Cornel West

MAYBE A MILLION black men will march on Washington. Coming after the O. J. Simpson verdict, the March promises to be a pivotal moment in our nation’s life. As the writer Greg Tate has rightly noted, the verdict "may represent the first time in history that a majority black jury has wielded an apparatus of state power against the will of the nation’s white citizenry."

Our fragile civic and legal order, with its precious jury system that does not guarantee justice, must now contend with a level of white rage unprecedented in American history. Needless to say, black rage has risen exponentially since bullets ripped through the Rev­erend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Can our deeply divided so­ciety wrestle with this challenge without exploding?

For most whites, the Million Man March called by Minister Louis Farrakhan can only worsen race matters. For them, he not only em­bodies black rage but also black hatred and contempt for whites, Jews, women, gay men, and lesbians. Building on a long and diverse tradition of black nationalism—Marcus Garvey, Elijah Muhammad, Queen Mother Moore, Malcolm X—Minister Farrakhan is white America’s worst nightmare.

Why am I supporting the March? After all, I am a radical democ­rat devoted to a downward redistribution of wealth and a Christian freedom-fighter in the King legacy—which condemns any xenopho­bia, including patriarchy, homophobia and anti-Semitism.

First, unlike "color-blind" neoliberals and conservatives who cheaply invoke Dr. King’s words even as they kill the substance and spirit of his radical message, I take his last efforts seriously. When Dr. King was killed, not only was he working on the multiracial poor people’s campaign, he was also meeting with Elijah Muhammad and Amiri Baraka—black nationalists demonized by the white media—to promote black operational unity.

Dr. King sought to use moral and political means to transform the capitalist structure of society while deepening its democratic one. But he realistically assessed the true depth of white supremacy. In short,

Dr. King, the integrationist, had no fear of a black united front and no hatred of black nationalists.

The second reason I march: Although Minister Farrakhan—with whom I have deep disagreements—initiated this demonstration, the demonstration is about matters much bigger than him. I have in mind the general invisibility of, and indifference to, black sadness, sorrow, and social misery and the disrespect and disregard in which blacks are held in America and abroad. We agree on highlighting black suf­fering.

In casting the demonstration as "Farrakhan’s march," the main­stream media want to shift the focus from black pain to white anxiety. The media distort and disparage the motivations of most blacks who will march—men who are deeply concerned about black suffering and are outraged at the nation’s right-wing turn, yet are neither Na­tion of Islam members nor Farrakhan followers. No one man is the leader of black America—and most of its best leaders are black women.

Third, I must march because the next major battle in the struggle for black freedom involves moral and political channeling of the overwhelming black rage and despair. To stand on the sidelines and yield the terrain to Minister Farrakhan and other black nationalists would be to forsake not only my King legacy but, more important, my love for black people. Young blacks are hungry for vision, analy­sis, and action; radical democrats must go to them and be with them.

I believe that if white supremacy can be reduced to a minimum, then patriarchy, homophobia, and anti-Semitism can be lessened in black American.

If I am wrong, America has no desirable future. If I am right, black operational unity need not preclude multiracial democratic movements that target all forms of racism and corporate power. Whether right or wrong, I must fight. So I march.