Going Separate Ways: The History of an Old Idea

By Patterson, Orlando | Newsweek, October 30, 1995 | Go to article overview

Going Separate Ways: The History of an Old Idea


Patterson, Orlando, Newsweek


As I listened to Louis Farrakhan's speech to the march, I got the weary feeling that we had been here before. Of course, hundreds of thousands of marchers were there for positive reasons. No one could criticize a call for personal responsibility, but this was not the only thing Farrakhan communicated. His more provocative theme - that blacks must separate themselves from the rest of society - is an old and failed one.

Black chauvinism - the yoking of economic and political self-determination with separatist notions of racial solidarity - has long misled blacks. It periodically reappears, especially at times when the white majority seems uninterested in racial progress. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in the 1780s and Martin Delaney and Bishop Henry Turner in the second half of the 19th century urged blacks to leave the United States for Africa the West Indies or Canada. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were "Black Exodus" schemes aimed at giving blacks their own state or settlement. (Plans included taking over uninhabited parts of Texas and Oklahoma.) Meanwhile, other blacks promoted "colonization" drives to return to Africa to rule over natives who had never left. This culminated in the Marcus Garvey marches of the 1920s - the first mass urban black movement. And now there is the Black Muslim vision of separatist black capitalism and urban enterprise zones.

Anti-white tradition: Black separatists strongly dismiss integration as a viable option. This is the main reason why most African-Americans, including leaders from Booker T. Washington to Martin Luther King Jr., have rejected such movements - and why, ironically, racist whites have always supported separatist blacks. Garvey invited Ku Klux Klan leaders to speak at his marches, and insisted the Klansmen were "better friends of the race" than other whites. Farrakhan's obsessive racism and Jew-baiting is deeply rooted in this anti-white tradition.

Separatists racialize problems that can only be solved in a nonracial way. The high rate of arrests and jailings afflicting the bottom third of blacks is not just racism in the criminal-justice system, but criminal behavior and its roots in disintegrating families and neighborhoods. And the answer to chronic unemployment is not just black entrepreneurship - which will mainly benefit black entrepreneurs - but retraining and job creation.

Separatists also tend to be sexist. Black Muslims subordinate women; Stokely Carmichael once said the only position for women in the black-power movement was "prone." The sad irony is that African-American women are among the best role models for black men. …

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