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The Company We All Keep

Every family has an Uncle Joe. He is your mother’s third brother that no one in the family seems to like, who still gets occasionally invited to dinners and get-togethers. He rants, insults and holds a number of conspiratorial opinions about why they haven’t done well financially or why their wife left them nine years ago. Uncle Joe is tolerated for the sake of family unity and then quickly shipped off as soon as dessert is finished. Sometimes we might even challenge him if he wanders too far from your family’s sense of common decorum. When he is gone, we remind the younger sons and nephews that most of what Uncle Joe says is uninformed, even when vehemently expounded.

In our political lives, we have figures much like Uncle Joe. A few weeks back, the leadership of the Women’s March was embroiled in a controversy over their ties to Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam (NoI). Masha Gessen noted:

Two weeks ago, when Farrakhan delivered his annual address to a Nation of Islam gathering in Chicago, he gave a shout-out to Mallory, who was in the audience. Farrakhan’s speech was, as it usually is, replete with anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic invectives. When the news of Mallory’s presence at the event surfaced, she did not disavow Farrakhan’s comments. (Mallory and fellow Women’s March leader Carmen Perez have both posted pictures of themselves with Farrakhan to Instagram; in a caption, Mallory calls him “definitely the goat”—the greatest of all time.)

On TwitterInstagram, and elsewhere, Mallory continued to fumble and equivocate. She wrote that she had been attending Nation of Islam events since she was a child, and would continue to do so. She bristled at the suggestion that she was not fully committed to fighting anti-Semitism and homophobia. She certainly did not apologize.

Keith Ellison, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, has also been scrutinized for his ties with the anti-Semitic organization.

Ellison, who had defended Farrakhan against charges of anti-Semitism as a law student, publicly renounced the Nation of Islam in 2006 when he first ran for Congress, but the issue re-emerged after a CNN exploration about his decade-long involvement in the group.

After the CNN report, Ellison wrote an article for The Washington Post, saying he had failed to scrutinize the words of people such as Farrakhan when he defended him for his role in the Million Man March.

For most of us, standing opposite to the NoI takes little struggle. It doesn’t take much effort to uncover a litany of terrible ideas perpetuated by Farrakhan’s organization. The ideology professed by the group is anti-Semitic, racist, sexist, conspiratorial and totalitarian. They even have links with Scientology, which should justly earn them “most ambitious crossover event in history.” To condemn the NoI is the political equivalent of making a layup in an empty gymnasium.

Yet, I understand why it is a challenge for some in the black community. I had a friend who spent some of his formative teenage years involved in the NoI. While I was getting pulled into Marxist and socialist organizations, the clean-cut young men proselytizing for Farrakhan’s group in his neighborhood captivated him. They offered him a clear answer to why black people were second-class citizens in America and provided an existing, rooted community for him to jump into. Better yet, it made him, a young black man, the hero of an epic narrative. Just as I imagined playing a vital role in the looming proletarian uprising, he saw a great historical moment before him. We both felt we had been given a cause and meaning.

Unlike the small Marxist and anarchist groups I took part in, the NoI was an institution in my friend’s community. It was a presence in daily life and felt like a rock in a community where economic and social insecurity were widespread. When black men are killed by police, the NoI is there to demand justice. They are present in the discussions about economic injustices perpetrated against the black community.

While he left the NoI years ago and rejects the organization, its gender dynamics, and its anti-Semitism, he does note that it is hard to criticize the group when at home with family or at black community events. Everyone has a cousin or uncle involved with the organization. You hold polite conversation with these members of your community, find some common ground (the weather is always popular), and try to avoid bringing up anything that would result in a sermon from this Uncle Joe.

My friend describes joining the NoI because he “needed a mission.” Like many young men, myself included, he needed to feel part of something bigger than himself and guided by those who seemed more seasoned and wise. It is no different than the throngs of young white men who have been radicalized to fascism and the alt-right in recent years. They too felt the victims of history and looked for something to give them order and purpose. The clean-cut, “masculine” visage of fascist iconography and organizational structure is an all-too-easy sell.

