Race can be defined in terms of physical features (skin color and other anatomical features), and sometimes also with respect to language, behavior, ideas, and other “cultural” matters. Racism is a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, other races, especially as a result of this. (Goldberg, P. 58)
Racism, as it applies to Blacks against Whites, in North American society, has its roots in several hundreds of years of oppression and racism by Whites. In this sense, black racism almost qualifies as reverse discrimination (e.g. affirmative action plans established by governments and foundations to give preference to blacks when hiring). However, more radical attitudes towards Whites by Black North Americans have developed, primarily during this century, in response to, and as an off-shoot of, the civil rights movement and the emergence of groups such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam.
Louis Farrakhan is a leader of a group of extremist. An African-American “preacher”, he has founded his own movement of black radicalism, based on Islamic fundamentalism, and incorporating his own brand of hatred against whites and other racial or religious or special interest groups.
This essay will examine some of the events that form part of the foundation of his philosophy, will examine essays written about Farrakhan by prominent academics, civil libertarians, and modern day economists, writers. Who is Louis Farrakhan, what does he preach, and why? This essay will attempt to shed some light on these questions, and as well Black radicalism itself.
Farrakhan was born the child of West Indian immigrants in the Bronx in 1933. He was born Louis Eugene Walcott, conceived during a rape. Farrakhan was brought up in Roxbury, Boston, a West Indian influenced black section of the town. Growing up with talents in music, Farrakhan enjoyed scholastic success. After graduating from high school, he attended the Winston-Salem Teachers College in North Carolina for a couple of years and got married to his high school sweetheart. Through continuing his love for music – especially calypso – Farrakhan gained local fame and, in 1955, was invited to a Savior’s Day convention to hear Elijah Muhammad (head of the Nation of Islam of the time). That was a turning point that saw him convert to the Nation of Islam (NOI). His natural gifts allowed him to rise steadily in the NOI, from being an assistant to Malcolm X to becoming the national representative for Elijah Muhammad. His popularity spread, even outside of NOI, with blacks from the around the country listening him, promoting his message of black rage. (Alexander, Pp. 132- 135)
However, three years Elijah Muhammad’s death, Farrakhan left the mainstream Islamic group and resurrected the Nation of Islam again in 1978. He then preached its members to his new interpretation of the old Nation beliefs: “that separatism is salvation; that black right is righteous; that the poor are not mere pariahs; that prisoners are potential princes; and that black folks are God’s real chosen people.” There was the promise of the transition of race into the language of black self-determination and a resistance to white supremacy. (Alexander, P. 136)
Farrakhan’s Beliefs incorporate the ideas that : black people are the Original People of the world, and of the universe; the world is in Allah’s hands and Allah is their only God; black people, who are the children of Allah, as being themselves divine. Therefore, the suffering of the black poor, “victims of the white racist violence,” black males, and blacks leaders are seen as having been victims of attempts by whites to harm God. (Alexander, P. 137) Farrakhan believes, therefore, that “God will destroy America by the hands of Muslims.” He also has a belief that self-help is the key to black redemption and he seeks to restore conservative cultural values in black families and in American society. His beliefs about black determination are rooted in West Indian Marcus Garvey’s separatist doctrines, and his desires to create the black ethnitopia are rooted in Garvey’s notion of black self-help and racial solidarity. Farrakhan sees self-help as key to translating ‘race’ into ‘black self-determination’. (Alexander, P. 130) Ultimately, he is also Anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Christian. As he has said that, in defense of his brand of racist philosophy, “Christians preach love but practice hate and tyranny, and used God to cover up their corrupt and dirty practices.” (Louis Farrakhan: What Does He Stand For?) and that ” The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man.” (Louis Farrakhan: What Does He Stand For?) Mostly, he is anti-white. Evidences are shown in his speeches as such, ” Murder and lying comes easy for white people.” (Louis Farrakhan: What Does He Stand For?) and, ” Does the pope ask his white brothers and sisters to repent of their evils to our people before asking our people to forgive? What does this tell you about who he really represents? Does he really represent Christ, or does he represent originator of organized crime on this earth? Who represents Christ: Pope John Paul II or the Honorable Louis Farrakhan?” (Louis Farrakhan: What Does He Stand For?) Sexism also contributes towards his doctrine. He gives his low opinion of the role of women in the family and black society as a whole, partially owing to his interpretation of the Islamic culture. (Alexander, P. 141)
Julianne Malveaux, an economist and writer in Washington, D.C., explains to us, in her essay ” Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Economic Rhetoric and Reality,” how, through the kwanza principles of cooperative economics (e.g. If there are 30million African-American and each one put a dollar in the pot, there will be 30million dollars right there and then!), Minister Farrakhan has been a consistent advocate of black economic empowerment. She tells us how Louis Farrakhan collects hundreds of thousands of dollars by giving speeches to ten and up to sixty thousand African-Americans, who have to pay admission fees of $10 to $30 per appearance. She also reveals that on the Million Man March, how after the corporate and non-black contributions, the $10 registration fee of each attendee (with evidence showing there were at least 1 million attendees), the collection of $1 from each man present, and the fees charged to the vendors, that Minister Farrakhan reported a deficit in excess of $66,000. (Alexander, P. 125) Given those facts, one must wonder what truly motivates Farrakhan – profound faith or greed.
