Farrakhan is not the Problem

Thirteen years ago, when I first started out on the lecture circuit, speaking about the issue of racism, it seemed as though everywhere I went, someone wanted to know my opinion of Louis Farrakhan.

To some extent, this was to be expected, I suppose. It was 1995, after all, and Farrakhan had just put together the Million Man March in DC. So when race came up, that, and sadly, the OJ Simpson trial and verdict seemed to be the two templates onto which white folks in particular would graft their racial anxieties. Though OJ has long since faded as a matter of conversation among most, discussion of Farrakhan never seems to end. As controversy has erupted regarding comments made by Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Wright’s occasional words of praise for Farrakhan’s community outreach programs have caused many to suggest that he, and by extension, Obama, are somehow tainted. Although Wright has never indicated that he agrees with the more extreme comments made by the Minister over the past two-and-a-half decades (and indeed, much of Wright’s own ministry and approach to issues of race, gender and sexuality suggests profound disagreements with Farrakhan on these matters), his unwillingness to condemn the Nation of Islam leader is used to write him off as an extremist and a bigot. But the simple truth is, Louis Farrakhan is not the problem when it comes to racism, sexism or heterosexism in this country; nor is he any real threat to Jews as Jews, or whites as whites, contrary to popular mythology.

Honestly, what ability does Farrakhan have to do me any harm, or any Jew for that matter? When was the last time those of us who are Jewish had to worry about whether or not our Farrakhan-following employer was going to discriminate against us? Or whether our Fruit of Islam loan officer was going to turn us down for a mortgage? Or whether our Black Muslim landlord was going to screw us out of a rent deposit because of some anti-Jewish feelings, conjured up by reading the Nation’s screed on Jewish involvement in the slave trade? The answer, of course, is never. If anything, members of the Nation, or black folks in general, have a much greater likelihood of being the victims of discrimination at our hands–the hands of a Jewish employer, banker or landlord, and certainly a white one, Jewish or not–than we’ll ever have at theirs.

Even worse, for white Americans to condemn Farrakhan, while still admiring some of the people for whom we have affection–who have not only said but done far more evil things than he–is evidence of how compromised is the principle we now seek to impose on others. It is evidence of our duplicity on this subject, our utter venality as arbiters of moral indignation. It isn’t that what Farrakhan has said about Jews, or gay and lesbian folks is acceptable–it isn’t. But the fact that his words make him a pariah, while white folks actions don’t do the same for us, is astounding. Louis Farrakhan didn’t bomb the home of a foreign leader, killing his daughter in the process, or arm a rebel group in Nicaragua responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 civilians, or give guns to governments in El Salvador and Guatemala that regularly tortured and executed their people. One of white America’s favorite white Presidents, Ronald Reagan did that. And millions of white folks (and pretty much only white folks) cried tears of nostalgia when he passed a few years ago, after which point thousands of these went to his ranch in California to pay tribute; and they name buildings and airports for him now; and some even suggest that his face should be added to Mt. Rushmore. Louis Farrakhan didn’t say that his adversaries should be hunted down until they no longer “remained on the face of the Earth.” One of America’s most revered white presidents, Thomas Jefferson, said that, in regard to American Indians. And he’s on the two-dollar bill that I used to buy some coffee this morning.

And even if we were to restrict our comparative analysis to extreme statements alone, the fact is, white folks who say things every bit as bigoted as anything said by Farrakhan remain in good standing with the media and millions of whites who buy their books and make them best-selling authors. Take Pat Buchanan, for instance. Despite a litany of offensive, racist and anti-Jewish remarks over the years, Buchanan remains a respected commentator on any number of mainstream news shows and networks, his books sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and rarely if ever has he been denounced by other pundits, or grilled by journalists, the way Farrakhan has been, in both cases.

