“God gave Noah the rainbow sign, no more water the fire next time.”
Start around 2:32 on the above clip.
Here was a man!
A man that didn’t mince words. He didn’t infuse his words with religion to give them some lofty significance. He didn’t compromise his ideas by sanctifying them with some ancient text of dubious origin written by zealots. He had the courage that conviction creates, however, and the pluck to speak truth to power and to the powerless. He’d sagaciously find flaw in majesty as astutely as he’d find flaw in himself, and thus was respected and despised as someone with his intellectual authority unfortunately will inevitably be.
He spoke to me.
I saw myself in him more so than in any of the other black leaders and spokespeople. He earned my trust and respect the way a great teacher does, or a great comedian, a person with a mind capable of witnessing events, great and small, and discerning their significance, their humor, their value to humanity, having the rare ability to strip away the extraneous, the hyperbolic, the strictly decorative, the ego-molested message muddling muck, and articulate these complex ideas of utmost importance in the language of every man, yet with an eloquence and purity that makes it feel like The Creator has truly used him as a vessel.
He possessed as close to an objective view of the black struggle in America as I’ve ever encountered, as I suspect was humanly possible for a person living in such times.
Yeah, I loved the man. But, I can’t say the same for the Nation of Islam, and for good reasons.
I think he presented the strongest argument against the Nation. He certainly supported my own reasons why I could never seriously entertain notions of joining their ranks.
Strangely enough, I didn’t truly discover Baldwin until I was in University. How I made it through my elementary school without having his work thrust at me is a question I can’t really answer. Maybe it was because my school had embraced so many aspects of what the Black Muslims were doing in the community that they didn’t need any dissenting thoughts floating around. Or maybe it was simply because he was openly gay at a time when gay was seen, at best, as something that should be kept in the closet, locked. I really don’t know why.
In my twenties I read a book Baldwin had written about his meeting with the Honorable Elijah Muhammad called “The Fire Next Time” (which became one of my all-time favorite books) in which he’d taken the phenomenon known as the Nation of Islam to task, in no uncertain terms. And made it virtually impossible for any African American reader (not deep under the influence of the Nation already) to walk away from the reading feeling the same way about Elijah Muhammad and his followers as they did before reading it.
(Many of the profound and ultimately prophetic ideas he expressed in the above clips were expanded upon in the book. If you listen to the entire show you’ll probably notice that he even took some of the steam out of Malcolm’s engine, and eventually Malcolm’s views would become aligned with Baldwin’s.)
Instead of focusing on the numerous nuggets of truth and wisdom in Elijah Muhammad’s (and thus Malcolm’s and Farrakhan’s) words, the presence he brought to every utterance, and the reverence he inspired in his devotees, (though he by no means ignored it) Baldwin got down to the nitty-gritty. What was his organization’s objective and how feasible was this objective? And, more importantly, was this objective in the best interest of African Americans and America as a whole, for Baldwin believed (as I came to do as well) that one could not exist without the other.
And, even if he hadn’t addressed the Separatist views, the talk of the expiration of the White man’s Civilization, the Mother Plane connection, etc…one would feel not so much that these ideas were silly, but that they were no less far-fetched and ludicrous than praying to a Mysterious God and waiting around for a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus to return with salvation for the faithful, something the Black Muslims (including Malcolm) would often criticize Black Christians for doing .
Even Minister Farrakhan has stepped back, in recent years, from some of the radical and fantastic notions once upheld by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Baldwin said, in this essay, words that have actually helped me through many a troubled time- even sometimes here in Japan. He said, “I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering–enough is certainly as good as a feast–but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are. That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows, if he survives his effort, and even if he does not survive it, something about himself and human life that no school on earth–and, indeed, no church–can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakable.”
With Baldwin in my mind, I could hear Farrakhan preaching. This being perhaps the biggest and most important speech of his career, he really poured it on. He had a live audience of damn near a million, and a TV audience, internationally, of a great many more than that. And, he was truly in the moment…
He spent the first few minutes making sure the world knew he was the man who deserved the credit (you wouldn’t separate Einstein’s name from the Theory of Relativity, would you?) and that it was his vision that the world was beholding, a reflection of his magnetism. Not those other Negro leaders that shared the stage with him, those other also-rans. Uh uh. He didn’t say it but, nevertheless, you got the feeling he did (or at least believed he did) more for black people than all the black folk on that stage combined. Even the legendary Mrs. Rosa Parks, it seemed, would have a back seat on the Farrakhan bus to the pinnacle of power in the US.
He spent the next few minutes talking about how fucked up America is in his indelible style, dissecting the doctrines of America to illustrate its hypocrisy…always crowd-pleasing, (and one of the reasons I really dug the man!) And having demonstrated himself as a man with the moral authority to stand before the nation’s power house and call her out, it was time to really get busy.It was around then he pulled from his library (where the lies are buried) of America’s Best Kept Secrets and dusted off a centuries old document. One he would use to illustrate his point about the systematic, intentional, sinister deed that America has done to the black man.
And this, what with the Baldwin strainer all of his words had to pass through to get to my brain that day, is when he lost me forever!
Farrakhan broke into the apocryphal story of Willie Lynch.
It doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not. It really doesn’t. Not to me. What matters is I felt his efforts to manipulate me.
And, I HATE to be manipulated.
Furthermore, I hated to see black people, who’d come from far and near, from communities across the country, their hopes and dreams in one hand, their fear and despair in the other, their mass desire for peace, for change, for respect, for safe communities, for better schools, for jobs and health-care, for true leadership, palpable, like a glowing synaptic charge racing through them, and binding them…
I hated to see them manipulated…especially when it was unnecessary. He’d already made his point.
And by a fucking story…
One of those Urban Legend type stories you would raise a suspicious eyebrow at if it were told to you by your barber or even a politician. But from the mouth of someone you knew to be a no-nonsense kind of guy, a man you knew wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power because he saw himself as power, could sit across from Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes and tell him to shut his fucking hole…
…a man you knew spearheaded a multi-faith national event that resulted in the damn near million black men surrounding you (and just in case you didn’t know he’d just reminded you a few minutes earlier) or on the TV before your eyes, coming together peacefully in Washington DC…
Coming from this man, the Willie Lynch Letter, whether it was true or not , became the gospel truth.
I mean, even someone not swept up in the moment, thinking rationally, would say to himself, “there’s absolutely no reason for him to make up a story like that!”
Laying there on my sofa, listening to this letter that so perfectly hit all the buttons and tripped all the switches, and the way Farrakhan hammered it into his message to the Black Man, to a MILLION black men, I thought, “This is some wreckless manipulative bullshit! Baldwin, and Malcolm, and especially King, must be rolling in their graves right now.”
…to be continued