Earlier this month, thousands of people of African descent converged on Downtown D.C. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. The event, themed “Justice or Else!” attracted black men, women, and children from across the country eager to take the fight against police brutality and systemic racism to the next level.
The hype around the mass rally, however, didn’t prove enough to convince some young people to support the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Nation of Islam (NOI) on October 10. Those who stayed home did so out of disdain for the NOI’s views on women and homosexuality, and skepticism about the event’s effectiveness.
“Min. Farrakhan is indoctrinating people who are looking up to him [when he says] homosexuals are not sane and he calls them swine,” entry level professional and local activist Maronel Stewart told AllEyesOnDC, referring to YouTube videos of speeches she watched. “That could be a hindrance to our brothers and sisters opening up to members of the LGBTQ community.”
The decision to sit out of “Justice or Else!” didn’t come quickly for Stewart, who initially planned to participate with her boyfriend as an act of black resistance. But as she learned more about Min. Farrakhan’s take on issues related to black women and gay rights, attending the march in solidarity with her brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community seemed like a conflict of interest.
So she forwent the march, choosing instead to deep condition her hair and eat breakfast in her pajamas while watching re-runs of The Simpsons. In a Facebook post earlier that week, Stewart railed against those who overlooked what she described as Min. Farrakhan’s misogyny and homophobia for the “bigger picture.”
“How could you claim that you support the black community when you ignore the disrespect of women and LGBTQ people in our community for the ‘sake of the movement’? There’s no room for hate.” Stewart, 22, said.
“In one of Farrakhan’s speeches, he said professional women were failures and they couldn’t be happy without men,” she said. “In another he implied women need to be dressed a certain way to be respected. These are ideas that shouldn’t be promoted by a leader in the black community. He has a responsibility to be inclusive and respectful of black women and LBGTQ people. That’s just something I didn’t see from him.”
Stewart’s sentiments echoed that of some Millennials who felt conflicted about “Justice or Else!” but attended anyway out of an obligation to support Min. Farrakhan and NOI. However, for some who made that choice, parts of his more than 3-hour speech didn’t sit well.
While Aaron Goggans, campaign coordinator at the DC Employment Justice Center, said he enjoyed seeing the exchange of black dollars on the National Mall, he took to social media to criticize Min. Farrakhan’s call for women to “sacrifice themselves for their offspring because they’re genetically programmed to do so.“ He, too, noticed a seemingly blatant disregard for black women’s control over their bodies.
Popular blogger TheNewAfrican also grappled with her decision to attend the march, saying it showed her that much work remains to be done to address the complexity of blackness she said elders often gloss over. In her Tumblr post, titled “Reflections on the Million Man March,” she too criticized Farrakhan’s diatribe against abortion and called on members of the black community to unlearn oppressive behavior that hinders the present-day movement.
In the weeks leading up to the march, NOI, along with other organizations, rallied support among black women during panel discussions at Galbraith A.M.E. Zion Church in Northwest and Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast. Even there, the organization’s conservative messages often clashed with those that resonate with young black women.
Tia Dolet, president of the Black Graduate Student Association at University of Maryland, College Park, faced a similar dilemma when she attended campus forums about the state of the black male population. She said that when it came to matters of academic achievement, some panelists placed blame on the young women, telling them to help their brothers more.
Fatigued of male-centered dialogue that didn’t acknowledge women’s significant role in today’s movement, Dolet decided to sit out of “Justice or Else!” She mulled over her choice with her fellow executive members, many of whom were either black women or members of the LBGTQ community. She later recounted reading criticisms of Min. Farrakhan’s speech on social media and hearing the stories of friends leaving in the droves.
“It’s always about attending these mass gatherings but never about protecting our issues,” Dolet told AllEyesOnDC. “I get upset when you try to get people to rally after something happens to a black woman and they don’t show up. We put our gender on the back burner and are starting to understand that it has to be addressed. I feel some type of way when black male leaders ignore us and place blame on us for whatever reason.”
Like Stewart, Dolet remained resolute in articulating her point of view among those sympathetic to Min. Farrakhan’s cause. She said productive dialogue came out of that, with some young black men understanding the importance of intersectionality, defined as the crossing of different forms of oppression.
“A few black men have been receptive to the idea of inclusiveness and intersections,” she said. “We have to make sure that everyone gets a hashtag. It starts with a conversation and looking at the dynamics to understand why we march for some and not for others. There are gender issues in the black community.”
Even with a post-march meeting, outline of demands, and a call to boycott corporations during the holiday season, some Millennials who didn’t attend the march see little value in asking the oppressor for justice.
Bowie State University student Amadu Jalloh, suspicious of the NOI’s involvement in the assassination of famed member Malcolm X, said attending “Justice or Else!” would have went against everything the late activist represented. Against his friends’ wishes, he worked on the day of the march, criticizing NOI’s inclusion of other oppressed others he said have seen relatively more progress.
“We can never be in our space because we need the approval and validation of other races. That’s one thing I’ve noticed,” Jalloh told AllEyesOnDC. “We need to focus on ourselves. Those other groups are treated as humans, but we’re not. This was a big social meeting, not a rally for justice. I would have liked to see more black unity. If it’s a march about inequality, then it should have been us. It’s very important to see ourselves in this struggle.”