THE MILLION MAN MARCH
Racial Solidarity or Division?
Focusing on the Million Man March, Part I represents an attempt to articulate the importance of the March as a sociopolitical Black community event. The essays in this part raise two interrelated questions: (1) Did the March transcend Minister Louis Farrakhan and his political ideology? and (2) Did the politics of the March legitimize rather than challenge the notion that the cumulative racial experiences of Black men are deserving of more Black political solicitude than the cumulative racial experiences of Black women?
Part I begins with two op-eds, one by A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., the other by Cornel West. Higginbotham did not participate in the March; West did. Higginbotham argues that the message of the March could not be separated from the messenger and that supporting the March is tantamount to supporting Farrakhan and his antiSemitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Cornel West reasons that, while Farrakhan played an important role in the March, in the end the March transcended Farrakhan and his political beliefs.
According to West, Black participation in the March was not an indication of Black ideological commitments but rather an indication of Black rage and despair.
For Darren Hutchinson, the March was about Black ideological commitments. According to Hutchinson, the participation of so many Blacks in the March, notwithstanding Farrakhan’s unabashed homophobia and sexism, reveals the extent to which the Black community is committed to a heterosexist antiracist agenda, an agenda that reflects the idea that the fight against homophobia is oppositional to the fight against racism.
Ishmael Reed, on the other hand, maintains that much of the criticism of the March, and in particular the criticism that the March was sexist, reflects what he terms "buck passing"—white America’s employment of Black men to illustrate and criticize male abusive behavior. Reed’s argument here is that male abusive behavior escapes public scrutiny unless and until the alleged male abuser is Black. According to Reed, Black men are the socially designated sacrificial lambs for all male evil. The March, he argues, revealed that Black men will not be silenced about the nature and the extent of racism’s impact on their lives.
Luke Harris argues that the March was less about Black men speaking about racism in their lives than about Black men positioning themselves as leaders of the Black family and leaders of the Black community. According to Harris, the politics underlying the March reflected a narrow conception of the Black community (a conception that ignores the realities of straight Black women, Black lesbians, and Black gay men) and a narrow and patriarchal conception of the Black family (a conception in which single motherhood is blamed for and/or is said to be symptomatic of the demise of Black family). Harris maintains that, by reinforcing those narrow conceptions, the March undermined rather than facilitated Black community building.
Still, there can be no denying that the March evidenced Black male politicization—Black male resistance to white supremacy. Anthony Farley explicitly makes this point. He describes the relationship between white and Black Americans as sadomasochistic—the colorline is a sadistic pleasure for whites to impose and a masochistic pleasure for blacks to submit to. For Farley, the March represented Black men’s day of resistance against the colorline; it evidenced a refusal on the part of Black men to cooperate in the S&M relationship.
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., and Ronald S. Sullivan, Jr., argue that if the purpose of the March was to challenge white supremacy, it is not at all clear that the March was successful. They argue that the message of atonement and personal responsibility shifted the focus away from the state onto individual Black men. If the March was in fact designed to speak to Black men and not to the state, why, Glaude and Sullivan ask, were people marching to Washington, D. C.? They argue that marching to Capitol Hill, the site of the federal government, and not criticizing the government was politically ineffectual and problematic.
Part I concludes with an essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who compares the March to the phenomenon of the O. J. Simpson verdict. Gates explains that both events demonstrate how the dominant narratives of white culture and the counternarratives of the Black community color how we view social events. For most whites, both the verdict and the March revealed that perhaps the issue of race in America was more complicated than they had supposed. In the end, Gates views whites’ reactions to these social phenomena and Blacks’ reactions to those reactions as a circular discourse that unproductively leads to an endless regress of score settling.