Turmoil makes racist speaker a 'hero' to some blacks, NAACP leader says

March 10, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

The NAACP's executive director said yesterday that the controversy over the Nation of Islam's anti-Semitism has backfired by making black separatist Khallid Abdul Muhammad a "hero" to some blacks.

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. said it was not Mr. Muhammad's anti-Jewish message but his defiance of the "establishment" that has made him and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan attractive to some African-Americans, especially students.

"Why do you see young students stand up applauding speeches like that? It has nothing to do with the content of the speech," he said.

"If the 'establishment' scorns . . . an individual, a community that feels scorned and oppressed and exploited by that same establishment is going to wind up gravitating towards the individual that the establishment scorns," Dr. Chavis told The Sun's editorial board.

Dr. Chavis said that black anti-Semitism is not widespread and that most African-Americans feel a "sense of solidarity" with the Jewish people's "history of suffering."

A 1992 survey by the Anti-Defamation League indicated that anti-Semitism is more than twice as common among blacks (37 percent) in the United States as among whites (17 percent).

The anti-Semitism controversy was ignited by a Jan. 16 newspaper advertisement placed by the ADL. The ad featured excerpts of a Muhammad speech in which the black separatist said that Jews were "bloodsuckers," the pope was a "cracker," and South African blacks should kill whites.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said yesterday that the campaign had not backfired.

If Mr. Muhammad now draws larger crowds because of the resulting publicity, Mr. Foxman said, "I'm ready to pay that price rather than ignore him in the hope he would go away. Historically, we have learned that [anti-Semitism] does not go

away."

Dr. Chavis said the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has no "alliance" with the Nation of Islam nor has it abandoned its fight against all forms of bigotry, including anti-Semitism.

But he said the NAACP reserves the right to talk with all major black leaders, including Minister Farrakhan. He reiterated that the Nation of Islam leader would be invited to an NAACP-sponsored African-American summit this spring.

The NAACP leader said the Farrakhan furor was a diversion from the Baltimore-based civil rights group's main concerns: jobs, education and health care for African-Americans.

Dr. Chavis said that, 40 years after the Supreme Court decision that desegregated American schools, the NAACP would go back into court this year to demand quality education for blacks.

"The NAACP is not retreating from its commitment to integrated schools in an integrated society. Black and white students benefit from being in classrooms together," he said.

But he said the NAACP would stress equity in school funding and other measures to raise the quality of predominantly black schools more than racial balance in the classroom.

Dr. Chavis said the NAACP's underlying thrust was to eliminate "economic inequality" between whites and blacks. He said economic weakness spawns crime and violence.

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