimberley Jane Wilson is a member of Project 21’s National Advisory Board and a conservative writer living in Virginia. She can be reached at [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.