Many of us tried to understand why white voters turned to Trump even if we could never support the man. Many also tried to understand the pull of radical movements like the alt-right in an attempt to process the impact said groups were having on young men. Sometimes, that attempt to understand and grasp why radical groups gain footholds in a specific community may appear to be excusing their destructive viewpoints. This is especially true when we address radicals in our own communities and family. Because they are brethren, we are willing to contemplate why they have adopted their drastic dogmas. Our proximity to the adherent also means we are less likely to condemn them unequivocally, unlike a distant community’s radicals who are easy to denounce as we accrue no social consequences for our posture.

Thus, I often dislike the calls for members of the black community to publicly condemn the NoI. Not because it isn’t necessary to confront anti-Semitism, but because it always reeks of Anglo society demanding something from African Americans that we ourselves struggle with inside our own community.

We all tolerate our own Uncle Joes, but our community’s leaders should not. Republicans have seen what can happen when they wink to the racist, totalitarian elements within their movement for the sake of unity. Eventually, those elements demand an increased role at the table and as such little effort was made to exclude them, the radical’s ideas become normalized and tolerated by the party apparatus hungry for votes and power.

It takes courage for leaders to condemn the worst elements of their community and put a distance between them. We should never give a pass to our leaders who are unwilling to address evil in their own ranks, but we should not always expect the same diligence from the average community member.

We all have to live with Uncle Joe and, since he is family, he is going to attend some dinners.


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Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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50 thoughts on “The Company We All Keep

  1. First this was an excellent post and I largely agree with the sentiments. One of the problems with tribalism is the way it blinds us to the individuality of others. Hesitancy to cast a loved one or pillar of a community as totally irredeemable is easily misconstrued as political sympathy for the most awful things they do and say.

    That said, I do think this episode illustrates the intellectual weakness of the identitarian activism thats in vogue, and how unprincipled it really is. The NoI is where identity uber alles leads, which is to something thats in practice not that different from Neo Nazis peddling insane conspiracy theories and fantasizing about race war. If Gessen was a principled person she’d see that, but alas, she isn’t.

    If we aren’t careful we’ll end up with both major political movements winking at their crazy uncles instead of just the one and we’ll be much worse for it.

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  2. The Nation of Islam strikes me as one of those things that I don’t really have the skill to calibrate myself to criticize.

    I mean, sure. Have you ever read about Yakub? That’s some fertile ground for anybody who is familiar with the flying spaghetti monster. I mean, say what you will about the Christian God, but that deity has been put through the Enlightenment Wringer a couple dozen times and came out the other side all fresh and clean and suitable to debate whilst wearing a tie and discussing Popper and Falsification Theory.

    Yakub? Oh my gosh. That’s some “Zeus turned into a swan and had sex with Leda and then turned Io into a cow” shit, right there.

    But, golly, making fun of that sort of thing feels like punching down. Like, in a weird way.

    As for the anti-Semitism, sure. It’s bad. But it’s not so bad that it doesn’t immediately lend itself to whataboutism. Is it a significantly different kind of anti-Semitism that is found in other forms of Islam? Is it significantly different than the kind you find swirling around any given BDS pamphlet table on the quad at Berkeley? If not, we’re talking about an unpleasant trait found in a lot of places but dog-piling on the one that coincidentally happens to be African-American as hell.

    “You people shouldn’t be prejudiced!” is a fun argument to have (remember Prop 8? Good times) but there’s something vaguely unseemly about it.

    It’s easy to mock the whole Nation of Islam thing with their all day rallies where people give 20 minute speeches to introduce the person giving a 30 minute speech to introduce the person giving a 45 minute speech to introduce the guy who gives a 60 minute speech to introduce Farrakhan who goes on to give a speech for 10 freakin’ minutes.

    Bean pie, my brother? Bean pie?

    But there are also neighborhoods that have been turned upside down and inside out due to crime and drugs and the Nation of Islam getting in there has turned that neighborhood around back into some semblance of order. The whole “bootstrapping” bullshit that Republicans won’t shut up about? The Nation of Islam has figured out a couple of things and they have used African-American people to train African-American people to train African-American people to turn a bad neighborhood around without handouts and without some white savior coming in. That’s the community itself doing it.

    And if you go back and listen to the speeches of Malcolm X (get the five big ones here and here) or some of the speeches of Elijah Muhammad, there’s a lot of really, really good criticism of society in there. (There’s a lot of other stuff too… but there’s also some really good criticism.)

    There’s a lot to criticize in the NOI… but when I get up to a full head of steam and start doing it, it feels miscalibrated.

