I’ve always disliked Louis Farrakhan.
But I only remembered just how much a few days ago, as I witnessed the fruit of the Nation of Islam leader’s announced observance of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March: Justice or Else event. I was coming from a rehearsal in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., riding the train home and squirming in my seat as I stared at the swarms of march attendees coming from the National Mall. They were all draped in “Justice or Else” themed attire, and a number of older men were even wearing original T-shirts and hats from the 1995 march.
Viewing this movement that cool autumn Saturday was a disappointment.
I was five years old when the Million Man March happened, a call also organized by Farrakhan. Though I have no memories of watching the speeches on television, I would later come across this part of history at an older age by watching “Get on the Bus,” the 1996 film directed by Spike Lee telling the story of a group of Black men who travel across the country from Los Angeles to attend the march.
When comparing attitudes in a 20-year span of events, including the Millions More Movement in 2005, there isn’t a difference. Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam, and the movement’s active supporters are continuing a problematic agenda, tasks that protect a structure engineered to promote freedom for certain existences, instead of all of them.
I took some time to listen carefully to the video of Farrakhan’s speech this time from the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Within the first twenty minutes, I’d heard just about everything I needed to know. He made it a routine priority to acknowledge his feelings of being honored to speak and thanking Allah, but his performance also showed thousands of people he is an unchanged man.
1. “So all of those who cry for justice, no crime is greater than those who have suffered the most…”
As he talked about the struggles of both Indigenous and Black people, the wickedness of both Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, and the Middle Passage, Farrakhan pointed out that these two groups of people have undergone the most oppression in America.
Oppression Olympics are beneath you, Mr. Farrakhan. Spouting this rhetoric doesn’t look clean alongside your precious ministerial suit.
2. “And we, in unity, will not only get justice for ourselves, but justice for all those who are deprived of that precious essential of life itself.”
“Justice for all those who are deprived” looks like cis and heterosexual men, women, and children of color. Justice or Else established itself as a gathering committed to fighting for the rights of some people, while excluding others. What I saw at the train stations indicated that the safety and life of most of the people I know, including myself, wasn’t vital to Farrakhan or the Nation of Islam. Queer and trans people of color have always been deprived of life, either by suicide or murder. I see suicide as murder here, because hateful and intolerant language acts as a malicious gun. To those of us who aren’t cis and/or heterosexual, Farrakhan has been an abuser and terrorist, and has performed both roles flawlessly as leader of the Nation of Islam for over 30 years.
3. “Black women, you are not the second self of man alone; you are the second self of God. And as the second self of God, any man that would disrespect a female is an enemy of God because she is the greatest gift from God to a man.”
Right before he begins tone-policing how Black women speak to one another, we learn that Farrakhan calls for ceasing of misogyny while continuing to perpetrate it. Minister, we know you’re well-educated in institutional racism and white supremacy, but you should really make an appointment with Kimberlé Crenshaw and learn about intersectionality. I know for a fact you existed in 1989, the year she created the word.
4. “There can be no freedom, no justice, no equity without the willingness of some to sacrifice for the rest. What good is life if we’re not free?… To be alive and every day that you love, you see your people suffering? … To be continued in life under tyranny? So there must come a time when we say enough is enough … and I am willing to do whatever it takes to bring about that change.”
So are you prepared to fight for Black and other POC lives that aren’t identical to yours, Mr. Farrakhan? These lives are queer, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming. These lives are disabled, mentally ill, HIV-positive, and homeless. These lives are illiterate, abused, in student debt, and unjustly imprisoned or sentenced. These lives represent survival in every aspect. Do you stand in solidarity with these lives, not just include or tolerate them? Or is a pan-African flag sewn on a denim jacket an absolute requirement for your lip service?
If your identity comes with oppression, you are not a free person. Justice or Else has already informed us that their movement, despite their recognition of Black Lives Matter, will continue with patriarchal, misogynistic, queerphobic, and transphobic nonsense.
A movement existing for protection of specific individuals and identities isn’t a movement I choose to align my ideologies and existence with. A movement that refuses to center, let alone invite, Black trans women does not deserve my voice. Louis Farrakhan will never speak or fight in the names of Mia Henderson, Blake Brockington, Sakia Gunn, or Lawrence King. He will never reference those sisters who have most recently perished from us, like Kiesha Jenkins and Zella Ziona. He has clearly stated his opposition to us and he only appears relevant when calling for a march in Washington.
To understand (and implement) social justice from a queer and feminist lens is not hard. It is only “difficult” because of your choice to accommodate and feed complacency to the ingrained status quo. Justice is important, but justice for who?