Louis Farrakhan:
A Mixed-Race Jew?

By Charles Michael Byrd

If hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, didn't follow him and embrace his philosophy, we could dismiss Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as just another black nationalist-separatist cast from essentially the same mold as the Angela Davises and the Kwame Turés (formerly Stokely Carmichael) of the world. Farrakhan enjoys widespread support in the African-American community, however, as last October's Million Man March demonstrated. He is the de facto leader of black America. No one else can lay claim to that title, as no other black leader can command the attention on the national or international stage as can the Minister.

Of late there also seems to be an orchestrated effort by some in the black community and by certain of its mainstream media allies to reconstruct Farrakhan's image of a venom-spewing racist and an anti-Semite. After all, his nationalist rantings are right up the alley of those -- black and white -- who pine for the days of separate but equal. (The April 16, 1996 Village Voice article "Romancing Jim Crow: Black Nostalgia for a Segregated Past" by Adolph Reed, Jr. is but one example of the aforementioned sentiment.)

In another piece -- one commemorating the storied legacy of America's black media -- from that Village Voice edition, Nat Hentoff reports on the "Newsmaker of the Year" award bestowed upon Farrakhan by the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a national organization of the black press. According to NNPA Executive Director William Reed: "Who did the most in 1995 to lead blacks to a higher plateau? Through informal polling of numerous grassroots and establishment leaders by the staff of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, there was a total consensus that such an undisputed individual is Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam." Reed pointed out that his association honored Farrakhan for his creation of the Million Man March, among other dimensions of what the NNPA calls his leadership. Says Reed: "In his 40th year of public ministering, some believe the 62-year-old, Jesus-quoting Muslim has eclipsed even the stature of Martin Luther King at his apex." Hentoff further reports that Reed told him: "You see, people need to go from door to door in the black community to know his actual status. Farrakhan is in touch with these people more than the NAACP is."

That's the scary part, but it's no longer an eye-opening revelation. After the assassination of King, the black community took the wrong fork in the road, eschewing the transcendent nature of King's movement which pointed to the equality of human beings as the benchmark for social justice and which was evolving into a grassroots movement that included whites as soldiers in the cause of justice for black Americans. Afrocentric nationalism polarized and hurt the civil rights movement, replacing effective strategy with empty shouting and posturing of the sort that allowed America the opportunity to avoid both identification with black people and the job of bettering this nation. (An excellent reference for this subject is The Afrocentric Myth, or Islam: The Liberator of the American People, by Abubakr Ben Ishmael Salahuddin.)

The culmination of the black community's following the path of Afrocentric nationalism for twenty-seven years was the Million Man March. The NNPA's "Newsmaker of the Year" award to Farrakhan validates the ascendancy of nationalist-separatism to the pinnacle of black political leadership.

Addressing one of the basic tenets of black-nationalism, the separation of the "races," Farrakhan told Mike Wallace on the April 14, 1996 "60 Minutes" program:

Farrakhan: I believe, Mike, that if we can't get along in peace, then we should separate. We have serious differences that are exacerbated now, over time, between black and white. The question that we have to answer: are those differences irreconcilable?

Wallace: Are they?

Farrakhan: I don't know. Have we tried as hard as we could to reconcile them? And if we have, and we cannot, then separation would be the best answer.

An admonishment is due Wallace for playing into the hands of those -- including himself? -- who consider the construct of "race" to be valid and worth preserving.

Nowadays, Farrakhan freely admits being of mixed-race, though he steadfastly employs the oxymoronic and hypodescent-induced "light-skinned black" terminology (How can something "black" be "light," and what, after all, accounts for the "light-skinnedness" of a "light-skinned black?"). In the special Black In America April 9 & May 6, 1996 combined edition of The New Yorker, from an article written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. called "The Charmer,"

Farrakhan explained that his father was very light-skinned and had straight hair, and that his mother had told him his father's parentage was, in fact, white Portuguese. Then he said, "I'm going to tell you something. You really want to know what I think? I think they were members of the Jewish community." This sounds like a fantastical joke, but it is highly probable, given what we know about migration to the West Indies. Orlando Patterson, a historical sociologist at Harvard, who has made a study of merchant populations in the islands, confirms that nearly all people of Iberian descent in Jamaica and Barbados, even today, are of Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Farrakhan goes on to state that "If in my lineage there are Jews, I would hope that in the end, before my life is over, I not only will have rendered a service to my own beloved community of black people but will also have rendered a service to the Jewish community."

Is Louis Farrakhan, then, a mixed-race Jew? You decide that one, sports fans. Let me offer, however, that separating the "races" is not only undesirable but impossible -- just ask anyone of "mixed-race." That many revere such a man is not so much testimony to his oratorical skills and leadership qualities, but to so many individuals viewing their lives as being predicated solely upon monolithic and monoracial political considerations and to them not seeking enlightened solidarity with the whole of humanity. In a quiet moment of personal stillness and honest reflection, Louis Farrakhan would be forced to admit the same thing.


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