The Nation's Pulse

The NAACP’s Negative Image Awards

The only way Van Jones could have improved his chances is if he'd been a foul-mouthed rap artist.

By 3.1.10

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"Van Jones is an American treasure," wrote Benjamin Todd Jealous, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Jealous attempted to justify the selection of Van Jones for the NAACP's 2010 "President's Award" at the organization's February 26th Images Award ceremony.

Among the accomplishments that merited his selection -- according to Jealous -- was Jones founded the Color of Change, a deeply partisan organization steeped in the deeply repugnant politics of fomenting the racial divide in America.

Jones' admission of his Communist beliefs should not disqualify him from consideration of a serious award. However, his racist and bigoted views, his delusional beliefs as a "September 11th truther," and his overall fringe lunacy easily isolate him as little more than a well-deserved society outcast and the punch line in a late night comedy routine.

It is a supreme embarrassment and a monumental shame that the NAACP had chosen to recognize Jones for anything other than being a truly dubious individual.

This isn't the first time the NAACP has failed its constituency by honoring downright lousy people. On occasion, the NAACP has displayed a completely schizophrenic personality when it comes to race politics.

In 2003, then-NAACP President Kweisi Mfume was apoplectic over a silly board game called Ghettopoly, a take-off of the popular board game Monopoly.

Ghettopoly was a parody of ghetto culture that was invented by 28-year old entrepreneur David Chang. A Taiwanese immigrant, Chang was doing his best to achieve financial success and realize the American dream. Chang's game played on stereotypes of blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians and Jews. Properties included Westside Liquor, Smitty's XXX Peep Show, Weinstein's Gold and Platinum, Ling-Ling's Massage Parlor and Chico's Bodega.

According to an Internet advertisement, "Buying stolen properties, pimpin' hoes, building crack houses and projects, paying protection fees and getting car jacked are some of the elements of the game." At this point, one would have to wonder who would even buy such a dumb game?

Nonetheless, Ghettopoly got Mfume so angered that he fired off a letter to Chang denouncing the game. Mfume wrote, "It is disturbing that you would choose to promote and capitalize off such negative aspects of society that cause great harm to individuals and the African-American community at large."

Yet, this is where the double standard came into play. Chang said he got the inspiration to invent the game by watching rap videos on an MTV program called "Cribs" and from playing video games. One only has to watch a few minutes of some of the most vulgar rap videos to understand how an immigrant can latch onto such stereotypes.

Chang was selling Ghettopoly the same time the Converse shoe company was marketing the "Loaded Weapon" athletic shoe and black rapper Nelly was promoting his "Pimp Juice" snack beverage.

Although Mfume was critical of Ghettopoly, he and the NAACP had an entirely different take on the rap music that had inspired the game. On more than one occasion, the NAACP gave its Image Award to rappers, some of whom had recorded songs preaching violence toward women.

This is how the NAACP website described its reasons for presenting the Image Award. "Ideas and images create the belief systems that control our individual and societal actions. When it comes to forming ideas, reinforcing stereotypes, establishing norms and shaping our thinking nothing affects us more than the images and concepts delivered into our lives on a daily basis by television and film."

With that as its guiding principles, the NAACP gave its 2002 Image Award to rapper Ja Rule for his rap song "Livin' It Up." Included among the song's disgusting lyrics was this ode of disrespect to women:

Half the hoes hate me, half them love me
The ones that hate me only hate me cause they ain't f*****d me
And they say I'm lucky; you think I got time
to f*** all these hoes and do all these shows?

"Livin' It Up" appeared on the "Pain is Love" CD with these other stirring songs: Dial M for Murder, Down Ass Bitch, and I'm Real (Murda Mix). Another track on the CD is "So Much Pain," which includes these unforgettable lyrics:

They'll never take me alive, I'm gettin' high with my fo'-five
Cocked on these niggaz time to die
Even as a lil' nigga, you could picture me hot gun in the rain
I shed the tear, cause this nigga here inherits the pain
And now I'm labeled as a thug nigga -- you know the game
Smokin weed, f***in' hoes, slangin' thangs, that's the life I live
Even if I tried to go back I'd get lost (come back)
And everything I seem to love I done lost
F*** the world if they can't understand me.

So glorifying the ghetto culture and perpetuating stereotypes can be good or bad depending on who is doing the glorifying and perpetuating.

It was difficult to understand how Mfume and the NAACP could be so critical of a silly board game that perpetuates stereotypes when the NAACP honored the rap music culture on which the game was based and that had provided the inspiration for those stereotypes.

This brings us back to Van Jones. There is absolutely no redeeming accomplishment the mainstream black community could proudly embrace regarding Jones. Reasonable people recognize Jones has set back race relations in some circles by perpetuating ugly stereotypes, promoting bigotry, preaching racism and advocating delusional conspiracy theories.

There are countless black Americans worthy of recognition for their remarkable deeds. For the NAACP to single-out and honor Van Jones is indeed disappointing. 

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About the Author
Mark Hyman hosts "Behind the Headlines," a commentary program for Sinclair Broadcast Group. You can follow him on Twitter at @markhyman.