by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

When 80,000 mostly white, Christian men rallied at the Silverdome to pledge their family values, nobody complained.

But when a few dozen white men marched in Skokie, Ill., there was national outrage. The difference? Those men were Nazis.

Here is my point: It’s not numbers or color that necessarily frighten people. It’s hatred. Hatred that might be directed back at them.

Which brings us to the sticky situation of Monday’s Million Man March in Washington. The truth is, hardly anyone is concerned with the number of people. Sure, a million sounds like a lot, but there are massive demonstrations all the time in Washington.

Nor is it worrisome that the million men will be black. Washington has seen it all over the years. Gay marches. Feminist marches. Mexican. Asian. Hippies. Anti-government. Some black men believe all whites see them and think,
“Looting, murder, rape!” But that’s a wrong and even dangerous assumption.

What is bothersome about Monday’s rally — to black people as well as white — is that the man who is organizing it has, in the past, promoted hatred of Jews, Catholics and women, and has uttered the sentence, “Hitler was a great man.”

People tend to remember that kind of stuff.

And it scares them. A message of hate

So you can understand the hesitancy to jump on the march’s bandwagon, even when its stated purpose — to atone for mistakes, show family responsibility and pledge solidarity among black males — is so honorable. It’s not the theme of the show that disturbs people. It’s the name above the marquee.

“I would never follow the lead of anyone as homophobic, as anti-Semitic, as anti-female, as anti-white or as universally bigoted as Farrakhan. . . .
(He) espouses a separate black America in which he would be king. . . . (He) is a posturing, preening merchant of hate who cleverly turns his venom off when it serves his purposes. Like now.”

That was written by Carl Rowan, the syndicated, award- winning black columnist.

His words ring louder than mine on this issue. It is not my place to tell black people — or green, yellow or purple people — who they should admire. I figure some blacks are marching Monday simply because they want to tell white America to mind its own business. And they are right about this.

As they are right about other things: that a disproportionate number of black men are in jail, economically handcuffed or educationally undernourished. Whose fault is that? It could be debated for months. For now, for Monday, white America needs to understand the pounding desire of many black males to feel good about something, to feel unified, to feel like they matter.

Doesn’t everyone want to feel that way? A time for togetherness

On the other hand, I cannot condone hatred or separatism. And no intelligent person can deny that Farrakhan has preached both. Yes, he has called for blacks to be more responsible. But he has also called Judaism “a gutter religion” and Jews “bloodsuckers.” He has insisted that blacks must separate from whites, that homosexuals are evil, that women have a certain place and that is all.

I can’t get behind that. Neither can a lot of people, of all colors and persuasions. So I will politely hope that the men who march Monday will be stirred by good ideals — but also understand why some outsiders hold their breath. It’s not because they are afraid of you. It’s because they are afraid of history.

Adolph Hitler — the man Farrakhan admires — did not stand before mobs of people and yell, “Let’s kill all the Jews!” even when he believed it. Instead,

he spoke about gaining economic independence. He spoke of building German pride. He spoke of feeling good about being German.

And all the time, his lust was for power, and his vision was hate.

Farrakhan’s critics have suggested this event is more about building a power base for him than it is about truly changing the lives of black men. Said Sulayman Nyang, a professor of African Studies at Howard University:
“This could make him a kingmaker.”

The world has enough kings. So just as white America needs to respect a call for pride from its black countrymen, so does black America need to understand the dangerous bread that wraps Monday’s meaty message.

It’s a tough task. Frankly, I worry less that something will happen Monday than I do that nothing will happen — except Farrakhan’s gaining money and power while the people who give it to him go home hoarse but empty.

In the end, it won’t change this truth: the only salvation for any of us will be things that bring us together, not apart. We can begin with respecting each other’s opinions. In any march, that’s a decent first step.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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