Michael Dyson writes that “there are those who reviled the march as a ’swamp of hatred.’ Others have romanticized it.” He describes the march as involving problems of complex cultural conflicts in black life over masculinity, ethnocentrism, responsibility, and atonement. It also placed emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of leadership built on race translation. He concludes that the Million Man March is a logical extension and a brilliant summing up of Farrakhan’s vocation of translating race. (Alexander, P. 139) But that it has translated race with a heavy masculine accent. “Masculine forms of experience. Masculine journeys to self-definition. Masculine quests for freedom. Masculine struggles for manhood.” He writes that “Farrakhan and many of the men at the march failed to overcome their homophobia. The conservative view of the family held by the Nation, and by many blacks, also devalues the role of gay (and lesbian women) in the history of black struggle. That conservatism discounts the intellectual contribution that gays and lesbians have made to the political and social health of black communities. Homophobia creates a form of intraracial apartheid. There was nothing at the march to help black men atone for their misogyny, sexism, or patriarchy. Farrakhan’s fundamentalist religious orientation – one that continues to express a vicious homophobia and a thinly veiled sexism – limits his use to progressive black forces and confronting the racial challenges of the next century. Farrakhan’s brilliant but narrow translation of race fails to account for the nuances, the robust diversity, the rugged complexity, the multi-hued textures of black life in America.” (Alexander, P. 145)
Louis Farrakhan made a controversial claim to the leadership of millions of blacks after the Million Man March. As Professor Michael Dyson asks, “Is race translation superior to race transcendence? Or, do the virtues of race translation outweigh the obvious deficit of a leadership built on race transcendence?” The Million Man March allows us to discover the good, bad, and ugly aspects of race translation. It also points out the success and the failure of leadership based on race translation. (Alexander, P. 139) Further the Anti-Defamation League has stated:
” However, we remain deeply troubled by Minister Farrakhan’s role in organizing this march. Minister Farrakhan remains unchanged in his bigotry. For a man to speak of the eight steps of atonement as he did in his speech and not separate himself from the hate and anti-Semitism of his past is inconceivable. Minister Farrakhan did not speak directly about Jews . . . but he also did not distance himself publicly from his previous anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-Catholic and anti-gay comments.” (ADL responds to Minister Louis Farrakhan’s speech at the Million Man March)
Clearly, Farrakhan’s beliefs are as controversial outside his community as are they radical within. He is generally regarded as a retardant to progressive Black development in North America, at best, and more often, by the intellectual community as a racist, a bigot, and a danger to society.
Ron Nixon, who is a staff writer at the Roanoke (Virginia) Times, believes that “Some of Farrakhan’s appeal can be attributed to youthful experimentation by these young adults, and to their somewhat narrow embrace of 1960s-style black nationalism as expressed by Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).” Nixon tells us that “shown side by side in ads attacking gangsta rap and Time-Warner, Tucker and Bennett compared gangsta music to propaganda which preceded the horrors of Nazi Germany and blamed rap music for most of the social ills that confront black America.” Finally, Nixon consider how it is that “while many black leaders have turned away from the so-called undesirable elements of black youth – gang members, drugs dealers, prisoners – the Nation of Islam has extended to them a hand. Farrakhan has crisscrossed the country with a “Stop the Killing Campaign,” a grassroots effort to end gang violence and black-on-black crime.” This helps us to understand how the grassroots that support Farrakhan’s racist platform was gained. (Alexander, P. 188) Oddly, Farrakhan has been supportive of groups such as the black Action Defense Committee, and its leader Dudly Laws. This organization promotes reverse racism. Laws is a major North American drug kingpin, and romanticizes the gangsta image. Giving his support to the BADC is not a far stretch from taking part in what Farrakhan blames white society for doing; bringing misery and pain to inner city Blacks in the forms of drugs and violence. (Lavigne, Pp.92-94) Could this be an example of Farrakhanian opportunism? Perhaps.
Of the academics, writers, and others, referred to by this author, in almost every case, Farrakhan has been described as dangerous. His beliefs have been analyzed and shown to be racist in the extreme. Racism knows no boundaries, and Farrakhan has crossed many. Generally, people do not usually think of racism as black against white. Farrakhan is a warning bell to our society – there is extreme hatred out there, in all forms, and unchecked can pose serious threat to the fabric of our individual and collective communities. He has expressed his view that being likened to Hitler is not a ‘bad thing.’ Whatever it is, the shoe, apparently, fits.