The Florida State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) unanimously voted on March 18th to ask the NAACP National Board to issue a travel advisory concerning the state of Florida in the United States. If issued, the advisory from NAACP National would urge the Black community to avoid visiting or moving to the state of Florida.
A travel advisory is a warning that is issued by a government or other knowledgeable source to inform and advise people on situations that may affect their safety and well-being when they are travelling to or living in a specific area. This may include an advisory for a country or region where security or health conditions have changed and become dangerous. It may be a recommendation to simply exercise caution, reconsider travel or avoid traveling all together.
At the heart of travel advisory is a question of safety. But this is not what the Florida State NAACP is doing. If it was a question of safety, they would issue some sort of warning to shelter in place or evacuate to the 3.4 million African Americans that live in Florida. Furthermore, they have clearly stated that they would ask people to “forego visiting and moving to the state.” What they are doing is calling for a travel boycott.
As I understand it, the NAACP does not officially call for travel boycotts. The issuance of a travel advisory is their vehicle to express concern about a situation on the ground in some state or municipality. The NAACP has issued travel advisories in the past to alert individuals, particularly African Americans, about potential safety concerns in specific locations. While these advisories are relatively rare, they typically arise from ongoing racial tensions or incidents of discrimination. For example, in August of 2017 the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri in the United States in response to multiple incidents of racial violence, discrimination, and racial profiling. The advisory was the first of its kind issued by them. I would hope that they would not utilize a very useful means of warning of safety to call for a travel boycott.
That said, I understand the reasoning and frustration behind the call for a boycott. NAACP Florida State Conference Chair Adora Obi Nweze said the following about the recommendation.
"Our question to Governor DeSantis is, 'What sort of future are you fostering for Black Americans throughout Florida while eradicating our historical contributions to this nation?' There is no 'feel good' version of the horrors and inequalities that Black Americans have faced or continue to face. Slavery, Jim Crow and lynchings followed by ongoing school segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality, housing discrimination, health care disparities, and wage gap are all tough truths to face. Misrepresenting the reality of our history promotes ignorance and apathy."
National Board of Directors Chairman Leon W. Russell responded to this call by Florida with the following statement:
"The recommendation from our Florida State Conference is a clear indication of just how egregious Governor Desantis' actions are. Any attempt to intentionally erase or misrepresent Black History is a direct attack on the foundation of comprehensive education. Be clear - Black history is American history. We are proud of our Florida State Conference for meeting this moment with the equal aggression and intention that is a necessary response to these attacks. Any location in America where our history has been erased does not offer us, or our children a bright future."
What is happening in Florida and many other states across the United States is a legitimate political argument. And I for one commend the Florida State Conference of the NAACP for their efforts – all their efforts except for the call for a travel boycott. A call for a travel boycott is a poor vehicle to vent anger and rage, no matter how legitimate they may be. It is nothing but political hobbyism designed to make those calling for a boycott feel better without enacting change. To paraphrase the late International Tennis Hall of Famer Arthur Ashe, what do they expect to achieve when they give in to their passion and vilification and surrender the moral high ground that alone can bring victory? Calling for a travel boycott may be emotionally satisfying but does nothing to advance the cause. The NAACP is better than this.
To quote Fredrick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle – never has, never will.” Telling African Americans to stay away from the state of Florida does nothing to empower the 3.4 million Blacks living in the state and others who agree with them. It abandons them. To achieve change, the NAACP would be better suited to encourage political tourism – go to the state and join those on the ground to oppose these policies it finds so repugnant. One visit to the state my not create change, but it will be a start. One more African American moving to Florida may not create change, but it will be a start. Anything that empowers those in Florida opposing these policies is a start. Walking away from the battlefield does nothing but cement those policies in place.
Do not boycott a destination. Instead, show up, engage, and confront. Support your fellow humans. And effect change.