Last Saturday the NAACP replaced longtime Chairman Julian Bond, naming health-care administrator Roslyn M. Brock as its chairman. Brock, 44, is, like President/CEO Benjamin Jealous the first such chairman to never have experienced legal segregation. I’m mildly surprised that there hasn’t been a bit more coverage on this news, but they made the move on a Saturday, which even in this age of 24-hour instantaneous news coverage is not necessarily a “good-look” news wise. You want to make a splash with something like this? Do it in the morning during the week.
But I digress.
So I’ve begun doing the research for my second book project (on neoliberalism in black politics) in earnest. The NAACP is one of the entities I am interested in studying, not just because they are the oldest and most venerable civil rights association, but because of two administrative moves made in 1977 and in 1996 respectively. In 1977 they changed the title of the Executive Secretary to the Executive Director/CEO. IN 1996 they eliminated the ELECTED office of President and established the title of President/CEO.
The latter move effectively takes away the ability to select a President from NAACP members at large, and to an extent from the 67-member National Board of Directors. The former move sounds like a simple name change–I don’t know whether any formal responsibilities changed–but I think it signals something a bit more. Different thoughts come to mind when we think of an “executive secretary” than come to mind when we think of an “executive director/ceo”. In fact, different thoughts come to mind when we think of an “executive director/CEO” than when we think of an “executive director.” Indeed, the very term “CEO” has become in some ways more powerful than “congressman” or “senator”.
I imagine that the reason both of these moves occurred was to bring the NAACP into the modern era of civil rights advocacy. But what does this mean exactly? What do we lose when we take the ability to elect a leader and replace that with an executive headhunting firm? I’d argue that this move is part and parcel of the neoliberal shift in black politics, the shift towards a corporate management approach to race relations and to black politics. And although the first NAACP leader with corporate experience (Bruce Gordon) was not chosen until 2005, it seems that the organization was moving towards this point much much earlier.
Thoughts are welcome.