Blood money

August 29, 1996|By Clarence Page

CHICAGO -- What do you call someone you invite to your house as a guest only to see him dump trash all over the carpet and wet all over your walls?

There are words for such a guest, words that aptly describe Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan's recent appearance in a Nashville church at the invitation of the nation's largest annual gathering of black journalists.

Speaking at the National Association of Black Journalists

Convention in Nashville, Mr. Farrakhan thrashed journalists of African descent who work in mainstream newspapers and other media, calling us ''slaves'' to white media owners.

''White folks did not hire you to really represent what black people are really thinking, and you don't really tell them what you think because you are too afraid,'' he said. ''A scared-to-death Negro is a slave, you slave writers, slave media people.''

Nobody ever went broke bashing the media, and Mr. Farrakhan is no exception. At least a few black journalists felt sufficiently intimidated or enthralled by his words to leap to their feet in a standing ovation. If this was an audience of slaves, some of my colleagues appeared to be remarkably eager to leap from the white man's plantation to Mr. Farrakhan's.

But not everyone was impressed. Most of my friends, an admittedly older and less easily impressed crew of professionals, sat on their hands. Many of us were annoyed that Mr. Farrakhan would stand there and stereotype black journalists as broadly, ignorantly and destructively as any white editor ever has.

Nowhere in the Farrakhan journalism lecture was a word said about the possibility that one could sometimes disagree with Louis Farrakhan and still be black. Nowhere was much said about black journalists who have refused to be go-along ''slaves'' to paychecks or narrow-minded bosses. Nor was any tribute paid to the experiences many outspoken black journalists bring to the news mix, even on those frustrating days when they feel like they are only shouting in a wilderness.

Reporting perseverance

One good example came up the day after Mr. Farrakhan's speech when a black United Church of Christ minister praised Gary Fields, a black USA Today reporter, for his perseverance earlier this year in reporting on the burning of black churches, keeping the story alive for months before other major media began to pick it up.

Perhaps Mr. Farrakhan was still chafing from the last bold challenge he gave to black journalists. He was asked at the National Press Club about charges that he was aiding and abetting his friends in the Islamic government of the Sudan in covering up the enslavement and selling of non-Muslim blacks, including children, in the nation's war-torn southern region.

Suddenly the minister's glow-in-the-dark smile vanished. ''Where is the proof?'' he exploded. ''If slavery exists, why don't you go as a member of the press, and . . . tell the American people what you have found.''

Two reporters, one white, one black, for the Baltimore Sun accepted the challenge and found the purchase of two black boys to be astonishingly easy in the war-torn land. Mr. Farrakhan dismissed their report, and the Nation of Islam newspaper, The Final Call, called The Sun a ''Zionist Jewish daily.''

Now the plot thickens. The same week Farrakhan was attacking black journalists, it turns out, he was applying to the Treasury Department for permission to receive a $1 billion gift from Muammar el Kadafi's Libya, a nation that at least one State Department report says has received slaves from the Sudan.

Mr. Farrakhan's announced goal was to fund self-help black-owned farms, supermarkets and other enterprises. In his quest to win black hearts here, he apparently doesn't care how many blacks it hurts overseas. One can only wonder how he feels about the few but significant African blacks who profited from America's slave trade. Maybe this is Mr. Farrakhan's version of payback.

Before he loosely throws around the word ''slave'' to describe black journalists, he should look up the term ''blood money.'' It refers to money earned with the blood of others.

Then he should ask himself, ''Who's enslaving whom?''

;-

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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