For the third year in a row, the National Black Justice Coalition proudly and pro-actively participated in the NAACP annual convention.
Once again NBJC hosted a prominent tradeshow booth where staff members spoke to hundreds of people and distributed many pieces of LGBT affirming literature. We were also welcomed, highlighted and participated in a Sunday church service that was overflowing in attendance. And just a couple of days later, NBJC hosted a reception and awards ceremony honoring 9 LGBT Detroit organizations in a near capacity hotel ballroom with representatives from the NAACP and the Detroit Mayor’s office in attendance.
But in spite of our hard work and successes during the 98th annual NAACP convention in Detroit, I have been repeatedly approached, emailed, and asked: “Did you attend the N-Word mock funeral?”
During this year’s annual convention, the NAACP in all of its venerable glory decided to finally ‘bury’ a word that for generations has caused the Black community much pain, angst and controversy. But just how relevant was this novel and symbolic act of consciousness?
Was it a publicity stunt to earn time on the evening news and column width in newspapers across America, or instead was it a brave, progressive stand to be followed up with a meatier substance and agenda?
Although honorable and well-intentioned, the mock funeral still appeared to be shortsighted in not addressing the root cause(s) of the use and abuse of the word "nigger" as well as reasons why it is so widely used not just as an epithet but as a term of endearment between many Blacks.
One thing that the mock funeral did not do was bury the many other different words of our times that have caused other communities pain, angst and controversy. For instance the searing word "faggot" was not buried by the NAACP and neither were the words "bitch," "ho," "coon," "spic," or "chink."
Apparently event organizers were so quick to bury the n-word that they seemingly forgot that there other epithets that also exist because of a culture of animosity, intimidation and hate.
Today we can no longer afford to champion only the rights of a segment of oppressed people. Instead we must take a more inclusive approach of connecting the dots of oppression and realize what actually should have been buried was our capacity to accept intolerance and our inability to speak up for the rights of others and not just for ourselves.
As a Lifetime member of the NAACP I am proud to state there are many individuals within the NAACP who do get it and who have come to the defense and support of LGBT and other oppressed communities.
Julian Bond, Board Chairman of the NAACP has repeatedly thrown his support behind LGBT rights and marriage. Likewise, Rev. Nelson Rivers, NAACP Chief Operating Officer, Hillary Shelton the director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Alice Huffman, President of the California Conference of the NAACP among other progressives NAACP members and officials have openly expressed their LGBT support.
In fact the NAACP opposed legislation that would have created a Constitutional ban on gay marriage (2004) and currently supports federal hate crimes legislation and employment non-discrimination legislation which would benefit the LGBT community—this despite very loud opposition from Black mega church pastors and bishops from across the country. But, in almost every situation including this one, there is room for growth.
Additionally, all of us, including the NAACP, must shed ourselves of any and all gender and patriarchal chains reminiscent of generations past. A prime example of this is that prior to the convention the message was sent out to NAACP attendees that women should wear white and men should wear black to the mock funeral.
It was befuddling to witness such a long overdue move coupled with a desperate clinging to gender roles and outdated attempts at conformity of the past. What of the gender non-conformist? What were they to wear? As long as we continue to conjure up these stereotypical trappings of our past we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
Although the Black community and its mirror image, the NAACP, have come a very long way in its growth and understanding of civil rights issues outside of its Black core, there is always room for improvement.
This is our issue to deal with together. It is our journey and our calling. Hence it is the NBJC’s mission to erase both racism and homophobia. This is done in part through coalition building with our allies such as the NAACP and through numerous grassroots initiatives.
So let’s relegate all forms of hateful and demeaning speech to the trash heap of history. Together we can create a world where everyone is safe, respected, embraced and celebrated.