NAACP’s ideals do more harm than good
An Austin news channel recently ran a feature on the Waco chapter of the NAACP, which over the past few years has suffered from low community interest and now struggles to maintain a healthy level of membership.
In the piece, a chapter representative, using the press coverage as an opportunity to recruit, explained that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People isn’t just for blacks; it’s for any minority that feels oppressed or misrepresented.
By some censuses and racially charged thinking from this country’s past, I would be considered “colored” (read “non-European”) person, so I thought I’d look into the NAACP in its current state to see what it might offer my fellow non-white cohorts and me.
I hoped to find an organization that engaged itself politically and socially with the discourse on “colored people” in order to destabilize the cold path of dependency blazed for those people by the hatred of the past.
After all, if the organization truly wanted to advance “colored people,” it would work to do away with the arbitrary labels of race and color.
What I found, though, was that the NAACP encourages the discourse on discrimination (racial or whatever) and has played a key role in the extension of outmoded concepts of difference.
It has played a role in the advancement of discrimination.
The NAACP was founded in 1909, “to inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination,” according to the group’s Web site.
At the beginning, then, with its clumsy mission statement, the NAACP missed the point.
In that statement of purpose, the organization equated color with race, and in doing so elided vast races of Americans by forcing them into a deterministic chromatic scale.
I am no longer Hawaiian or Chinese — or even yellow — I am simply colored.
The ramifications of this distinction (or lack thereof) were, to some degree, unifying, for they offered various “colored” races and cultures a forum in which to gain representation on a more mainstream platform that might otherwise be denied them.
On the other hand, failing to distinguish between race and color was a forced emigration of a group from one chance label to another: Hawaiian/Chinese to colored.
This kind of thinking also presumes that I have something in common with other “colored people” and unintentionally reifies “white people” as a unified whole to be opposed in kind.
All of this came with the aim, the organization’s constitution states, of change through the political process.
To be fair, this reluctance to acknowledge different cultures in the name of political opportunism was, in the early 20th century, espoused by institutions other than the NAACP.
In fact, the NAACP is in part a reaction to the overarching definitions of color made by some European races in order to gain perceived “white” privileges.
Sicilians, for example, championed white as their “color,” though they faced discrimination based on race.
This was also the case for the Irish, numerous Eastern European immigrants and other groups able to “play” white.
I do not wish to draw focus away from the far-reaching reforms and successes realized by the NAACP, but rather call attention to the forms of repression enacted by the organization in order to depose the rhetoric of discrimination it has refused to reconsider and even furthered.
The adjectival form of “orange,” according to Webster’s Dictionary, dates from the 16th century, apparently a reaction to an increase in importation of the fruit from the Mediterranean to Britain.
Before then were colors “red” and “yellow,” but no “orange,” at least relative to the color as we know it today.
How, then, was the color perceived by and described in the language of English speakers?
In the same vein, how were those defined by the NAACP as “colored peoples” viewed or perceived before their simple categorization as “colored”?
Indeed, people back then saw color. But did they carry with “colored people” the connotations that come to our minds when we think of those peoples today?
The NAACP has done little to attack the capricious colorization of peoples and races — a process that invariably leads to discrimination.
An organization built on victimization based on color, the NAACP should work to show Americans that color is a perception defined by the social discourse.
Color holds little real meaning and, regarding its application to or melding with race, was constructed for the cheap mobilization of voters and workers.
It seems curious that the NAACP would champion color by eliminating diversity, with the hope of change through democratic means — incidentally, the same initial circumstances that enabled the exploitative construction of “white” identity.
Instead of working for the advancement of “colored people,” we should all work toward the elimination of this silly, discomfiting construction.
Kalani Man is a history senior and may be reached at [email protected]