Farrakhan, echo a threat to blacks more than whites

February 08, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

As a white man with experience in these matters, let me say the following about Nation of Islam Minister Louis T. Farrakhan and his echo, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, and the general reaction to some things they've been saying:

Sometimes white people can be very dumb.

Yes, Farrakhan and Muhammad are driving a stake into the heart of racial harmony and, yes, they seem to take particular relish in sticking it to the Jews and, yes, their words are not only dangerous but they badly distort history.

And, yes, a lot of white people find this not only offensive but threatening.

But if anybody should feel threatened, it isn't white people.

It's black people.

Every time Farrakhan and Muhammad express contempt for whites, they assume black people have no memory. Every time they go for the racial cheap shot, the David Dukes and the Byron De La Beckwiths and entire legions of KKK types living and dead stand up and wave the Confederate flag in triumph.

All speak the same language: Divide and antagonize. The white supremacists' mistake has always been underestimating America's ability to have a conscience. But Farrakhan and Muhammad make another mistake: It makes no sense for blacks to believe in the power of separatism when it's whites who have most of the power, political and economic and raw voting power.

At the Baltimore City Community College Saturday night, Muhammad told an overflow crowd, "I did not come to Baltimore to teach black people to hate white people," but this surely stunned white people who have been paying attention to his history.

In a speech Nov. 29, Muhammad called Jews the "blood suckers of the black nation," called the pope "a cracker," urged blacks to "kill everything white that ain't right in South Africa" and referred to the Nazi Holocaust as "white-on-white crime."

These are words that Rep. Kweisi Mfume, whose every previous action indicated revulsion for such sentiments, somehow now finds difficult to fully repudiate. But, over the weekend, Rep. Albert Wynn, who like Mfume is black, declared, "It's not Jewish people coming into our community and killing people. It's not Jews failing to pay child support."

Outside Muhammad's speech Saturday was Bob Kaufman, a longtime community activist who is Jewish. He handed out hundreds of printed statements expressing his sadness and anger at Muhammad.

Yesterday, Kaufman was saying, "I've been an activist in the black liberation struggle for half a century. I'm white and I'm Jewish. That doesn't make me a lick better than anybody else, but it doesn't make anybody else a lick better than me."

He's getting close to the problem: America depends on rejection of racial and ethnic antagonism. It depends on people's goodwill toward each other. The large gains blacks have made in the last 30 years -- voting rights, fair employment laws, education -- were made because those like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King and Thurgood Marshall appealed to white people's sense of right and wrong, of color-blindness, which was translated to law.

Some of us, white and black, still believe in that. Some of us, mostly black, should feel threatened if people like Farrakhan and Muhammad -- or David Duke or the KKK -- convince America that racial separatism can work.

If you doubt it, imagine the U.S. Congress buying into such thinking: "Money for low-cost housing? Money to fight crime? But some of this involves blacks, doesn't it? Why should we care about people who want nothing to do with us?"

Imagine a Maryland legislature finding value in separatism. Immediately it frees white suburban legislators to say: "Money for Baltimore city schools? But they're 90 percent black. Why should we pay any of the cost for their problems?"

Apparently this didn't occur to some at the NAACP. Forty years ago, the NAACP argued for integration of America's public schools, but now it finds itself sloughing off Farrakhan's separatist remarks and offering him the hand of friendship.

Would they have made such an offer 40 years ago, or has their notion of America changed? Those of us -- black and white -- who embraced calls for brotherhood now find ourselves looking into the mirror and wondering if we see a chump looking back.

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