Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 06:33:36 -0400
Providence, Patriarchy, Pathology: Louis Farrakhan's Rise & Decline (excerpt)
By Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua <SChajua@aol.com>, Clarence Lang <email@example.com>, New Politics, Vol.6 no.2 (n.s.), whole no. 22, Winter 1997
Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua teaches history at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Clarence Lang is a graduate student at Southern Illinois University.
ON OCTOBER 16, 1995, MILLIONS OF AMERICANS WATCHED IN AWE as more than a million black men gathered in Washington, D.C. The Million Man March keynote speaker, Minister Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, delivered more than the anxious public could have imagined. On that day, he articulated a new philosophy and program for black America, or more accurately, he recast an old agenda in more militant tones. Clearly, his address reflected a sea change in black politics.
The Million Man March and Louis Farrakhan's address signaled the ascension of the nationalist development strategy and the eclipse of the integrationist strategy. In his "Challenge to Black Men," Farrakhan announced a strategic retreat from substance to symbolism, from contestation to entrepreneurship, from transformative struggles to parallel development, and from demands to obligations. Accordingly, a chief goal of the march was proving to white America that one million black men could gather without incident, as if the essential problem confronting black men was a poor public image. Ironically, Farrakhan's address came exactly 100 years and nearly one month after Booker T. Washington rose to national prominence pronouncing a similar shift in ideology, strategy and tactics. On September 18, 1895 in "The Atlanta Exposition Address," Washington articulated the main themes of the politics of retreat. In suitably accommodating, but dissimulating, language acceptable to the agrarian barons in the South, the emerging Northern industrial capitalist elite, and an evolving Southern-based conservative black elite, Washington announced the shift in African-American strategy and tactics "from politics to economics, from protest to self-help, and from rights to responsibilities."
This project surveys the historical continuities and discontinuities between Washington's rise in the 1890s and Farrakhan's ascendancy in the 1990s. Four key understandings shape this analysis: (1) the 1890s and the 1990s transitions to newer systems of racial domination occurred during major restructuring of the American political economy (from commercial to industrial capitalism, and later to multinational corporate capitalism) and accelerating monopolization; (2) both occasioned the rise of white redemptionist movements that shattered previous liberal racial rapprochements and plunged African Americans into a nadir; (3) both revealed the rising black elite's ambivalence toward the more degraded classes of blacks; and (4) during both moments, the black elite created an historic bloc in the black community by uniting the nascent black bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie around the doctrine of "self-help."
History does not repeat itself, nor is history an endless series of recurring cycles, but it is true that similar conditions often produce similar responses. Both Minister Farrakhan's "Challenge to Black Men" and Washington's "Atlanta Exposition Address" were delivered at critical historical moments, during transitions from one stage to another. The "First Redemption," 1868-1900 and the "Second Redemption," 1968-present, have much in common; both periods experienced economic downturns and witnessed unprecedented monopolization of the U. S. economy. Both eras also represented the apex of racist assaults on African Americans and their newly won civil rights.
Copyright (c) 1997 New Politics
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