Today in our nation's capital, black men from the all over the country are uniting to march in an unprecedented testimony to black self-responsibility and to the future of the black community. This march represents a resounding retort to the chilling statistic recently released that one third of all black males between the ages of 20 and 29 are somehow involved in the penal system, either on trial, in jail, or on parole.
Both the goals of the march and the massive support it has garnered seem to indicate a conscious choice by black males to undergo a marked change in behavior. In the words of the march's mastermind, Louis Farrakhan, Minister of the Nation of Islam: "As the sons of proud people we are coming together and moving forward to chart the course for our future as responsible heads of our families; to reclaim and build our neighborhoods; to unify our families; and to save our children who will lead us into the next millennium."
This seems a cause for jubilation; black America, and in particular its black males, have made a commitment to life, to family, to the black community and the American community at large. However, despite the overwhelmingly positive response to the goals of the march, many see the demonstration as a badly veiled attempt on Farrakhan's part to secure his position as the spiritual and political leader of the black community. The Million-Man March, these critics would explain, has little to do with the American black community and everything to do with Farrakhan's ego and need for public approval.
Unfortunately, it is quite impossible for me to ascertain Farrakhan's true motives, and I believe that said motives are as hidden from these critics as they are from me. Moreover, if the Million-Man March serves as a conduit for a reaffirmation of black responsibility and community, then Farrakhan's questionable personal goals become at most secondary.
There exists a more fundamental critique of today's mass demonstration. It seems that Louis Farrakhan himself and his central role in the march inspire disgust in much of the American populace. In fact, the feelings of antipathy are so strong that it appears that anything associated with Farrakhan is at risk of being dismissed out of hand.
An advertisement sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League articulated the tension clearly: "What if a white- supremacist called for a march on Washington? If this happened, no matter how legitimate the issue, no one could ignore the fact that a hatemonger was the driving force behind the march. The same is true of Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Million-Man March. We appreciate the need of African-Americans to come together in a march on Washington. The problems that plague the African-American community are severe and must be addressed....[However,]
Minister Farrakhan not only subscribes to...hatreds, he promotes them. Aggressively. Repeatedly."
I am not going to argue for the purity of Farrakhan's character. He is a homophobic, anti-Semitic, misogynist man who has often used his position of power and influence to disseminate his bigoted views and deepen the racial chasm in America. Although I am sure this assertion can be debated, I am not particularly interested in doing so in this article. What I am concerned with is the relevance of Farrakhan's personal integrity to the way in which we view the Million-Man March.
The issue is a complicated one. Is it possible to separate the individual from his or her actions? Can we appreciate and applaud the Million-Man March despite the stained record of its organizer? Farrakhan has not made it easy for us to overlook his biases. Quite the contrary--the march itself reeks of Farrakhan's chauvinist attitudes. I have nothing against the all-male nature of the march. I believe there is a real need for a day in which black men can affirm their unique spirit. However, Farrakhan, in what I am certain he considered to be a token gesture to his black sisters, told the women of the black community to join in this "holy day of atonement and reconciliation" by refraining from shopping and instead spending time with their children, teaching them self-esteem and values of the home.
That Farrakhan could see no other role for women other than mothers and consumers is a testimony to his painfully limited views and only a more glaring example of the bigotry that is fundamental to Farrakhan's philosophy.
The Million-Man March has the potential for transcending Louis Farrakhan or any other individual. Today's demonstration is an opportunity for the males of the black community to stand united and declare their presence and continued or newfound commitment to the well-being of their families and communities. It is an opportunity for black men to become empowered to help themselves and to help others. As Sadiki Kambon, chair of the Million-Man March Mobilization Committee for Greater Boston, explained, "There is a spirit out here for self-development where black folks have finally gotten to the point where we realize we have to look internally for our own development."
Finally, it is an opportunity, in what has been a catastrophic year for race relations, for the general American public to see black men as responsible, upright and involved citizens. There is no doubt that it would have been much simpler if a generally well-respected person had planned a demonstration for blacks to recommit themselves to caring for the community and securing the family.
Unfortunately, the well-respected people were too busy, or didn't think of it, or didn't have the talent and the clout to pull it off. Louis Farrakhan did, and for that, we should be infinitely grateful.