The NAACP’s Distorted Image
The NAACP has nominated Rhythm and Blues singer R. Kelly for its Image Award. The annual Image Awards honor those “who strive for the portrayal of positive images and meaningful opportunities for African Americans” in the popular arts.
In 2002, R. Kelly was charged with 21 counts of child pornography after a video that depicted him having sex with a 13-year-old girl turned up. Then a digital camera that authorities say depicts Kelly engaging in sexual activity with a minor was discovered, resulting in 12 more counts. The lawyers for Kelly, who is an admitted drug addict, are trying to get the counts dismissed on the grounds that the search was flawed.
The NAACP has condemned law abiding public servants like Condoleeza Rice, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Ward Connerly for policy differences, but chooses to honor a musician, admittedly a talented one, whose personal conduct is reprehensible by any standard.
Ethics are made up of values, and values are reinforced when a society praises and honors those who display and embody them. Values are degraded, and negative values extolled, when those who behave badly are celebrated.
Organizations such as the NAACP have an obligation to assist our quest for an ethical community by giving clear and unequivocal signals regarding what behavior is appropriate and positive. It cannot, as its spokespeople have absurdly maintained, honor the man’s work without honoring the man. The NAACP has loudly and correctly decried the presentation of negative images of African Americans in the media, but it is using its own award to put forward the worst image possible.
Behavior matters. The NAACP, which was founded to promote the values of a democracy, is now promoting child rape, drugs and porn, because it is accompanied by nice music. By proving itself so ethically muddled that it can no longer tell the good guys from the thugs, the organization has forfeited any credibility as a moral voice in the African-American community, or the nation at large.