WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER “EXTRAORDINARY”? by William Reed Columnist

The Awards season is going strong.  While no Blacks are nominated in any coveted Oscar categories this year, the one thing Black Americans can count on is that a bevy of beautiful performers will be on the NAACP Image Awards show that airs March 4th on Fox TV.

An NAACP Image Award is an accolade by the 100-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to honor outstanding people of color in film, television, music, and literature.  At the 42nd Image Awards, NAACP CEO Ben Jealous will present the 2011 President’s Award to General Colin L. Powellin recognition of special achievements and distinguished public service”

Established in 1967 at the height of the civil rights movement, the NAACP Image Awards is the nation’s premier event celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.  The 35 categories of Image Awards are voted on by members of the NAACP; however the tribute to General Powell, the President’s Award, is honorary.

But, what would Du Bois say?  In 1909, W.E.B. Du Bois helped form America’s oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization, the NAACP.  In 1910, Du Bois was made director of publications and research and established the official journal of the NAACP, The Crisis.  Du Bois’ life and work of scholarship and protest activity is instructive regarding ongoing ways that the legacy of slavery touches the way Blacks think, talk and treat each other.  So, what would Du Bois, and other Blacks of distinction, say about holding Powell out as “a person of distinction”?   Whether Powell’s body of work is deserving of The President’s Award is based on how people nowadays deem the “quality of his work”.  Is Powell a nominee just because he was “a first” White man’s stooge?

Powell’s will not be the NAACP’s first controversial award.  For example, in 1994, Tupac Shakur was a nominee for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture for the film Poetic Justice although he had been charged with sexual abuse in December 1993.  In 2004, R. Kelly’s Chocolate Factory was nominated for Outstanding Album although he was under indictment at the time for charges related to child pornography.

The celebration of Powell for “distinguished public service” causes great concern as to whether he deserves to be honored by the NAACP or held in high esteem by people of color.  Whether he was a fool or just “a solider following orders,” Colin Powell allowed himself to be “lied to” and “manipulated” into supporting the costly invasion of Iraq.  As US Secretary of State, Powell was used to present a bogus case for war against Iraq to the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003.  The United States used the “threat” posed by Iraqi biological weapons to justify invading the country, and causing years of political unrest and sectarian bloodshed, resulting in 100,000 civilian deaths. No biological weapons were ever found and in an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC, Powell admitted that his speech on Iraq at the UN was “a blot” on his reputation. 

Instead of the label “war criminal”, NAACP CEO Jealous has gone to the other extreme to give Powell “icon” status, saying: "General Colin Powell has led an extraordinary life of public service.  As the first African American to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and later first to serve as Secretary of State, General Powell holds a unique place in American history.  He is a man of conscience and conviction…Although his position on the Iraq War was controversial he was often the voice of reason in prosecution of that war.  He rose from humble roots as the son of Jamaican immigrants to become an inspiration to us all.”

The only thing Powell is an inspiration toward is servitude, and he darn sure ain’t “extraordinary”.   What Jealous needs to do is investigate what the good general knew, and what he is telling the world.

(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org)

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