N.Y. black leaders right to stand up to totalitarian ideas

September 01, 1999|By Stanley Crouch

WHAT IS important about Khalid Abdul Muhammad and the Million Youth March II that he's planning for New York City on Saturday is the courage shown by City Councilman Bill Perkins in standing up to him and the backup that fellow Harlem Democrat Rep. Charles Rangel is giving Mr. Perkins.

The significance of this was made clear to me last week when I was on a panel about race and identity organized by the New York chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

One fellow said Mr. Muhammad's name-calling reminded him of a very bad time 30 years ago. He recalled the black power mess that was kicked off when integration was rejected and one so-called leader after another began embracing a totalitarian blacker-than-thou attitude.

The attitude became so strong, this fellow told us, that when he attended a 1968 conference of black groups in Cleveland, he was offered two pistols in case some in attendance didn't consider the head of his group "black enough."

NOI suspension

The man was concerned about whether people like Mr. Muhammad (who was indefinitely suspended from the Nation of Islam in 1994 for a speech in which he mocked and cursed whites, Jews and homosexuals), could re-create the counterproductive atmosphere of 1968.

It could, but we should all be proud that people like Mr. Perkins and Mr. Rangel are able to argue that sort of thing into its place, which is at the margins.

Whatever our troubles in terms of skin color, most black New Yorkers are too sophisticated to be led over the cliff by a totalitarian parading as a revolutionary and peerless lover of the group.

In one of his finest moments, Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently commended the people of Washington Heights for helping one another during the June Con Edison blackout. That, he said, tore down stereotypes about the community and about New York.

Quite right. In the blackout of 1977, more than 3,000 people were arrested; during this year's blackout, just three people were escorted away by police.

No matter what their political opinions might be of one another, Mr. Perkins, Mr. Rangel and Mr. Giuliani are all on the same page when it comes to the issue of stereotyping communities.

Mr. Rangel said that repugnant behavior and irresponsible statements harm "all of us." By that, I assume he meant all of us, regardless of race.

Too bad the Rev. Al Sharpton declined to set himself apart from Mr. Muhammad, thus ensuring that no one will mistake him for a serious voice of the community.

Police action needed

What we actually need now is more focus on the gang bangers, especially in the communities where the Crips and the Bloods are becoming aggressive. If they continue claiming victims, not only will a reign of terror take over these communities, but it also will surely be hell on young black men.

Those young men have enough trouble just growing up and staying out of trouble. They don't need to be stereotyped because killers their age cause the city to become even more frightened of all young black men.

Those who have nothing more to offer than resentment and threats will not attract larger numbers of followers. Fortunately, this city is too slick, too quick and too aware that it has much bigger fish to fry.

Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News.

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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