Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
The first black president, numerous black members of congress and key intersectional leaders, the folks most likely to lecture us on racism, were caught hanging out with an anti-Semitic racist. And now the media is full of hatesplaining hot takes justifying alliances with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam.
Most of them come down to two themes. The Nation of Islam does some good things. And condemning racism is a lot harder when they’re your racists. Or as Terrell Jermaine Starr writes at The Root, “They are our cousins, friends and the dude at the barbershop.” But Klan members were also the cousins, friends and barbershop dudes of white southerners. Yet they were expected to disavow them.
Why can’t we expect black people to disavow their racist cousins the way that whites are expected to?
Black activists condemning white racists isn’t anti-racism. Black activists disavowing black racists is. Anyone can condemn a racist from another race who hates them. There’s no inner struggle in that.
Absent the legal sanctions of the civil rights movement era, it’s the easiest thing in the world.
But too many black activists seem to think that ranting about “white supremacy” today is a great act of political courage. But don’t ask them to root out the racism in their own communities. That’s too hard.
Hatesplainers at at The Root, The Atlantic, and elsewhere, insist that the relationship of the black community to the Nation of Islam is uniquely complicated. Shaun King at The Intercept will claim that in “one bubble” Farrakhan’s a monster, “but in another bubble he's a lifesaver.”
It’s not complicated. Or even original.
The Nation of Islam patrols black neighborhoods, Adam Serwer tells us at The Atlantic. That’s an idea that the NOI got from the Black Panthers and its former allies in the KKK. Racist paramilitary groups, like the NOI or the KKK, terrorist groups and guerrillas, and even the mafia and drug gangs, have been known to patrol neighborhoods to provide security (while intimidating outsiders and local businesses).
KKK patrols were active in major cities in the twenties. Klaverns gave away food to the poor. They even sometimes dispensed food to poor black families. Most hate groups and cults do some charity group. No influential organization is so loathsome that it never contributes anything positive to the world.
The Nazis were environmentalists and had great family leave policies. The Communists helped pioneer space exploration and did some good things for the arts. (Or is it the other way around?) Farrakhan plays the violin. Hitler really loved his dog. Saddam secretly wrote romance novels. Kim Jong-il loved basketball. People are complicated and even monsters aren’t all bad. That’s not a defense of them.
There’s no courage in condemning things that are all bad. Courage is when you can see something good in them, when their message appeals to you, but you unambiguously reject what they stand for anyway.
The Germans who rejected Hitler and the Communists who left the Party did something courageous. The minority that did these things didn’t just stand up to evil; they stood up to the evil within. But mostly there was plenty of, “Hitler is bad, but...” and “The Soviet Union made some mistakes, but…”
Now there are a whole lot of, “Farrakhan is bad… but.” But the Nation of Islam protects neighborhoods, rehabilitates prisoners and makes the trains run on time. You just don’t get how helpful they are.
The common thread of so much of the hatesplaining is that the Nation of Islam isn’t popular because it’s a racist cult, but because of its charitable activities. “While it is true that for many of you that @LouisFarrakhan represents bigotry, this man’s love of him has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism or bigotry,” Shaun King tweeted. “The sources of the Nation of Islam’s ongoing appeal, and the reasons prominent black leaders often decline to condemn Farrakhan, may have little to do with the Nation’s prejudiced beliefs,” Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic.
It’s an appealing idea to a left that doesn’t want to choose between its intersectional ideals and its intersectional allies. The NOI, despite its long history of violence, is really a charity that coincidentally happens to be racist. Its racism, its anti-Semitism, its homophobia and sexism are just an uncomfortable bonus. Like Bill Clinton raping women or that Earth Day leader who killed and composted his girlfriend.
But the NOI isn’t a charity that happens to be a hate group. It’s a hate group.
There are no shortage of charities that operate in the black community. Most of them are far more useful than the Nation of Islam’s showboating Fruits of Islam thugs or its flailing soap business.
The NOI isn’t popular despite its bigotry, but because of it.
All its activities spring from supremacist racism. Bigotry isn’t incidental to the NOI. It’s at the heart of its worldview. What its apologists call self-empowerment is the same species of racial empowerment through racial separatism as the Nazis. It’s no wonder that Farrakhan has praised Hitler.
You can’t celebrate the Nation of Islam without celebrating its racism. Racism is what the NOI is.
All that’s left is the Wright defense. “This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up,” Obama said, after listing the challenges faced by black people.
Farrakhan and the NOI may be racist. But they’re a reaction to white racism. So it’s really our fault.
But have there ever been bigots who didn’t claim that they were the oppressed? The Nazis blamed everything on WW1. Think of the Klansmen riding to save Elsie in Birth of a Nation. Or the Islamic terrorists operating under the guise of a liberation movement who massacre the Middle Eastern Jews in Israel whose grandfathers they had oppressed. Every bigot is reacting to oppression. Some even are oppressed.
But if the leader of a black supremacist hate group can meet with a future president, numerous members of congress and leaders of major activist organizations, how oppressed are they really?
A hundred years ago, Birth of a Nation premiered in the White House. It’s unthinkable for today’s Klan to enjoy the power and privilege that it did a century ago. Black nationalist flicks however came to the White House under Obama. As did black supremacist racists like Al Sharpton, who had once declared, “White folks was in the caves while we was building empires…We taught philosophy and astrology... and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it."
It’s not so different than the African Master Race stuff that NOI and plenty of its imitators preach.
The ugly truth about Farrakhan is that he isn’t unique. The NOI isn’t popular because its ideas go against the grain, but because they tap into existing prejudices in the black community. If Farrakhan’s views were unpopular in the black community, he wouldn’t have the influence and following that he does.
Black leaders refuse to condemn him because they either agree with him or because they know that these views are shared by many within their community. The only question is which is which.
Which Congressional Black Caucus members agree with Farrakhan’s views? Which of the Women’s March leaders do? Did Obama agree with Farrakhan’s hatred or was he just playing along with the NOI.
The apologists would have us believe that these questions don’t matter. But they matter a great deal.
It’s not just about Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. It’s how the underlying bigotry that makes him possible finds its way in more camouflaged forms into groups like the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter, or into the policies of the Obama administration. They can’t condemn him because they agree.
The idea that black people have more physical, moral, intellectual and political worth than white people is at the heart of intersectionality. And anti-Semitism is part of the poisonous legacy of black nationalism. Farrakhan doesn’t say anything that they don’t believe; he just says it too crudely.
Farrakhan is only a symptom of the racism in the black nationalist movement.
The Nation of Islam’s racism isn’t cloaked in the academic obtuseness of intersectionality. It’s impossible to pretend that a hate group that shrieks about “satanic Jews” and warns that “the white man is the devil” isn’t racist. But Calypso Louie’s classier activist cousins can’t part ways with him either.
They will reluctantly disavow him only under great political pressure. But when you turn your back, they’ll be there smiling with him.
Ask Barack, Keith or Tamika.