Is Louis Farakkhan Still Relevant?

Yesterday I took time out to watch and listen to the much heralded interview of Minister Louis Farrakhan on The Breakfast ClubFor those in the UK, or elsewhere for that matter, who don’t know about either Minister Farrakhan or The Breakfast Club, indulge me for a minute.

Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam, an Islamic group which has the aim to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African Americans in the United States and all of humanity. He has been the leader of the group since 1978.

The Breakfast Club is a morning breakfast show hosted by DJ Envy, Angela Yee and Charlamagne Tha God. It usually has guests from the fields of entertainment in music and comedy, and is somewhat a lot more combatative than this show was.

The Show in Summary
Firstly this was somewhat of a milestone for the show. I have never seen them host one of these outside of the usual arena of their studio and there was also a very respectable tone both of questioning and listening of he guest by the hosts. The presenters are not usually known by any stretch of the imagination for being genteel. The minister was on good form. Typical of the old school African American male religious rhetorician. He waxed lyrical about a number of points.

On Obama, he castigated him for calling the Baltimore rioters thugs. Telling “Brother Barack” that “When the highest office in the land can look at our children and call them thugs and criminals, unwittingly he’s sentencing them to death by the forces that deal with thugs and criminals.” He suggested that given that blacks voted him in, that they expected better empathy and language when addressing those who had been hurt by the system.

On the younger generation, and this was in particular I believe to young black leaders, he mentioned he was honoured to have a platform such as the show he was on to address young people. One of the points he made that stood out for me was that while there is a lot of police violence against black members of the community, there was also a lot of violence within the community that needed addressing, and that the same voices who rise up in opposition against police and state brutality should be as vocal in addressing the incredibly high rate of homicide in many black communities. He mentioned that it was important for young black leaders, who were fearless but lacking in wisdom, to embrace change and these uncomfortable questions, in order to prevent the cycle of bad futures for African American children and their children.

On rappers as leaders, he spoke fondly of Snoop (Still trying to figure that alliance out). He made the comparison that rappers, given their international audiences, were incredibly influential and should use their platform as a place for intelligent rap. He asserted that gangsta rap was a concerted conspiracy by record labels to tackle a lot of the intelligent, conscious rap that preceded it in the form of KRS1, Public Enemy and others. How he thinks someone like Snoop whose whole career started of in and to a large degree still is influenced by rap that doesn’t enlighten beats me. Anyhoo.

On Antisemitism and being anti white, he tackled what I thought was one of the better questions asked of him with a bit of flair. Minister Farakhan has always been treated as a pariah by some both within and without the African American community because of his views on whites and Jews. To be fair there are a number of incidences on record where what he said can be considered quite anti semitic. It is one thing to attack Zionism and the structural discrimination of Israeli governance and other thing to say horrid things about the Holocaust. That being said he is more of an advocate for black economic and political empowerment than focusing on other communities and he clearly stated that he had no problem with whites and Jews as a whole, only those who would systematically attack blacks.

On Economic Empowerment this is where I believe he came to the fore as always. What started off as conversation about Lloyd Mayweather morphed into a conversation about black wealth. (I don’t buy the ministers’ lack of awareness that Lloyd had five domestic violence charges against him). He reiterated a point made before that many black professional athletes are merely rich slaves on a plantation not owned by them. He made a salient point that many of the black communities who provide the athletes for the major sports in which they excel, hardly ever see the investment back into those communities. That the capitalist engines that drive these organisations keep the money way away from black communities is not a secret but his suggestions or solutions were worth listening to.

One of the points that really jumped out for me was the combining of wealth. He mentioned his admiration for Magic Johnson but that instead of working with Starbucks and Burger King, food which does nothing to enrich black communities, that those black who become wealthy should take their combined wealth and buy land. That the promise of forty acres and a mule promised to many former slaves was reneged upon and had it held true when five million slaves were freed then …. well you do the math.

For me this where he has alway been a significant voice, historically speaking, in black activism. Too often this kind of solution focused thinking has been overshadowed by his rhetoric of anti semitism and black separatism, which will probably shape his legacy and keep him from a wider audience who could here him. Even if they don’t agree with him.

Throughout the interview he was given space to constantly plug his March on Washington. An event some twenty years after the Million Man March, that he and others will be hosting in October 2015, to empower and strengthen the black family.

Is Minister Farrakhan Still Relevant?
I started this article with the intentional and leading question. I am going to try my best to answer this.

Although the experience of people of African and Caribbean descent is very different here in the UK, than those of the forty plus million blacks in the United States, we are vary much aware of the socio-economic and political landscape of the USA. Minister Farakkhan has been somewhat of a heavyweight for many years. However I have written before that many of the old school heavyweights such as Sharpton, Jackson and Farakkhan has waned. And the political infighting of intellectuals like Dyson and West have in many ways lessened the impact of the male voice in social activism. Even respected voices like Bill Cosby have had lessened their impact in the middle class along with the ongoing accusations against him.

Minister Farrakhan also has some rather dated views on the family. His advocate stance on corporal punishment within the family. His stance against homosexuality and the push back he got when he last did the Million Man March from many who believed he disregarded the female voice.

The voice of social activism in so many of the cities who have pushed back against police brutality to blacks have been driven by women. A further nuance is added when it is noted that many of the new female voices are gay or have narratives and the kudos that is inclusive of the LBGT voice.

Yes, it is great to have the older members who will have experience first hand the major transitions of the original civil rights movement, but I am hard pressed to see how they will remain relevant as a new generation get access to information and immediate activism through social media. That said there is a lot of deference (at least on social media) by a generation to seeing such a heavyweight on a show like The Breakfast Club. I can’t however seeing it eclipse in numbers a guest like Kanye or Ed Sheeran!!

Minister Louis Farakkhan is an outspoken icon. There are some things I have problems with his thinking on. From his patriarchal views on family, his homophobia, a number of his blatant anti semitic comments and his reliance on people to read Dianetics!! He is a great reminder for a new generation, both in the USA and abroad, of the struggle for equality for the Diaspora, however I think the conversation has somewhat moved on from when his was one of the few who had a platform and used it well. He is not in anyway irrelevant, but I don’t believe he is as relevant as he thinks he once was. Or maybe the new album with Kanye and Snoop guesting may prove me wrong.

We shall see. Coffee?

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