Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam have been an important positive and stabilizing force in the black community. He says some pretty awful things about Jews, women, gays and transgender people, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t made a significant contribution as well. And therein lies the dilemma, or to be more precise, reveals the fallacy of the social justice movement’s effort to reconcile the zero sum game of self-interest.*
The national co-chair of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, was present at the Nation of Islam’s annual Saviour’s Day event in late February, where Farrakhan railed against Jews for being “the mother and father of apartheid,” declared that “the Jews have control over those agencies of government,” and surmised that Jews have chemically induced homosexuality in black men through marijuana.
Mallory, Shaun King, and others find themselves caught in the middle of their claim to prominence by supporting Farrakhan while denying Farrakhan’s very clear, very explicit, very discriminatory words. You can be for equality or you can be for Farrakhan. You can’t be for both.
The incident is the latest episode in a pattern that has repeated itself ever since Farrakhan’s entry on the national stage. The Nation of Islam leader first rose to national prominence defending Jesse Jackson from accusations of anti-Semitism, after Jackson referred to New York as “Hymietown” during the 1984 Democratic presidential primary. Farrakhan called Judaism a “dirty religion,” and warned Jews against attacking Jackson: “If you harm this brother, it will be the last one you harm.” Farrakhan’s defense of Jackson, who many black voters felt was unfairly maligned and taken out of context, helped establish his reputation as someone who, right or wrong, would not cave to the white establishment.
One might suspect that I, as a Jew, would be outraged by Farrakhan. Sorry, but I just can’t get too hot and bothered by it. One group blaming another for being awful is pretty much the sum of human history. In the grand scheme of things, Farrakhan’s anti-Semiticism is banal, as far as I’m concerned. He can call my religion whatever names he wants. It doesn’t have much to do with me, and I’m not telling him where we hid the gold anyway.
But within the black community, the Nation of Islam has done a lot of good, and that’s what Farrakhan is all about, helping black people, being their champion. And they are entitled to have someone champion their cause, even if it means he says mean things about Jews.
Most people outside the black community come into contact with the Nation of Islam this way—Farrakhan makes anti-Semitic remarks, which generate press coverage, and then demands for condemnation. But many black people come into contact with the Nation of Islam as a force in impoverished black communities—not simply as a champion of the black poor or working class, but of the black underclass: black people, especially men, who have been written off or abandoned by white society. They’ve seen the Fruit of Islam patrol rough neighborhoods and run off drug dealers, or they have a family member who went to prison and came out reformed, preaching a kind of pride, self-sufficiency, and entrepreneurship that, with a few adjustments, wouldn’t sound out of place coming from a conservative Republican. The self-respect, inner strength, and self-reliance reflected in the polished image of the men in suits and bow ties can be a powerful sight.
And if Mallory and others want to support Farrakhan’s good works on behalf of the black community, that’s totally fine. But then they can’t simultaneously claim the mantle of social justice righteousness. They can’t lead a Women’s March if they support a guy who blames women for being too lazy to cook. They can’t be champions of equality for all and support a guy who blames Jews for turning their youth into transgender people.
I get it. You want the good that someone like Farrakhan brings without the ugliness of his express denigration of women, gays, transgender people and, well, Jews. Unfortunately, it comes as a package, and without that package, you don’t get the good he provides the black community.
But with the Women’s March, Mallory is no longer just doing anti-violence work. She’s become a leader of a diverse, national political movement, of which Farrakhan’s most frequent targets—Jews, women, LGBT people—are irreplaceable members.
As Rodney King asked rhetorically, can’t we all just get along? Thus far, there’s been no evidence to support that possibility.
“I don’t agree with everything that Minister Farrakhan said about Jews or women or gay people,” said Mallory.
So which things that Minister Farrakkan said about Jews or women or gay people does Mallory agree with? There’s no good answer to this question. And there’s no answer Mallory could give that wouldn’t burn her one way or the other.
No matter how hard, how desperately, you want to believe that unicorns prance on rainbows, Louis Farrakhan is going to make you cry. It’s completely understandable that some advocates want to support him, but then you’ve made your choice. It’s a fair choice, and one you’re entitled to make, but own it. There is no way to weasel out of Farrakhan’s message, which is just fine provided you recognize the limitations of your ideology.
He’s got a point. Everything is on the table, whether you agree with it or not. And sometimes, what’s on the table will be politically incorrect. If you believe the problem is White-Jewish supremacy, then it shouldn’t be beyond critical analysis. That, of course, doesn’t mean I have to take it seriously or deny its accuracy, but all ideas are fair game, even anti-Semitic ones.
*The old-school notion of equality, premised on blindness toward characteristics, is now deemed racist and sexist because it fails to produce the demanded outcomes, which must necessarily be due to racism or sexism because it’s a dogmatic impossibility.
To Farrakhan’s credit, he appreciates that success for the black community comes at the expense of others. There are only so many chairs at Harvard, and only so many butts can fill them. He wants them filled with black tushies. That’s his goal, and at least he understands it.