Subject to Debate

By Pollitt, Katha | The Nation, November 6, 1995 | Go to article overview

Subject to Debate


Pollitt, Katha, The Nation


There's dignity in working for $3 an hour, said Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March. Whoops, sorry--that was Phil Gramm. Farrakhan calls on government to "not cede manufacturing to Third World' countries, but to the Black community." Nor did Farrakhan call Congress "Israeli-occupied territory," or write a book of paranoid religious ravings involving a worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy. The responsible parties there were, respectively, Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson. Farrakhan called Jews, along with Palestinians, Koreans and Vietnamese, "bloodsuckers" of the black nation." And it wasn't even Farrakhan who said that women couldn't be combat soldiers because they're prone to "infections" every thirty days or so. That was Newt Gingrich. Farrakhan said that women should stay home and pray.

There was a lot of talk on the day of the march and after about not confusing the messenger with the message. It's a valid point. The hundreds of thousands of black men, with a sprinkling of women and at least one much-interviewed white teenage boy, may have been summoned to Washington by Farrakhan, but they were there for their own reasons: to claim political space, to bear witness, to make a statement about the need to do something about the poverty, violence and despair that have overwhelmed so many black communities. What the statement was may have been hard to pin down: atone for abuse and neglect of women and children or show the world that black men have family values too? In any case, Jesse Jackson was surely right when he quipped that Clarence Thomas had organized the march. What he didn't say was that Clarence Thomas was leading it too.

If Louis Farrakhan were a white superpatriot instead of a black nationalist, if he led a weird Christian sect instead of a weird offshoot of Islam, the Republican Party would be rolling out the red carpet for him. Shorn of the Masonic folklore and flights of numerological fancy that dotted his speech, his basic message was Gingrichism: family values, entrepreneurship, self-reliance, volunteerism, God. Farrakhan even shares Gingrich's pie-eyed globalism. One of the afternoon's stranger moments had him making the crowd promise in one breath not to sexually abuse children and in the next to engage in international trade. The much-noted hateful aspects of Farrakhan's ideology--homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, vigilantism-inform the Republican right as well. There's even the same appeal to militarism and top-down authority--even the Fruit of Islam guarding the bulletproof speaker's podium in their paramilitary uniforms--a yearning for discipline and order one finds also in the muddled middle that looks to Gen. Colin Powell.

Like Gingrich, Farrakhan likes to talk about individual initiative while refusing to confront, or even to mention, the true implications of global capitalism for U.S. workers, black and white. When Farrakhan calls for unprofitable industries to relocate in black America instead of the Third World, he is calling on blacks to join the race to the bottom with Chinese and Salvadoran garment slaves. …

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