When Last I Saw Philly...
Two Reasons To Denounce
The "Million Man March")

By Charles Michael Byrd

Prior to showing my face at the National Association of Black Journalists' conference in the City of Brotherly Love on August 18, it had been over nine years since I road with Mark X. Chocianowski down Interstate 95 toward Philly's southside to do a bit of low-budget journalism. We were publishing partners back then, cranking out a monthly newsletter that addressed the concerns of multiracial individuals and of monoracial folk interracially involved. We had no personal computers or desktop publishing software, and God knows the World Wide Web was still a cyberspace mystery of the future. We were, however, products of interracial unions -- Mark: black and Polish; me: black, white and Cherokee -- who strongly desired to increase awareness and dialogue concerning America's mixed-race community. A typewriter, scissors, rubber cement -- a true cut-and-paste operation -- and the local print shop were the ingredients that brought the idea of "Multi-Race" from the unmanifest into, at least by today's standards, a crude manifestation of a newsletter.

In November 1985, Gerald and Carol Fox, an interracial couple with two kids -- Emma and Geramiah, then 10 and 5 years old respectively -- had just moved into a rowhouse at 6402 Buist Ave. in the Elmwood section. The day after the Foxes moved in, vandals damaged appliances and heating & water pipes. The following night 200 white demonstrators, spurred by rumors of blockbusting and driven by racial fear and hatred, stood on the couple's front lawn chanting "Move! Move! Move!" Mayor Wilson Goode, as a result, declared a state of emergency prohibiting groups of four or more persons from congregating, and cops were assigned to protect the Foxes' house around the clock.

There were several local interracial advocacy groups around the country ten years ago but no single umbrella organization under which multiracials, including those not of the black/white persuasion, could unite and speak with a single voice. Consequently, the Foxes received little support or attention from the interracial community. Because of what we deemed an unconscionable slight, Mark and I decided to take matters into our own hands, and in early 1986 we traveled to Philly to interview the couple.

Gerald and Carol were congenial and disposed to speak with us, though they estimated that other reporters had interviewed them about 30 times prior. The upshot was that the white thugs could not terrorize them into leaving their new home, and Carol stressed that she taught her kids to take a stand that they're the same as anyone else, that they should have pride and confidence in who they are, that they shouldn't give any ground in the face of blatant racial hatred and ignorance.

It was that meeting with the Foxes that came to mind as I stared out the window of Amtrak #141, whisking me toward the NABJ conference at the Philadelphia Marriott. I was going as a favor to Ramona Douglass, president of the Association of MultiEthnic Americans, who was out of the country on a personal matter. The NABJ had asked her to take part in a panel discussion entitled, "Who Is Black: The Multiracial Challenge," that dealt with the increasingly controversial issue -- at least from the black political perspective -- of a proposed multiracial category for the 2000 Census. With her father seriously ill, Ramona asked if I would fill in for her. After all, we had known each other for over five years, and she was aware that the only other person within the multiracial movement who was her opinionated equal was me.

Yet trepidation lingered; there was an intermittent sensation of knowing how Daniel must have certainly felt before entering the lions' den. I wasn't black, and it had been years since I had assumed such an identity, notwithstanding the dogged persistence of the "One-Drop" rule, the Jim Crow legacy that says if you have a "drop of black blood," America automatically considers you black. African-American political leaders and many of their media cohorts are fiercely protective of their community's "numbers," Census headcounts which have too long been artificially inflated by including those black/white multiracials who don't identify as black. These numbers translate into political power, and therein lies the rub for the black leadership. The fewer the number of people identifying as black, the less political power those leaders amass and the less support there is for policies such as the racial gerrymandering of congressional districts, a neo-segregationist, separate but equal practice that no principled multiracial can endorse.

I imagined the audience for the panel discussion would not be delighted to hear someone passionately advance the notion of a category that would inevitably draw down these numbers; I was partially correct. Black journalists from across the fruited plain constituted most of the assembled throng that was standing-room-only with many in the hall straining to hear. Objections to the category ranged from "This is an attempt to tear apart the black community!" to the expressly black-separatist viewpoint, "Let them go; at least then we'll know who is really black!" and to "This will adversely impact the Voting Rights Act!" The latter is a red herring hot-button pushed to fan emotional flames; no evidence exists pointing to the diminishment of any black person's voting prerogative. Against such volume, it would have been easy to backpedal, but I stood my ground. I've learned that you may never convince the loudest, but it's often worthwhile to keep arguing for the effect it has on bystanders -- in this case, the moderate yet largely silent majority in attendance.