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    • Like most radical movements it exists for a reason. If there wasn’t racism and slavery and Jim Crow and a whole bunch of public policy failures around race and poverty there would not be a Nation of Islam. Understanding that it’s complicated, and acknowledging that NoI has arguably done some good in a roll-up-your sleeves kind of way doesn’t mean you hop in for a photo-op with Farrakhan.

      There’s an aspect of this that I think isn’t entirely unlike Hamas or other radical Islamist movements. People on the outside can’t fathom why anyone would get in bed with those expressing these loathesome ideologies. But dig a little deeper and you find out members of those movements are the ones distributing food and arranging medical care and other things that the legitimate powers that be have failed to do. In a lot of ways I think they’re a symptom of other problems.

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            • But the act of making excuses for and defending the NoI is, in and of itself, a corrosive sort of compromise.

              If Sarsour et al were more willing to explicitly invoke the comparison that did in his piece, maybe I’d feel somewhat differently than this. “Oh, yes, they’re virulently anti-semitic but they did a lot of material good in the community,” is the sort of compromise that doesn’t end up providing a lot of camouflage for other bad actors.

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              • I have a thousand groups and individuals that I would like to spend time criticizing.

                Ten thousand.

                You want me to criticize the NoI for being sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic? Sure. Done.

                All that stuff is bad.

                But I ain’t gonna help the people they’re helping. Not beyond paying my taxes.

                Are you?

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                • You want me to criticize the NoI for being sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic? Sure. Done.

                  OK. And I expect the same from anyone who has ambitions or pretensions towards being a political movement that I support.

                  Because there are ten thousand groups I could spend time criticizing, but there are also ten thousand groups I could spend time supporting. So I’ll take the ones that don’t have room for people who think I’m part of a bizarre satanic conspiracy.

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                  • Dude! Read about Yakub! You won’t *BELIEVE* what the NoI says about me and mine!

                    That said, I think that the Nation of Islam has actually helped people and actually helped communities that have been ignored, marginalized, etc by people who were a hell of a lot more privileged than the NoI.

                    I’m not surprised that the people who were actually helped by the Nation of Islam aren’t willing to jump when other people yell “homophobia!” or “sexism!” or “anti-Semitism!”

                    The privileged people will find a new fashion soon enough. The people who were actually helped by the Nation of Islam will still be back where they were and the Nation of Islam will still be there on the corner selling those silly bean pies.

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                    • I’m just gonna say that I think it’s a little different when you’re part of a tiny minority, and that minority was largely exterminated on a whole continent within living memory on account of similar slanders.

                      Not that the Yakub stuff isn’t wildly offensive.

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        • My preference is that we reject things on the merits of the thing being rejected rather than rely on guilt by association and more meta issues. I do think though that the inability to address and distinguish oneself from the noxious ideologies of… we’ll call them fellow travelers, may say some things about the strength of one’s particular philosophy.

          And to be clear, I don’t think the Gessens and people with her world view are guilty of the same isms the NoI is. Rather I think their apparent inability to address something like NoI shows how shallow and stupid the whole identitarian intersectionality thing is when followed to the logical conclusion that activists seem to want.

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          • The way it’s being tackled now seems like tribalism vs. tribalism, though.

            I’ll pick the tribe that I find myself most aligned with in general. The educated one, the one that has read the same books that I’ve read, the one that knows the same cultural references that I know.

            But when you see yourself doing that sort of thing, it’s kind of difficult to criticize other people doing the same thing on the other side.

            Difficult for me, anyway. My heart just isn’t in it.

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        • One of the bigger myths about the leaders of the Women’s March (on Jan 21, 2017) was that they were leaders. They were, in fact, organizers and managers (which was still an invaluable and entirely necessary contribution)

          The people that showed up to the Women’s March were overwhelming bougie and mostly already loosely affilitated with each other through pre-election social networking sites. (particularly that one in the news)

          The radicals, the dismantle the system types, the literal bomb throwers – they showed up in the afternoon of the previous day, a few hours after the actual inauguration. (where they did everything from punch Richard Spencer to torch some Pakistani immigrant’s limo)

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      • They basically act as the old political machines like Tammany Hall did but with a lot of ideological wackiness in addition to the welfare. Tammany Hall was a very shady organization but it did a lot of good to the people who voted for its candidates. It provided them with relatively prosperous civil service jobs, food, and shelter. In an era without a welfare state and hard-fisted Protestant charities, they were really the only reliable source of help for people in real economic distress. Nation of Islam is similar but you have all that wackiness and anti-Semitism put in to.

