The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People wraps up its 100th anniversary celebration meeting in New York this evening with a very special guest: The 44th president of the United States.
And, as you may have heard, that man -- one Barack Obama -- happens to be black, or "colored" as was the word in vogue a century ago.
But if Obama's appearance -- and achievement -- can be rightly seen as the most prominent triumph of the civil rights organization's lengthy history, the group's archaic name stands as a perfect example of its need to reform and re-energize itself for the 21st century.
"Colored people" isn't merely a quaint phrase of a day long past; in certain cases, it's an insult. The fact that language has now caused everything to come almost full-circle to encompass the phrase "people of color" means little. If anything "NAAPC" could stand for the National Association For the Politically Correct.
Which, come to think of it, might be more accurate. Which is precisely the problem.
This is not to say that there aren't certain definite social problems that impact the African American community at a greater extent than the rest of society. That's manifestly true. But the NAACP must realize that Obama's rise -- while representing a great opportunity to show there really are no obstacles a black person can't overcome -- also presents a challenge.
Fairly or not, Obama's election may have alleviated whatever remained of "white guilt" within the broader public. Another way of saying this is that America believes that Obama represents the nation at last having gotten "beyond race." For African Americans, racism still exists, but it isn't seen as a debilitating obstacle for the broader society. And, compared to history, it's not.
If that's the case, the NAACP needs to be more than just another generic liberal organization campaigning for "national health care" as its chairman is now suggesting. The organization needs to think outside of the proverbial box. If it wants to advocate for health reform, fine. But it must also be prepared to pick fights with teachers unions that often block meaningful reform in many urban environments. That blocked reform -- charter schools or vouchers, for example -- proportionally harms black and other minority students more than white kids.
A black man has become president. That's wonderful and cause for the NAACP to celebrate. But advancing the African American cause in the 21st century requires a whole new way of thought.