The panel included Lise Funderberg, who seemed mostly interested in hawking the paperback version of her book, "Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity." Terry Kershaw, professor of African-American studies at Temple University, reluctantly concurred that otherwise self-determined individuals should be able to self-identify but continuously wondered aloud why multiracial folk felt compelled to "move away from their blackness." David Wheeler, a white District of Columbian who is writing a book on the multiracial movement, constantly asked Kershaw why it was incumbent upon the mixed-race community to totally allay the black community's fears -- real or imaginary -- concerning the 2000 initiative. Nampeo D.R. McKenney, Census Bureau Assistant Division Chief for Special Population Statistics, reviewed how the Census Bureau was conducting test programs to see how the proposed category would effect the "numbers" of the established racial and ethnic groupings that the government recognizes as legitimate. Then there was me, decried by one gentleman, curiously, as a racist for reminding everyone that Lisa Jones' father was the fervent black-nationalist (like father-like daughter?) Amiri Baraka, the former LeRoi Jones. In the August '95 issue of Ebony magazine, Ms. Jones -- whose mother is white -- wondered whether those involved in the multiracial movement were "trying to become honorary Whites?" Her quote appears in the article, "Am I Black, White Or In Between?: Is There A Plot To Create A 'Colored' Buffer Race In America?" which many deem an attempted character assassination of all involved in the movement.

Later, as I repaired to Gotham, my thoughts returned anew to that night nine years earlier. I recall Gerald Fox telling me that The Pagans motorcycle gang had lived at 6402 Buist Ave. before he and Carol and the kids moved in so, in terms of lowering the property value, "Who could lower it any more than them?" I remember Carol saying that she wasn't aware of any block busting activity, that the area was essentially all-black anyway -- "six blocks of whites and the rest is black."

I wondered how Emma and Geramiah were getting along and whether any of this political wrangling meant anything to them yet. At some point it will, when some ideologue seeks to invalidate fully one-half of their heritage in the name of the greater good of the African-American political collective. I wonder how Emma and Geramiah will handle charges of "lowering the value of the race" or of "race busting" in their own lives if they see fit to identify as multiracial? I thought a lot about when last I saw Philly.

Two Reasons To Denounce The "Million Man March"

1- The Nation of Islam's separatist weltanschauung

The astonishing thing about the "Million Man March" is that 400,000+ African-American males seemingly needed a known racial separatist, Louis Farrakhan, to clue them in to the worthiness of personal responsibility and accountability. Is it conceivable these men had no prior understanding of and appreciation for such a basic human tenet as ensuring the long-term survival of self, family and community by working and by not engaging in counter-survival activity such as crime, drug use and family abandonment? Of course they knew, for this was not a day of "atonement." This was a day to herald the ascendancy of Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam to the throne of African-American politics.

Over the past years, separatist ideology has steadily gained support among the traditional civil rights organizations, especially those that denounce the multiracial initiative. Farrakhan's reign over black politics is but the culmination of a decades-long debate over whether integration was a bad idea. Sadly, the separatists/nationalists have apparently won the day in the African-American community.

In his New York Times article of October 1, 1995 entitled "The New Dilemma: Look Who's Saying Separate Is Equal," Steven A. Holmes quotes Edward J. Newsome, a black member of the Kansas City school board as saying, "I think desegregation is dead and should have died a long time ago, if the focus is on trying to have a physical mixing of the races." Newsome's remarks are representative of those by individuals who have lately breathed new life into the once discredited doctrine of separate but equal that the Supreme Court struck down in 1954. That year the Court declared that separate could never be equal, that segregation was meant to hurt blacks (and that it succeeded in doing so) no matter what the quality of particular segregated institutions. Last month, though, Newsome and other black members of school boards in Denver and Kansas City questioned whether trying to force whites to mix with black children was not only demeaning to blacks but unnecessary to achieve equal academic opportunities.