So, for instance, Buchanan has said that AIDS is nature’s retribution for homosexuality; that women are “not endowed by nature” with sufficient ambition or will to succeed in a competitive society like that of the United States; and that the U.S. should annex parts of Canada so as to increase the size of the nation’s “white tribe” (because we were becoming insufficiently white at present), among other things. Most relevant to demonstrating the hypocrisy of the press when it comes to Farrakhan, however, consider what Buchanan has said about Adolf Hitler. When Farrakhan said Hitler had been a “great” military and national leader–albeit a “wicked killer” (which is the part of the quote that normally gets ignored)–he was denounced as an apologist for genocide. Yet, when Buchanan wrote, in 1977, that Hitler had been “an individual of great courage, a soldier’s soldier in the great war,” a man of “extraordinary gifts,” whose “genius” was due to his “intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path,” it did nothing to harm his career, and has done nothing in the years since to prevent him from becoming a member of the pundit club in Washington. Nor would he receive the kind of criticism as Farrakhan–at least not lasting criticism–when he wrote in 1990 that survivors of the European Holocaust exaggerated their suffering due to “Holocaust survivor syndrome,” and that the gas chambers alleged at Treblinka couldn’t have actually killed anyone because they were too inefficient.

In other words, a white guy can praise Hitler, can cast aspersions on the veracity of Jews who were slotted to be killed, and can make blatantly racist, sexist and homophobic remarks and ultimately nothing happens to him, and no white politician is ever asked their opinion of him, or made to distance him or herself from the white man’s rantings. But black folks will have to do the dance, will have to make sure to reject Farrakhan, because otherwise, apparently, we should intuit that they are closet members of the Nation, just waiting to take office so they can pop on a bow tie and put Elijah Muhammad’s face on the nation’s currency. Perhaps when white folks begin to show as much concern for the bigoted statements and, more to the point, murderous actions of white political leaders as we show over the statements of Louis Farrakhan, then we’ll deserve to be taken seriously in this thing we call the “national dialogue on race.”

~Tim Wise, Author, White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. See longer version at www.timwise.org.


  1. BARB

    Reflections on Obama, from

    Use of racism

    His using the race card…He distorted things that Clinton and her supporter’s said, turning honest racism-hating people into Clinton hater’s.

    In order to get the nomination Did the Clinton campaign push Wright early? Or did they push Rezko hard early? Or did they anything like that at all? No. But what did the “honorable” Obama do? He showed the kind of candidate he is when he used racism as a wedge issue in order to get the black voters away from the Clintons. The Obama campaign turned Bill and Hillary Clinton into racists. There was nothing honorable about that. It was a disgrace And I will never forgive him for it…But that alone wasn’t enough for Obama in order to get the nom. He had to make sure the most popular Dem president we have had in decades “disappeared” from his line-up of admirable American presidents as well. And then he trashed Bill Clinton’s legacy. But good. Needless to say, I will never forgive him for that either. And throughout this, Obama blocked re-votes and as of now disenfranchises millions of voters. What is so honorable about that?

    >b>On his “different” sort of campaign:

    The hypocrisy of trumpeting a “clean campaign,” a different campaign but all the while running the usual Chicago-style campaign.

    Senior Adviser to McCain last week said about Obama’s campaigning: “We have all become familiar with Senator Obama’s new brand of politics. First, you demand civility from your opponent, then you attack him, distort his record and send out surrogates to question his integrity. It is called hypocrisy, and it is the oldest kind of politics there is.”

    Touting his 3 years of community service and time in the IL Senate, while Rezko made money of his slums…

    IMHO, one does not have to do dishonorable things directly to be dishonorable. To countenance such conduct in subordinates or turn a blind eye is even worse in my view, than when a person is honest enough to do their own dirty work.

    The actions of his followers/his own disrespect:

    And he has led many into also being dishonorable — many former friends as well as family who were who were huge fans of Bill Clinton but turned on a dime with the disgusting race-baiting of him by Obama’s campaign. I am shocked that so many people I loved and respected could be so disloyal in an instant.

  2. admin

    I do not see how your comment relates to Tim Wise’s commentary.

