I don’t remember how old I was when my dad took me to see the Honorable Louis Farrakhan when the Nation of Islam’s controversial leader visited Jackson. I was much younger, probably in elementary school, and very unaware of the significance of attending the event. Maybe that’s why I don’t recall anything about it, including Min. Farrakhan’s message. What has remained with me was the shock I experienced when security searched me and my brother for weapons. I can still see that table weighed down with glocks, rifles, and other arsenal. Following the event, or maybe before we gained entrance, I asked dad why did they have to search children. He replied by sharing with me that many persons attempting to kill Farrakhan would put weapons on their children to conceal their murderous intentions. My younger mind was blown.
Though I remember nothing about the event itself, I would hear the Minister’s messages several times thereafter. A local public access channel aired his sermons. One of my high school English classes let us watch the Million Man March live. Though I understand that Farrakhan is much reviled by many Americans, including blacks, I have resonated with much of (though not everything) he has shared in the messages, interviews, and articles I’ve been able to watch and read.
My latest viewing came while watching the Empowerment Encounter on The Word Network. The live show is hosted by Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant, founder/pastor of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple. Bryant is both a neo-Pentecostal African Methodist Episcopal (AME) televangelist and a rising leader in justice movements. He has been on the frontlines of rallies for justice for Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. In his interview with Farrakhan he shared that during the Baltimore uprising he, along with other pastors, helped forge a peace treaty between warring gangs. He was thereafter convicted by the division between churches and the chasm between Christians and Muslims. In order for there to be a sustainable peace and justice movement in Baltimore, Bryant affirmed, both the church and the mosque would have to overcome legitimate disagreements in order to demonstrate greater solidarity. That is why Pastor Bryant invited the Nation of Islam minister and promoted the Justice or Else March on Washington, a follow up to the Million Man March which will embrace our sisters in the struggle.
There are deep theological and cultural differences between many black churches and the Nation of Islam. That fissure is well known and we shouldn’t ignore what distinctly defines each institutions. What may be less known is how much we share in common, especially in our progressive conservatism. To be sure, Farrakhan offered a vision for family, education, and spiritual maturity that was truly prophetic and reminded us of the collective strength blacks had in de jure Jim Crow America. Many would dismiss his views on parenting, cultural competent education, and the like as archaic and conservative. I see them as the latter, but not in a negative sense. Let me go on the record and say there are many things we as a people need to conserve. All progress ain’t progress if we’re going in the wrong direction. Though I don’t agree with every jot and tittle of what he said, the overall shape of his thought articulated things I’ve been feeling for a long time. The “socially engineered savagery” (his words) that plagues so many urban and rural places with violence and moral decay is the result of sophisticated and calculated mental wars waged against the dignity of black flesh. And we are buying into it, accepting it as the new normal, and not resisting in ways we did decades ago, he avers. There are notable exceptions, of course. The Black Lives Matter movement, and related movements of Millennials, are signs of hope, signs desperately needed today.
If Farrakhan left his message there, FOX News would draft him as a regular pundit to speak about black pathology. But there is more. He talked about the failures of the GOP to radically address racial justice and their betrayal of the Party’s founding principles. Though he celebrated Donald Trump for being the only unbought candidate in the race (because he’s got his own wealth), he was shy of endorsing him for President, stating that Trump is wrong on race and poverty. This seething critique of the nearly twenty folks vying for the Republican nomination distinguishes the conservatism of the Nation of Islam from the post-racial conservatism of someone like Dr. Ben Carson.
And if the Minister left his critique there MSNBC would have him on every night. But there was more. He talked about how the Democratic Party has persistently betrayed black America behind. He went as far as saying that our people vote overwhelmingly Democratic but we are by-and-large still a servile constituency. Railing against the Clintons, he further lamented how liberal policies have created co-dependency rather than liberation in black communities throughout our nation. Blacks remain the good and faithful servants of the Democratic Party to our disregard, Farrakhan warned.
This conservativism with radical critique of Empire, or progressive conservatism, as I see it, is much more aligned to most of black Mississippi than what is popularly noted in the press and academy. Yes, we have for about 50 years voted overwhelmingly Democratic, but we share many GOP social values. But we are also born behind the veil of racial terror and therefore resist the race neutrality and dog whistle Confederate sympathies of Lincoln’s Party and its Tea Party offspring. Many of us, especially those of us who are Christian and aware of our blackness in this nation, are more purple than we are red or blue. We are black and purple.
As a Christian black man I sit back and ponder where we are and where do we go from here. Minister Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam gave me a lot to think about. I hope we in the Church will ruminate over these things, have a more united voice, and by the help of God redeem our churches, families, schools, and cities right here in Mississippi. When we move beyond pulpit cliché and partisan talking points then we will be prophetic enough to call ourselves back from idolatry, immorality, and injustice. May Jesus, the resurrected and living Lord of all, give us the courage to speak the truth in love and act justly as we walk humbly with our God.