A double dose of reality on blacks in America

April 26, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

THE NEW YORKER has just come out with a double issue on blacks in America, which makes you wonder about its marketing strategy.

If you want to sell magazines, you should come out with double issue, or maybe a triple issue, on angry white guys in America. Or, even better, on angry white radio talk show hosts in America.

The blacks-in-America thing is so, well, passe.

If you want to talk racism today and draw a crowd, it's got to be reverse racism.

If you want to talk civil rights, it's got to be the dismantling of affirmative action, which of course impinges on the rights of the often-angry (see above) self-same white guys.

Not only does the New Yorker decide to devote a double issue to blacks, the editors somehow determine that, despite 168 pages, they don't have room for a single story on either Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson.

And yet, I'm recommending it to you.

For starters, there's a fascinating piece on Clarence Thomas and how, though he may be many things, he is not an Uncle Tom. Stanley Crouch writes fascinatingly about Duke Ellington. And John Edgar Wideman writes outrageously about Dennis Rodman yes, Michael Jordan is mentioned, if all too briefly).

But the centerpiece of the issue is Henry Louis Gates' piece on Louis Farrakhan.

As America's most famous and feared bigot, Farrakhan is inescapable these days.

When he's not leading hundreds of thousands of black men in a march on Washington, he's off to Libya to sup with Muammar el Kadafi.

Or he's on another of his Jewish-cabal tours of America, during which his speeches reliably include an anti-Semitic rant.

Or he's on "60 Minutes" with Mike Wallace, who gets Farrakhan to say that he has nothing against righteous Jews.

But Gates, the most accessible of the Harvard intellectuals writing on the black condition, actually gets at the essence of Farrakhan. The thing is, you may not like what he finds.

Gates is, of course, a critic of Farrakhan. He is bemused by the hold that anti-Semitism has on Farrakhan, who, hilariously, reveals that he thinks he may have some Jewish blood. Gates leads him, easily one suspects, into his cabal theory, which TC involves groups of Jews running the world from either Park Avenue or Hollywood.

"I do believe that," he tells Gates. "I believe that there are very, very wise Jews who plan good and there are very wise Jews who plan evil."

He adds, "I am not hateful. I am deeply respectful of the Jewish people. I know they are great, but I also know that there are some scoundrels among them. And those scoundrels have to be condemned by them. And if they don't condemn their scoundrels -- well, that's all right. I will."

But Farrakhan doesn't begin or end with his anti-Semitism. Gates finds a complicated man, a nuanced man, a (mostly) charming man who is, clearly, greatly flawed.

Or maybe just completely nuts. When Farrakhan isn't going off on Jews, he's often heard talking about a vision of space ships. As Gates says, he's a man of visions and not of vision.

But Gates wonders, finally, why the rest of us are so fixated on this man. Maybe you can understand why.

There are other bigots, some who are possibly more dangerous. Few dare to even call them bigots.

Pat Buchanan's nativism (even William Buckley has accused him of anti-Semitism) made him a legitimate presidential candidate. Pat Robertson, who writes in code of "European bankers," has followers numbering in the millions.

Strom Thurmond, the old integrationist, will apparently remain in the Senate till he's 100.

And, besides, how does the danger of black bigotry compare to the danger of the black condition?

Gates sums up his piece this way: "Farrakhan is a man of unhealthy fixations, but the reciprocal fixation on Farrakhan that you find in the so-called mainstream media is a sign of our own impoverished political culture. Thirteen decades have passed since Emancipation, and half of our black men between twenty-four and thirty-five are without full-time employment. One black man graduates from college for every hundred who go to jail. Almost half of black children live in poverty. People say that Farrakhan is now the leading voice of black rage in America. One day, America will realize it got off easy."

Disagree? Read the piece. It's worth a $3.50 investment.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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