    Also, On the Obama campaign, assertions are not evidence. you need to present detailed evidence that he himself has done what you are accusing him of. Not just what some supporters somewhere have done. So far as I see, Obama has treated Clinton with respect. And has been patient, since he won the nomination some time back, for all practical purposes. Either is much better than McCain on racism and many other issues.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    Very cute…(this comment is not related to Wise’s commentary either, rather the comment above) Barb, I can tell you the West Coast States, which are all Democratic, were not ENTIRELY thrilled with the last several Democratic Presidential Candidates or Bill Clinton as the president, though will obviously vote Democratic regardless—I won’t speak for the other regions (so please don’t over-rate Bill Clinton). Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are different types of Democrats and appeal to different folks (as an Independent/Green, raised Democrat…so Green/Blue—if you were to put me into a quick and dirty “Democratic” or “Liberal” category, it would be an “FDR”/”Kennedy/LBJ” category and not Clinton/Gore, Kerry, etc.). Obama is what pulled me and many others back in to the margins of the Democratic camp. Down here, he has even pulled in Republicans—not to a very large degree, but some. If Obama didn’t run, I would have been a Nader supporter all the way. You have to remember, a good portion of the voters in the primaries throughout the nation are people who have either never been registered to vote (and actually registered and voted) or who were registered but never voted because they didn’t have anybody to actually vote for–this wasn’t for Clinton, this was for Obama—so, how many voters did he really “take away” from Clinton? Or is it more like he didn’t really take many away, but rather got more people involved? And in terms of the African American communities—Clinton’s racist politics are to blame, wake up. And people who switched camps, they have every right to do so, whether it be for Obama, Clinton, McCain, or whoever—that’s their business, not yours.

    I guarantee you Obama supporters are not just supporting and voting for him merely because he is Black either and I have yet to see him play the “race card”—he has been doing quite the opposite, when he should not “play the race card” per se but maybe at times honestly address the issues of racism he, his campaign, and his supporters have endured. The truth is, Obama and most of his supporters have too much class and won’t stoop to the level of other candidates, their campaigns, and supporters to win over votes, such as, F*****G CAMPAIGNING AT THE LORRAINE MOTEL ON THE ANNERVERSITY OF DR. KING’S DEATH! I could go on, but won’t. Tell me, will either Clinton or McCain be there in the coming years to remember, morn, and pay their respects to Dr. King on that day? If Obama and Clinton’s messages, actions, and politics were reversed, I would be a full-fledged Clinton supporter all the way, as well as many others—not because she’s a “woman” or anything else. You’re just trying to justify your own racism. Down here in “Texas” there are obviously many Clinton supporters and some have openly said that they will vote for McCain if Obama becomes the candidate while far many others (including white folks) have said they are prepared to support Obama—for the latter, it’s about change. For whatever reasons Clinton was more appealing in terms of voting in the primaries, but even more importantly to them, is securing a Democratic President as well strengthening the local, state, and federal level Democratic Parties.

    But thank you for sharing you views…they’re nothing new…. Buckle down because Obama will be our next president. 😀

  4. Aaron P.

    Those weren’t even her views, rather a cut and paste from a radically anti-Obama blog (insightanalytical.wordpress.com). Literally every entry is about how terrible of a person Obama is. Most of it seems to be based on an anti-affirmative action frame that views the success of any non-white as being due to handouts or charity. In this instance, it appears that there is a massive liberal media conspiracy that is ensuring an Obama nomination…
    I also think we should start a movement to banish “playing the race card” from the American Lexicon. Assuming that race is invocated not as a reflection of genuine hurt or pain caused to a victim, but rather as a calculated move in some larger strategic game is repugnant. The implicit assumption that there arc actually no costs of being black in America, that this identity in fact provides you with a “card” that you can play to ensure positive outcomes in your life is beyond ludicrous.
    Her/his statements about Obama “using race” are also inaccurate since Obama had been notoriously non-racial until the Wright incident… which was played up by the liberal media that is conspiring in favor of him…

  5. Joe

    Aaron, good point and thanks for checking that site.

    Yes, “playing the race card” is clever framing by whites to keep white privilege and power by attacking any attacks on that privilege and power. I wonder who first used and made up that phrase and framing?

  6. Seattle in Texas

    Ditto, thank you Aaron. The idea of the “race card” is extremely disturbing for the very reasons you suggest and agree it has to go. In addition, I have heard a few times that Obama is only where he’s at because, “he’s a Black man”—in other words, if he were “white” he would have no chance and not be where he’s at now. I think not—it’s “about the content of his character” as taken by MLK that is the reason he has such strong support. And it’s not like he has had no uphill battles—he has been confronting more than any of us, whether it be supporters or critics can even imagine. While not surprising about the post being essentially plagiarized from an Anti-Obama website, I would like to take a quick moment to note that not all Clinton supporters share those views as shown above…. But Aaron, thank you again and please stay active! Take care

Leave a Reply