Photo from Justice Or Else.
Yesterday marked the 20-year anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington D.C. Droves of people every shade of brown and a variety of ages united for the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s “Justice or Else” rally. Historically Minister Farrakhan has been a controversial figure within the Nation as well as within the Civil Rights Movement. And criticisms of him continued in think pieces across the blogosphere, but one fact that cannot be denied is that he understands the need for black nationalism in times of racial suffering.
Criticisms of Farrakhan aside, the real question remains how successful was the rally in addressing realistic issues affecting men and women of color today? It was apparent that the minister was attempting to bridge the gap between older generations of civil rights leaders like himself and younger generations of people of color who associate themselves more with the mission of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the past civil rights leaders have been criticized for ignoring the needs and issues of black women to focus on the direct racial attacks on black manhood. However, being a grass roots organization, Black Lives Matter state organizations can shift the central focus of their initiatives from patriarchal to inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations. Was Farrakhan’s figurative “passing of the torch” to women leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement an acknowledgment of the previous civil rights movement’s shortcomings? Possibly, but there is definitely more room for growth.
The minister’s speech was dripping with antiquated religious rhetoric, which is expected. He is a minister after all. Following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, Minister Farrakhan was obviously trying to appeal to the younger generation by addressing progressive political issues such as abortion rights, criminalizing sex trafficking, Native American rights and LBGTQ rights.
He has previously been admonished in 1993 for stating the black community needed to “rid the circumstances that bring it [homosexuality] about.” But his rhetoric was slightly different yesterday, basically “allowing” acceptance of homosexuality on the premise that only God can judge the actions of people. His reference to abortion rights was very diluted, quickly addressing the fact that a woman has the right to do what she pleases with her body. However, the accompanying story of the circumstances surrounding his mother’s pregnancy and her three failed attempts to abort him with a hanger should have been more of a testament to the crucial need for adequate reproductive rights and women’s healthcare instead of a testament’s to God’s will.
His call to action for black men and women to stop referring to black women as “bitches” was unfortunately overshadowed by his preaching for respectability politics. He rightfully condemned men who disrespect women, and did not speak to the women in the crowd as if they were second to man. But using the image of a scantily clad woman whoring herself for money as a metaphor for the Republican Party, and his advocacy of respectability politics and gender roles held a slight stench of patriarchy. Religion is inherently patriarchal and focused on the abolishment of what the Holy word considers sinful behavior. If anything Farrakhan’s speech illustrated the disconnect between religious organizations and current movements for justice within communities of color, and not so much an exclusion of women. He addresses and acknowledges women throughout his speech, but his rhetoric failed to accurately relate to the experiences of progressive young women living in today’s society. Unfortunately, he did spend more time preaching a sermon than he did addressing the political injustices the rally was marketed for, but this fact shows more of his old-fashioned methods to approaching justice, and not necessarily ill intentions. Ultimately, “Justice Or Else” acted more as a symbol of unity than it did as political and social action.