Stepping outside one's personal comfort zone is not always easy to do. Last night, I definitely stepped outside my comfort zone, and though it wasn't easy to do so, I am glad I did. I believe this makes me a better person because it affords me the brief but invaluable opportunity to look at the world through the eyes of someone not in the social majority. Actually, I am often NOT in the majority as an openly gay man, but I always have the option of hiding this aspect of myself. But whether or not I am out of the closet or not, I am by default in the social majority by virtue of the fact I am a white male.
As I walked toward the building where Mr. Farrakhan was to speak, I was anything but comfortable. Just days before, I had been part of a group that met with Alabama A&M University President Dr. Hugine to inquire about the nature of, and express concerns about, Mr. Farrakhan's visit, so I felt it was important for me to hear him speak firsthand. Hardly anyone in the crowd knew I was part of the group he repeatedly referred to during his speech, but I listened to his comments about those who had expressed concerns regarding his visit. I was wearing a rainbow necklace, a necklace with a Christian cross, and a "No place for Hate" button, which was very visible. For a brief moment, I took off the button because I did not want to appear confrontational. I decided, though, that I believe in what the button says, so I put it back on and wore it throughout the evening. Everyone was searched upon entering the building, and I was the only white person among the hundreds of men standing in line with me. I entered with this group of men referred to by Mr. Farrakhan as 'Brother' and in my heart I knew that whether or not I was seen by them as a 'Brother' that I WAS, simply by being there and being part of a continued struggle for equality and civil rights for all people.
I listened to Mr. Farrakhan with an open mind and as I have said, with the knowledge of what transpired in the meeting with leaders at the university prior to his visit. I listened for both the positive messages and for any indications of hate speech. I will tell you honestly what my perceptions were of the particular speech he gave last night—and only his speech last night.
The first thing that came to my mind was that political agendas shrouded in religious rhetoric are extremely dangerous. Readers need to understand that Mr. Farrakhan is a talented public speaker. He is able to weave a mixture of messages all within the same speech, which I found very interesting. Some of these messages were obvious while some were much more subtle or even covert. In this particular speech, I did not hear any comments that I would term "hate speech." Mr. Farrakhan began by pointing out that there were groups, among them the Jewish community and his Brother pastors, who had concerns about his coming to Huntsville. (I must say I was slightly offended that my presence at the meeting and my statements in the paper as a representative of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community were not deemed important enough to mention! LOL)
He painted himself as an innocent bystander by saying he had never been to Huntsville and thus had never said anything here that could be offensive to anyone. He drew an image of himself as the purveyor of a message of peace and love and as a messenger from God. Of course, he certainly has the right to claim anything he wishes, whether he is or not. It is up to the listener to discern the truth behind his claim.
Now about the specifics of what he did say.... His only mention of homosexuality was in a comment that included a list sins, part of a general admonishment to his audience not to speak about one group of sinners while they were actively part of another. The only issue I have with this is that I am NOT a sinner simply because I am homosexual, and this was his direct implication. Once again, it is the responsibility of listeners to think for themselves. He also spoke about God's hatred of sin and of his punishment for it. Fortunately for me, as a person trying to live a life of integrity, my conceptualization of God & Spirit does not include hatred of any people or punishment as an act of God against any group or individual.
Mr. Farrakhan spent a large portion of his speaking time giving examples of his personal impressions of the Jewish community and the white community, when his presentation was supposed to be about education within the black community. I heard many comments which I believe were intended to build up and empower black people. I agreed with most of these. The problem I had is that he repeatedly made unnecessary comparisons to the white and Jewish communities in order to bolster his message of empowerment. This is where subtle divisiveness was woven over and over into his speech last night.
Every comment he made to empower the black community was enough in itself. There was never a need to make comparisons to other groups even if he claimed they were made out of respect for their accomplishments. He repeatedly made broad generalizations about both the white community and the Jewish community which I believe were unfair. He would do this with simple statements, often utilizing humor, but these statements were not always based on facts. I will not go into the number of statements he made that I believe were based on falsified interpretations of history, but I will give one example that touched close to my heart.
In an attempt to instill pride in the black community, Mr. Farrakhan chided his black listeners for not doing things to instill pride in their children, such as purchasing black dolls. He said that when they passed a black doll more often than not they would pass it by and buy their children white dolls. He went on to say that white people would never give their children black dolls but would instead buy only white dolls. I must say that Mr. Farrakhan is wrong in at least one instance. My mother's most treasured childhood possession is a black baby doll. I have seen it on many occasions and heard the tenderness in my mother's voice when she speaks of it. The broad generalizations were not needed. They have the covert power to divide, whether Mr. Farrakhan admits it or not. They are not based on truth. My mother's baby doll is a simple yet undeniable example that his argument is flawed. There is simply no need to make divisive comparisons of other groups if the true intent is to give empowering advice and counsel to people in order to lead them to improve their lives.
I leave it up to each person to think on these issues, but this is what I experienced, and I am thankful for it. I know not only what I heard but also what I sensed being present in the audience. I know what my Spirit, which is given to me from my God, discerned about Mr. Farrakhan's message.
I, too, speak publicly at every opportunity I am given, and my message is a message of hope, respect, love, and acceptance. I call myself a Christian not because of a religion but because I follow the example of Jesus and try to live Christ-like. I am only one small voice without an audience as large as Mr. Farrakhan's, but I will continue to use my voice to expose misinformation, hatred, prejudice, and any other conditions which lead to divisiveness in our society and which lead directly or indirectly to ruining lives and crushing the spirits of many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender—and even straight people—of all races and creeds.