Black leaders need to act like leaders

March 03, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

With all due respect, I say the NAACP ought to postpone its plans to sponsor a national black leadership summit this spring. A "summit" of today's "leaders" would be an oxymoron.

Black leaders should not meet with anybody -- not even with themselves -- until they engage in some serious soul-searching; until they determine who they are and what they stand for; until they find the self-confidence and self-esteem to stand up, stake out a position, and act like leaders.

And yes, I say this because of the seemingly endless controversy surrounding Minister Louis Farrakhan.

For the past several months now, some black leaders have been agonizing over whether to embrace or repudiate the Nation of Islam leader. They have tried to do this while juggling a number of conflicting goals: Their desire to forge a unity among black leaders versus their reluctance to offend a traditional ally like the Jewish community; their wish to applaud and reinforce the positive values practiced by the Nation without giving legitimacy to the apparent bigotry and anti-Semitism of some of the Nation's beliefs; their longing to look strong in the eyes of young blacks while appeasing the intense political pressure to distance themselves from Minister Farrakhan.

L Minister Farrakhan himself has put leaders in this position.

The minister knows who he is and what he stands for. And he has not been shy about making his positions clear. In comparison, other black leaders look wishy-washy and soft; like masters of equivocation.

Let us not mince words (Minister Farrakhan doesn't): The Nation's beliefs include bigotry against whites and Jews and blacks who do not share the Nation's ideas. Members have called whites "blue-eyed devils" since the Nation's beginnings. From the very inception of the modern civil rights movement, they dismissed other black leaders as "Uncle Toms, house slaves, handkerchief heads, quislings, and traitors." And Minister Farrakhan has made it clear that he endorses the belief that Jews are the secret masters of the universe and the parasite of the black community.

Any member of the black community knows, or should know, these truths about the Nation of Islam. Certainly, any person who grew up during the turbulent days of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s should have been exposed to the Nation's ideology; the writings the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the speeches of Malcolm X and Minister Farrakhan. Most of us know someone who became a Black Muslim. Many of us may even have considered doing the same thing.

I know I considered joining in my hotheaded youth. I know I felt enraged about racism and discrimination, the violent attacks against civil rights demonstrators. I know I heard the siren call of Malcolm's fiery rhetoric, the relentless, slashing logic with which he ridiculed Martin Luther King Jr. and other mainstream black leaders.

But I decided I could not live a life of anger. I decided that all whites are not devils and that Jews generally have been allies of the black community rather than oppressors. Above all, I decided that my own dignity and self-worth needed to be based on positive values -- in short, I did not need a scapegoat to feel good about myself.

Most people I know reached similar conclusions. Most Black Muslims also did so and followed Elijah Muhammad's son, Wallace, into mainstream Islam. Malcolm X took a similar path after he returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and changed his name to El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was assassinated soon after.

The question before us now is what do today's mainstream black leaders believe? What, if anything, do they stand for?

If our leaders truly oppose bigotry against persons of any race, color or creed, then they have no choice but to reject any alliance with Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.

If our leaders truly believe that blacks are persons of inherent worth, then they must not tolerate anyone who seeks to boost black esteem by creating scapegoats.

In short, the leadership of black America has reached a moment of truth, a test of their fitness to lead.

I am afraid that a leadership summit sounds way too premature at this point. I am not certain that anyone has earned the right to attend.

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