And the winner is...R. Kelly! Well, let's hope not

Staff WriterFebruary 21, 2004 

What, O.J. was busy? Kobe's line was disconnected? Michael Jackson was playing with his pet monkey?

After the NAACP nominated R. Kelly for one of its annual "Image Awards," one can only imagine that other notorious members of the race were overlooked because they were busy or otherwise indisposed.

R. Kelly, for those of you who don't listen to R&B -- and if you do, you'll hear his latest song played 17 times a day -- is a singer of some talent.

He is also an accused child pornographer, facing charges because of a movie purportedly showing him having sex with an underage girl. He has previously been accused of favoring underaged girls -- but managed to make those charges disappear by waving cash at the alleged victims and their families.

"Image award" indeed.

One can give the NAACP the benefit of the doubt to a small extent by noting that only half of the voters for its nominees are NAACP officials; the rest are people from publishing and entertainment.

NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume, perhaps tired of holding his breath each year in fear of who'll be nominated next -- was quoted in a Chicago Tribune editorial as saying he'll move to have future nominations completely under the control of the organization.

Good move, Kweisi.

Growing up, most people of my generation would rather have tongue-kissed a snaggletoothed llama than criticize the NAACP. Without the vigilance of that venerable organization, many of us blacks wouldn't have the jobs or the standards of living we have today.

But the nation's oldest civil rights organization has, sadly but undeniably, lost its way. This is not the first time it has flirted with ridicule and verged on becoming a cruel punch-line.

Ten years ago, the late rapper Tupac Shakur was arrested for shooting two police officers and for sexually assaulting a woman on a dance floor. He was rewarded with, yep, an NAACP "Image Award" nomination.

Fortunately for all concerned, the award went to actor Denzel Washington for his lead role in the movie "Malcolm X."

Even before that, in another unfortunate foray into showbiz, the NAACP protested the portrayal of black men in the Steven Spielberg movie "The Color Purple."

Right on: I was feeling them on that, as the movie was a two-hour Cinemascopic dude-bashing that prompted some dudes -- OK, maybe just me -- to walk out before it was over.

I was not feeling the august organization, however, when, months later, its leadership protested again -- this time because "The Color Purple" failed to win an Academy Award.

Oy vey.

Lest anyone ascribe R. Kelly's nomination or his alleged misbehavior to some genetic moral deficiency among blacks -- and believe me, someone will -- it should be noted that a convicted child molester, movie director Roman Polanski, won a "Best Director" Oscar in 2003 for "The Pianist."

Not only that, but the announcement was greeted by an enthusiastic ovation, as though Polanski's moral and criminal lapses were of no consequence.

Ol' Roman, of course, was chillin' in France and thus accepted the award in absentia: otherwise he'd have been hauled off to the hoosegow for fleeing America 25 years earlier after pleading guilty to having sex with an underage girl.

What's especially disturbing about R.'s nomination at this point in his life and career is that Michael Jackson's nomination and award were also presented when molestation charges were swirling around his chemically relaxed hair.

He resolved those charges, though -- to the tune of more than $20 million.

Barry Saunders' column appears in the City & State section on Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at 836-2811 or through e-mail at barrys@newsobserver.com

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