In the same Times article, Professor Alex M. Johnson Jr. of the University of Virginia Law School is quoted from a previous writing of his as saying that integration has failed blacks and that the Brown v. Board of Education decision was a mistake. He said he could not have made those statements 20 or 30 years ago because they "would have been so far outside the mainstream that, frankly, they would have been unthinkable by an African-American scholar employed at a prestigious law school. Quite the contrary, the views expressed herein might have been more easily attributed to an avowed racist."

Speaking of Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam, Lynne Duke of the Washington Post wrote last year: "The Nation presents its teachings as the antidote to racial prejudice still present in American society as well as the self-hatred and ignorance the Nation says have afflicted generations of black people. While most black groups have fought for integration, the Nation advocates separation and asks why blacks should seek partnership with people who historically have excluded them."

Young blacks in particular who can't fathom the measurable gains accomplished since Brown v. Board of Education seem most vulnerable to the separatist ideology of Farrakhan and the Nation. Jesse Jackson and older blacks who've been through the struggle and who know well the positive strides that have been made should be ashamed of themselves for having participated in the "Million Man March." Jackson, unfortunately, has become a pathetic figure whose political star has twice been eclipsed in the past year. He knows that if America will at last have a nonwhite President, it will likely be a retired four-star general and not a '60s era civil rights leader who can only speak in irritating rhyme. Jackson also has seen Farrakhan cash in his IOU for having come to Jesse's defense in 1984. Farrakhan defended Jackson's reference to Jews as "Hymies" and to New York as "Hymie town" by calling Zionism a "dirty" religion, by accusing Jewish groups of being behind death threats made against Jackson and by threatening holy revenge if harm came to Jackson. Jesse had to come to Washington for "Million Man" to pay off his debt.

2- Blood on the hands

That the Nation of Islam murdered Malcolm X in 1965 is hardly in dispute. Lynne Duke's Washington Post piece gives some background:

"A former calypso singer named Louis Eugene Wolcott, Farrakhan was recruited into the Nation by Malcolm X in the 1950s and rose to prominence with his recording in 1960 of a song titled 'The White Man's Heaven is the Black Man's Hell.' Still, he was eclipsed by his mentor, Malcolm X, who was Elijah Muhammad's main minister and the movement's leading light.

"When Malcolm X and Muhammad fell out in a bitter public dispute over allegations that Muhammad had fathered illegitimate children, Farrakhan stepped into the void. He wrote a series of articles in the Nation's newspaper, then called Muhammad Speaks, in which he called Malcolm X a 'dog' and said he deserved death.

"After Malcolm X's assassination by members of the Nation angered by his split from Elijah Muhammad in February 1965, Farrakhan's star rapidly rose."

Do any of the 400,000+ march participants remember this? Do they care that one of the last two great black leaders of our times, Martin Luther King, Jr. being the other, was gunned down in cold blood by the Nation?

Actually, NOI thugs didn't murder "Malcolm X." By then he was El Hadj Malik El Shabazz., the name he assumed after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca during which he became an orthodox Muslim. His travels that year to the Middle East and Africa gave him a more optimistic view regarding potential brotherhood between black and white Americans. He no longer preached separation between the races.

One of the most stirring speeches anyone can listen to today is not a tape of Farrakhan's nearly 3-hour harangue on October 16, rather it is one of Malcolm X debating in December 1964 at the Oxford Union in England:*

"I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare. I only read about him passingly, but I remember one thing he wrote that kind of moved me. He put it in the mouth of Hamlet, I think it was, who said 'To be or not to be.' He was in doubt about something. (Laughter)

"Whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune -- moderation -- or to take up arms against the sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you'll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who's in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you'll be waiting a long time.

"And, in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, brown, whatever else there is, you're living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there's got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it's going to be built is with extreme methods.

"And I for one will join in with anyone, don't care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.

"Thank you."

Malcolm finally realized that empowering this planet's poor and oppressed could not be accomplished with venomous diatribes against a particular racial or ethnic group, by advocating separatist ideology. As a result of evolving into this higher plane of thought, and for other reasons, he was murdered in cold blood on February 21, 1965.

Those who marched with Farrakhan on October 16, 1995 now carry the blood of Malik El Shabazz on their collective hands. Cleansing them and atoning for his death won't be easy.

(*Reference the PBS documentary "Malcolm X: Make it Plain" a part of the "American Experience" series.)


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