WARNING: This article may contain language that some readers might find offensive and repulsive- believe me, so do I.
I found it necessary to include this language in order to convey that gravity of the situation and to provide you with context to understand why behaviour exhibited by the man named in the title of this article is unacceptable.
Louis Farrakhan is the Black community's immune system's bug. I am aware that as a write this I am exuding my privilege. My (what I've nicknamed it) Black Pain™ comes from my parents fleeing dictatorship and Western interference in Somalia. The realm of Black Pain™ that people like Farrakhan represents is slavery- being brought on the bottom of a boat, stripped of your last name, and becoming the property of the rich and white. Yes, I am Black, and I am Muslim, but I am not African American. That experience is profoundly unique, and over the years has produced men and women who have shaped the way we have discussions surrounding race and social justice. The African American experience has also provided us iconic people and organizations, and one of those people is Louis Farrakhan. To many, he, alongside the Nation Of Islam, expresses a voice for the African American people, championing identity and pride. Farrakhan represents hope for thousands of Black men and women, discussing topics like incarceration and drug addiction in the Black community.
However, that is not why he has been in the news as of late. In fact, customarily, when Farrakhan is mentioned in the media, it is to address his in-your-face anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. Farrakhan has claimed things like "Jewish people were behind the 9/11 attacks" and that transgender people are a government conspiracy.
Yikes. Farrakhan is a piece of work, but not an unfamiliar one. There is always a pattern whenever we discuss him. 1) conservatives jump at the chance also to be critical, 2) Black intellectuals become skeptical of that critique (regarding the history conservatism has with Black leaders) and explain why in retrospect, most Black folks aren't the biggest fan of him, 3) Black intellectuals spar on Farrakhan's place in the Black community and 4) Farrakhan in all his controversy takes a seat in the back of our minds. Recently, his style and approach to Black Liberation has come back into the national conversation because of the failure on the part of the Women's March organizers to condemn him and his behavior.
To give succinct background info, Women's March organizer and co-chair Tamika Mallory had attended a Nation of Islam speech by Louis Farrakhan in February. Farrakhan made the usual anti-semitic commentary, along with spouting profound bigotry, saying Jewish people pushed marijuana onto black men to “feminize” them. Farrakhan also said during his speech that "....Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” He also quoted (approvingly) a few anti-Semitic comments made by other controversial men like Rev. Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, in addition to a number of other comments that I (for the sake of my sanity) am not going to write.
When asked to denounce Louis Farrakhan, Tamika Mallory, alongside the other WM chairwomen declined to say any harsh words on Farrakhan and his behavior. The Women's March camp, however, did issue a statement.
“Minister Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity principles,” the group said. “The World Women’s March seeks to build is one free from anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, and all forms of social violence.”
Now, the expectedly angry members of communities that have contributed to the post-Trump election movement have come forward stating their opinions. Farrakhan has expressed hatred towards transgender and queer people, Jewish persons, and has made sexist sentiments towards women- groups that the WM has said are part of their agenda to protect and empower. By being silent on condemning Farrakhan's rhetoric, but at the same time claiming to represent the groups he berates, the word of the organizers of the Women's March can be seen as uninvokable in intelligent conversation.
The outrage is understandable, yes, but we need to understand that Louis Farrakhan is not as threatening to groups like women, LGBTQ+ members, and Jewish persons as he is specifically, to Black Women, Black Gay & Trans people, and Black people who practice Judaism. We must get specific when dealing with Farrakhan because he wants people to believe in the US VS THEM mentality- that there are no other identities valid under the umbrella of "Black." (Black, Cis, Straight, and hyper-masculine). The fight in his mind is that the end of the day, its Black people VS Jews, gay and trans people. Not Black people, men, and women, of all faiths, (straight, gay, trans, cis, and others) VS oppression. This distinction is critical in genuinely striving for justice and liberation for Black people. Yes, people on the receiving end of Farrakhan's hatred and bigotry are very entitled to be wary of him- but he never claimed to represent everyone. Farrakhan claims to speak for the Black men and women in the fight against oppression. Black people are female, gay, trans, and practice religions other than Christianity and his interpretation of Islam. He denies the existence and withholds respect from people in his community because they do not fit his definition of human- meaning they are not worthy of his fight to liberate Black people. These are the people the women of the Women's March must strive to protect with the most vigilance.
Farrakhan is not the most damaging to outside groups, but to the people that cross different intersections within the Black community- and the Women's March presidents have put themselves in a position where it is reasonable to ask them where they stand on issues of gay and trans rights, anti-semitism, and sexism. Not in the vague sense, but through the Black lense. Black women, Black LGBTQ+ persons, and Black religious minorities are part of the exchange when talking about Farrakhan, yet they are the ones that get left behind.
The women behind the Women's March need to realize that if you truly stand for things like #BlackLivesMatter, you cannot stand by someone who routinely alienates identities held by Black people. If Tamika Mallory and Co believe in standing up for marginalized people, then denouncing Farrakhan would be a step in the right direction. However, it is going to require dialogue and highlighting of Black men and women from different intersections and across different spectrums. Yes, Louis Farrakhan is controversial, but if you are not someone who must internalize his statements while having to choose between your Blackness and your other identities (identities he vehemently hates), then perhaps it is best to pass the mic onto someone who does. You cannot banish Farrakhan, his thinking, and others like him without healing the Black community first.
Banner Image via The Daily Beast