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  3. Excellent post, this coming from the guy who struggles to not be the Uncle Joe (lots of liberals in my family, and I’m the crazy libertarian).

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  4. My reaction is sort of the opposite of what seems to be the emerging consensus, which is actually, “Hey, no, fuck the NoI, they’re an actual fucking hate group and they deserve to be treated as such.”

    To be clear, this is exactly the way I react to the alt-right, white nationalists, and the like, who I feel are fundamentally scum and I have precisely zero interest in indulging their rationales for being scum.

    I’m pretty committed to harshly judging anti-semites and I’m not going to stop just because some members of Team Blue have a hard time treating Farrakhan and his followers with the same brutal, dismissive, and completely deserved contempt that they direct towards, say, Richard Spencer and his followers. It’s also not like you don’t find awfulness beyond the anti-semitism, since you get sexism, really virulent homophobia and transphobia, and bizarre racial pseudoscience, too [1].

    A lot of this is backfiring whataboutism, where I saw a lot of people were trying to excuse the Farrakhan and the NoI with, “What about Steve Bannon/Donald Trump/whothehellever?” and my reaction to those figures has never exactly been to suggest that they’re anything other than absolutely terrible.

    [1] Look, I’m ambivalent about the “racism = power + privilege” formulation that is popular on the Left, but inverting the racial hierarchy of white supremacy still leads you with horrible, idiotic bigotry, even if it’s divorced from the power structures that would give it real teeth.

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    • I hear you, and I recognize that this is an odd argument for me to make considering my background. I first got into blogging in 2004/2005 to criticise the ways totalitarian leftwing groups were operating in existing political movements. I said at the time that it was a duty of mainstream antiwar/left wing orgs to disassociate themselves from groups like the RCP and not make excuses for militants like Hamas. I write for Harry’s Place which has made a name for itself for calling out those types of tendencies on the left in British politics. (Many commentators are discussing the Corbyn/antisemitism stuff right now, arguing Corbyn has not done enough to address the problem. I happen to think Corbyn is moving in the right direction and saying the right things, but that is another discussion).

      And while it is what-about-ism, I think the black community does have ground to stand on when they are asked to attack NoI while alt-right figures and ideas go without mention in conservative white society. Obviously, there will be those that say you must reject all these forces equally, which is a position I can get behind. I simply think that an understanding of why these groups/figures/ideas gain traction gets lost in a politics of constant condemnation without reflection.

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      • And while it is what-about-ism, I think the black community does have ground to stand on when they are asked to attack NoI while alt-right figures and ideas go without mention in conservative white society.

        I’m really torn about this, because on the one hand, they are right that it does get a pass, but on the other hand the fact that it does get a pass is something that I complain about all the fucking time, since I’m white, but not anything like a conservative.

        Of course, I’m also Jewish, and feel like a coalition with room for the likes of Farrakhan is a coalition without room for the likes of me.

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    • I don’t want to misread the OP but I think there are seperate questions. How to treat the group itself might be different than how to treat those who mostly reject the ideology but have personal connections or appreciate certain things the group does.

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      • Maybe, but so many of the excuses seem to be deliberately framed to avoid clearly stating that they do reject the ideology.

        One of the reasons I don’t have a particularly strong objection to Keith Ellison based on his past ties to the NoI is that he’s been quite clear that he thinks they are anti-semitic. You may not find his story that he never realized that in 2006 to be remotely credible, but if he’s being hypocritical, he’s being hypocritical in a way that acknowledges the correct position implicitly.

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        • No disagreement there. I just don’t think most of the marchers/mainstream apologists are guilty of the same craziness, anti-semitism, etc. as NoI. Maybe I’m being too charitable but I see them as naive and almost laughably poorly informed about the political landscape and who they’re breaking bread with. It’s getting into the Onion territory.

