There comes a time in every person's life during which he or she questions the value, worth or relevance of his or her opinions in the grand scheme of things. As a journalist who writes opinion pieces, I constantly face this problem and continually scrutinize my craft, particularly in a world where there is a growing disregard for the wants and needs of other people.
Each time I prepare to write these columns, however, I have a goal in mind that many professional and burgeoning journalists share, and that is, one way or another, to make the world a better place. Though many of us are frequently labeled as cynics with a gloomy outlook on society, we see ourselves as idealists, who in the hope of righting the wrongs taking place every day, call attention to problems by bringing them to light. For us, silence is not an option.
My most recent thoughts about the role that I play as a journalist stemmed from my discussions this summer with a leader in the University chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). After being offered the opportunity to participate in an NAACP-sponsored event, I declined because of my frustrations with the national organization. My main issues with the group are found in the narrow view that it espouses about civil rights.
According to the preamble of the organization's constitution, "[t]he NAACP will continue to fight for justice until all, without regard to race, gender, creed, or religion, enjoy equal status." Furthermore, their mission "is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination." While racism continues to be a persistent problem in today's society, with injustices including the unfair treatment of the six black youths in Jena this type of hatred does not stand alone in today's society.
It is my personal belief that while the NAACP has fought a noble cause in its 98 years of existence for the advancement of black people, many leaders in the organization fear expanding the vision past fighting for the progress of the black man. One extremely important group whose views I feel have been relegated to the backseat is black women, since I believe that racial discrimination often overlaps with gender discrimination, whether it is in social images of the black woman or in her treatment in the workplace, a group like the NAACP should work to make women's issues its problem. Yes, it has been outspoken in the Jena case, yet not nearly as much attention has been given to the young West Virginian, Megan Williams, who was raped and assaulted for days by her six white attackers, all while constantly hearing racial epithets. As the student leader told me this summer, however, I would perhaps be better served by taking my issues to a women's rights organization.
What became even more apparent during our discussion was the silent treatment that the gay and lesbian community faced from the NAACP. I made the claim that homophobia runs rampant within the organization, given the cultural and religious backgrounds of many leaders in the group. My question was this: If the NAACP wants to truly fight for the equality of all people, does it not make sense to address the needs of all of its constituents? Black people who happen to be gay face some of the worst discrimination of all, and the worst part is that it also happens within the black community.
This is when the officer of the Princeton NAACP gave me the organization's definition of civil rights, and they are supposedly rights that are or should be inherent from birth. In other words, since science remains inconclusive about the possibility of someone being born homosexual, gay rights are not civil rights. Yet many leaders in the organization, because of their religious or cultural backgrounds, will never believe what science has to say about homosexuality, since they view it as a moral sin. So, it is in their best interests to remain silent on the issue.
While the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP was quick to endorse Michael Vick in his struggle to battle dogfighting charges, and chapters nationwide rallied behind the Jena Six in their battle to fight unfair attempted murder charges, I realized that black heterosexual men would always take precedence over any other group when it comes to civil rights. It was also at this point when the words of Toni Morrison's "Beloved" took on new meaning for me: "Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined." The NAACP had the right to define who was worthy of having their civil rights ensured.
It is very hard for me to swallow this as acceptable. In order for the NAACP to continue affecting society by highlighting injustice, it has to expand and grow as the times change. It cannot attack 21st-century problems with a 20th-century vision. There is a heavy price to pay for all parties involved if progress is to be made. As an opinion journalist, I must put my neck on the line with every column, hoping to create dialogue and action. For activist groups like the NAACP, that may involve letting go of yesterday's vision to tackle today's problems and experience tomorrow's advancement. Walter Griffin is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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