By H. Lewis Smith, Guest Columnist
National Basketball Association (NBA) L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling has a long-documented and publicly-known history of being a bigot; the revelation of the 2009 housing discrimination suit against him served as a monolithic red flag. Even in the midst of that 2009 scandal and in the face of provable, on-going blatant racial disrespect and loathe for Blacks and African Americans, the NAACP still awarded Sterling a humanitarian award that same year. With clear knowledge of Sterling’s actions, the organization again planned to award him a Lifetime Achievement Award this year (2014). Consequently, given knowledge of this past history, any sensible human being (regardless of color) would have to ask why the NAACP would have even considered honoring this person with such a prestigious award in the first place. (Truth be told, seems the only award Sterling qualifies for is some sort of donkey of the decade award). This idea and mentality of continuing to uphold such a person in spite of his obvious disdain of blacks really causes pause and cause for concern. Ultimately, what do such influential organizations as the NAACP truly represent in terms of standing boldly as the guardian and lead re-constructor of Black America’s racial integrity? What do the NACCP and Black America in general have against speaking loudly for and requiring self-respect from within and without the community? Understand that the intent is not to slander or offend the NAACP. The objective is to make hot the blood that pumps in the veins of the organization to resurrect the strength and leadership it once wielded during the ‘60s. The point is to give vibration and depth to the unified, collective voice that is well-prepared to progress the Black African-American community. The only way this goal can be achieved is if Black Americans vehemently demand respect from others AND self, and hold all accountable for their actions, or non-actions for that matter.
During the years of the Civil Rights Movement and struggles for equality, people died, and in some cases outright sacrificed themselves, in order to secure cultural dignity, respect and usher the advancement of the Black American. The NAACP was at the forefront of the Movement preaching the significance and number one priority of developing moral character, self-respect, and personal empowerment/strength. The NAACP of today seems to be the antithesis of what it was during the ‘60s. Aside from the Donald Sterling fiasco, a complete breakdown in leadership and encouragement of cultural unity in general has long existed in spite of individual achievement and accomplishments since the strong push for Black power. Black America as a group has retrogressed due to a lack of leadership and losing its focus.
In recent decades, the African-American’s consciousness has been submerged in a toiling, never-ending sea of self-deprivation, and ultimately, self-destruction, at their discretion. The minds of its youths were (and still are) exposed to the poison and venomous lyrics of rap music and the Stepin Fetchit antics of black comedians. Their sole ambitions were to sell their souls and the souls of their community for fame and fortune. No one has cried out in protest against these “innovations” in entertainment— not even the NAACP. Rather, they either turned their heads and chose to remain ignorant or separated from the exploitations; bobbed their heads rhythmically to the degrading tunes; snickered boisterously at satire-filled stand-ups; and/or worked backroom deals to figure out how they too could get a piece of the pie.
It seems that the NAACP’s position in most recent years has been one of being very “PC” (politically correct) when the main reason for the organization’s founding was to be a disruptive, progressive organization for the total, well-rounded BENEFIT of Black America. Just as the n-word’s definition cannot be transformed based on passage of time or the way in which the term is said, the NAACP’s definition and/or founding values cannot and should not be changed or compromised in the face of an even more dynamic, undermining systemic. Surely the NAACP made a statement in deciding not to follow through with awarding Sterling the honor, but was it just to appease or pacify the Black community? Would the founding fathers of the NAACP be satisfied with that action or require more so that the world understands the NAACP’s seriousness behind requiring everyone from within and without the community to respect the black race?
NAACP Los Angeles president Leon Jenkins commented in a recent article that people must be forgiving, which is true; however, these same people must also not be blind or foolish. Was the immediate forgiveness just a way to leaving the door open, so that when this situation blows over or is no longer front page and front of mind, that they will allow Sterling to walk right on back in? Is the NAACP afraid that if they cut one racist bigot off that all of their other donors of that same type will pull away their funding?
The NAACP perhaps does have a valid reason in wanting to maintain a relationship with Sterling in that they noted Sterling regularly donates funds to support scholarships; however, as the old and completely relevant adage says “all money isn’t good money.” It is understood that blacks can benefit from the financial contributions; however, the argument is one about having and upholding driving principles, conveying the importance of self-respect, racial dignity, and the development of real self-awareness and moral character of a race of people. Any man can be financially rich, but if he owns no morals, he has not grasped the concept of life and will forever be poor. Moreover, to be treated as cattle (only purchased to use as a revenue-generating stream) and likened to dogs, no amount of money or price can justify acceptance of such classification or relinquishing one’s dignity.
The NAACP’s actions, and defense or justification of so quickly “forgiving” Sterling is reminiscent of Jay-Z recently deciding to continue his collaboration with Barney’s in spite of Black Americans being discriminated against. Again, even though there are potential financial benefits to gain from that relationship, it is time to teach those blatantly disrespecting Black America and using the system to carry out such heinous acts that the community won’t stand for it. Black influential leaders and organizations must be willing to “put it all on the line” for the real purpose or plight of their existence. To sell out morally for a financial benefit teaches a very poor and sad lesson to the very children they claim will gain excellent educations and greater accessibility to opportunities through earning these scholarships. The most unfortunate aspect of the entire matter is that the real lesson and education of growing a healthy moral richness and a genuine high self-worth will not be attained due to the larger ideal being conveyed: selling out for a piece of change is acceptable. Real personal value is intrinsic (priceless, invaluable), founded on truth, and is only developed when standing up to and fighting—with “clean hands”—for what is right just because it is the morally just thing to do.
Donald Sterling and many others make it no secret the contempt and disrespect they have towards the African-American community. Clearly, African Americans are used as pawns and work horses by everyone—including Black and African American people and organizations that sell out the greater community for a buck. Certainly, the Black African American community compounds the matter by insisting on disrespecting themselves with continued use of the n-word and acceptance of being sold out. For instance, in 2007, the NACCP made a superficial attempt to stem the tide of Black Americans’ use of the n-word. Mock funerals to bury the pejorative term sprung up around the country only to come to an abrupt halt. As irony would have it, the old guard within the NACCP was against the mock funerals; instead, it was the younger faction promoting the burial of the n-word as short-lived as it was. Where was the Black community at that time? Why did no one stand up and tell the NAACP that they were wrong for halting the burial of the n-word? And did the NAACP halt the burials due to them again being afraid that much of their funding would be pulled? Is this a way of the guard saying that they still “know their place” and are willing to maintain the “balanced imbalance” to keep receiving their slice of the pie?
Undeniably, if Sterling was not “caught red-handed” with the words of racism pouring with total conviction “from the horse’s mouth” in the taped telephone conversation, the unbelievable presentation of praise to such an undeserving individual would have once again taken place. The NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award is one founded long ago on dignity; appreciation and recognizable value of all mankind; and selfless, genuine efforts made only to help in the uplifting, liberation and independence, and celebration of the Black and African-American community. It should not be treated or used as just another punch card for someone who is only attempting to buy favor with Black America because of what Black America can do for his pocketbook. Further, Black America should be able to recognize the fake and not continue to enable the systemic.
H. Lewis Smith is the founder and president of UVCC, the United Voices for a Common Cause, Inc., http://www.theunitedvoices.com author of Bury that Sucka: A Scandalous Love Affair with the N-Word, and the recently released book Undressing the N-word: Revealing the Naked Truth, Lies, Deceit and Mind Games.