Reparations Anyone?

By Kimberley Jane Wilson
Featured Rightgrrl May 1999
September 10, 2001

It never fails. Whenever I begin to think that I may have been a little too hard on the NAACP the organization disappoints me again.

Unless youíve been on a long vacation in the woods you must have heard about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopleís criticism of network television for not having enough black faces on TV. According to the Screen Actors Guild black actors were cast in just over 20% of the roles for movies and prime time television. I certainly donít 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 isnít hustling up acting jobs for Hollywood millionaires just a tiny bit trivial?

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume recently taped a pilot episode of an Oprah Winfrey-style talk show for a production company called Hearst-Argyle. This company is a syndication partner of NBC. The unsettling thing about this new show is itís timing. The NAACP has been nagging the networks for years now about getting more blacks on and behind the camera and theyíre even talking about launching a boycott of network TV. Now it looks like Mfume may be on the road to getting a 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 donít 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 Viveca Fox then I guess I should laugh; right?

Wrong! And thatís why Iím almost crying.

I could go into detail about the serious challenges Black America is facing now but Iím sure you already know some of them from personal experience. Our youngsters, especially our boys are falling dangerously behind in school. The NAACP has just recently begun an ad campaign promoting the importance of education but there is so much more that needs to be done.

Most of our families are now headed by single mothers. This is typically a one way trip to poverty and somebody should be preaching that grim fact from the rooftops but the NAACP remains mute. Young black men are pouring into the nationís prisons. Their crimes are primarily against other black people so we are all potentially affected by this. Going to jail is not ďkeeping it realĒ and breaking the law is not a blow against ďthe ManĒ and the NAACP ought to make it a crusade to get that message out. Instead theyíre worried about how many black faces are on some mindless, sitcom.

Back when Kweisi Mfume was still called Frizzell Gray he made some big time mistakes. After his motherís 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. Instead of staying on this aimless path he found the strength to turn himself around. He got off the streets and into college. Eventually Mfume became a community activist, radio personality and a congressman.

I really do 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. It saddens me to see him and the NAACP wasting precious time and money on this silly TV campaign.

Network television has long been referred to as a vast wasteland but actually itís 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 and I sincerely hope that black families across America join in. The more of our kids who turn off the boob tube and pick up a book the better. In the mean time Iím going to re-read Alice in Wonderland. Maybe it will give me a clue about where the minds of the NAACPís decision makers are.

Kimberley Lindsay Wilson is the author of Eleven Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men (African American Images, September 2000, ISBN: 0913543691, $12.95). She can be found at http://members.aol.com/wilsonhope/aaa/index.html


Copyright 2001 by Kimberley Jane Wilson. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.