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        • Yep. And it’s not like it’s that hard to reject their beliefs in a contextualized way. Anytime someone brings up the NoI around me, I tend to fall back on “Well, Malcolm X left the NoI when he realized they were letting the harm they suffered poison how they thought about other people and make them hateful. It’s pretty clear that hasn’t changed.”
          Sometimes the person asks what I mean, sometimes they are familiar with that fact and they argue with me about the NoI, but whichever, it brings up the issue in a way that makes it pretty clear I probably understand the history. And then all my points about Farrakhan’s anti-semitism, transphobia, etc fall on open-er ears then back when I used to just start ranting at the mention of his name… still kinda my gut reaction….

          (I say this not to brag, but to illustrate how *simple* it is to contextualize one’s objection.)

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    • I’m with you too, but I also agree with Jaybird’s point.

      There’s no easy way to get around that Farrakhan has a huge and longstanding presence in the African American community. Especially among many men in that late Boomer/Xer generational cohort, who were young kids or not even born yet when King, X, et al were assassinated – and conditions (at best) stagnated for nearly another twenty years.

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  5. Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex points out that the modern misogynists spread their message because the provide convincing sounding explanations on on why some young men really struggle with dating. These explanations are totally false but they sound right. The Nation of Islam provides a similar function for African-American. Their explanation like that of the misogynists, well as Jaybird points out above they are really more batty, but they sound really convincing to people wondering about things.

    The Nation of Islam is really fascinating from the historical perspective. According to Wikipedia, the FBI was never able to really figure out who Wallace Fard Muhammad was or where did he come from. They don’t even know if he was a light skinned African-American, white, or the son of an Indian man and a white woman from New Zealand. He could have been born in the United States in Oregon or abroad. The beliefs of the NoI are so out there, that you really don’t know how anybody came up with them.

    That being said, I’m a Jew and I can not abide by the anti-Semitic nuttery of the Nation of Islam. There is too much tolerance for anti-Semitism among people of color in liberal and progressive circles. Its easy to get them agitated about white, rightists anti-Semites but when it comes from a protected class, it gets a pass.

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  6. I don’t know if every family as an Uncle Joe. That is irrelevant though. There is also a lot of pushback on the left to the number of “Let’s try and understand Trump voter” pieces that occur in the media. Especially in the media that is generally considered center-left. The NY Times got a huge amount of pushback for their article on the Nazi guy from Ohio who loved Panera and Seinfeld. I admit to be sympathetic to this view but also this is the current fault line in lefty politics going forward.

    My view is that Trump’s freak victory was not because of economic stress but because he spoke like a pure, unbridled, and cruel racist, sexist, anti-Semite, Xenophobe, mocked of the disabled, etc. He is the guy that said the quiet parts loud and continues to do so. He is Uncle Joe on steroids and with the power to do things. I don’t get people who continue to insist that Trump is some sort of heterodox Republican and/or secret political genius constantly disabling the Libs with jabs and punches. His victory was even more of a technicality than the 2000 election.

    I agree that the Nation of Islam has probably done a lot for communities that were generally ignored but Farakahn is still a homophobe, sexist, and anti-Semite prone to inflamed rhetoric. I don’t support it in Trump and I don’t support it in Farakahn. I also don’t think that economic anxiety caused people to vote for Trump except to the extent they are anxious about sharing with people of color. Poll after poll shows that the average Trump vote had a much higher income than the average Hillary voter.

    I find it interesting that so many people buy into the whole “liberal coastal elitist” meme even if they should and do know better.

    Trump is now the Republican Party and he got control by saying the quiet parts loud after years of dog whistles. Even alleged anti-Trumpers are admitting defeat or simply trying to say that they are more Trump than Trump.

    Meanwhile, the Democratic backed candidate just won a seat to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. This hasn’t happened since 1995 and her victory was a rout.

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    • I agree that the Nation of Islam has probably done a lot for communities that were generally ignored but Farakahn is still a homophobe, sexist, and anti-Semite prone to inflamed rhetoric.

      If the privileged folks want those communities to put a higher emphasis on homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism, I think the privileged folks have to actually accomplish stuff on a level that the NoI actually accomplished for those communities and then, from there, tackle the homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism.

      There’s a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs thing going on here and the NoI is addressing something at a lower level.

      I suppose we should have the argument over whether these communities should care more about homophobia and sexism and anti-Semitism than the stuff that the NoI is actually accomplishing for them (perhaps we could explain to them that they’re being ignorant?) but that’s a “should” argument instead of an “is” argument.

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    • My view is that Trump’s freak victory was not because of economic stress but because he spoke like a pure, unbridled, and cruel racist, sexist, anti-Semite, Xenophobe, mocked of the disabled, etc. He is the guy that said the quiet parts loud and continues to do so.

      Trump definitely got the racist vote. I assume every one of the nation’s Nazis voted for him, but we have only 500 Nazis and we have millions of Obama voters who voted Trump.

      Obama won saying something about making America post-racial, maybe he succeeded more than he thought. Maybe post-racial doesn’t mean “liberals win and everyone is equal”, nor “no one is an ass****”. Maybe post-racial means less viewing of everything through the lens of race and racism, not more.

      Uncle Joe is more than a little crazy, but on the whole that part of him is harmless (the body count holds steady at zero). Uncle Joe also has decades of success in his field, maybe having my kid do an internship with him is a good idea.

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  7. There are also a lot of interesting and complicated tensions between the Jewish and African-American communities that can take a PhD thesis and several books to explain.

    Broadly, both groups have long histories of prosecution. There were always a lot of Jewish leaders who were sympathetic to the African-American civil rights movement. Rabbi Stephen Wise was a founding member of the NAACP. A lot of Jewish leaders financially backed Martin Luther King Jr. from very early on in the 1950s.

    But the big difference is that Jews often came to the United States to flee prosecution and many Blacks were brought here against their will and the badges and incidents of slavery still haunt the African-American community. On the other hand, Jewish-Americans are generally better educated, wealthier, and more prosperous than the average American family. A lot of Jewish inner-city slums became black neighborhoods when the Jews left for better climes. This came a head in the late 1960s with the Brownsville Teacher strike. Brownsville was a neighborhood in Brooklyn that went from being poor and Jewish to poor and Black. However, a lot of the teachers in the public schools were still Jewish. There was a movement at the time to give neighborhoods more control of local schools generally. This resulted in the summary dismissal of a lot of Jewish teachers which led to a strike which led to racial tension.

    A woman I know from college is African-American and talks sincerely and deeply about the connections and similarities between Jews and African-Americans. Others would say no such connections exist because they see Jews as being wealthy and white generally.

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    • My hometown — Teaneck, NJ — has a large Black population (27% per the 2010 census) and a large Jewish population (40% per a NYT article from 2010… so that number is likely higher at this point based on demographic trends and my own observations). This includes all sorts of sects, ranging from very Orthodox Hasidic Jews to the largely secular, reformed Jews I grew up with. The total white population is about 53%.

      Throughout it’s history, the town has been a bit of a beacon for diversity, demonstrating both the promise of a truly diverse, multicultural community and the difficulties that can arise. The community has been at its strongest when the two largest groups by population — Jews and Blacks — found common ground and partnered. And some of the most difficult moments were when this partnership broke down (often because of outside forces/groups actively working to pit them against one another, though not always).

      There are many books written about the town or in which the town/community members play a key role. Might be worth looking into, , or possibly even visiting next time you’re home. I don’t know exactly where you hail from but I can’t imagine it being too far a drive.

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  8. My feelings on this are pretty simple and Coates I think had it perfectly:

    “It was said that the Americans who’d supported Trump were victims of liberal condescension. The word racist would be dismissed as a profane slur put upon the common man, as opposed to an accurate description of actual men. “We simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters,” David Brooks would write in The New York Times. “If you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.” This strikes me as perfectly logical. Indeed, it could apply just as well to Louis Farrakhan’s appeal to the black poor and working class. But whereas the followers of an Islamophobic white nationalist enjoy the sympathy that must always greet the salt of the earth, the followers of an anti-Semitic black nationalist endure the scorn that must ever greet the children of the enslaved.”

    I certainly am not going to associate with NOI…but I’m not going to pearl clutch about it while the white supremacists run this nation.

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    • Whereas this is exactly the sort of response that really rustles my jimmies.

      I detest David Brooks for quite a few reasons, but one of the most important is that kind of gross excuse making. I really don’t see why I should be expected to tolerate that kind of shit from Farrakhan supporters because dipshit pundits I loathe tolerate it from Trump supporters.

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      • It seems as though you didn’t quite realize that in the comment you replied to, FR was quoting Coates, who was quoting Brooks, and I don’t think either Coates or FR was offering approval of Brooks.

        But maybe I didn’t understand?

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        • No, I don’t think either or Coates was offering approval of Brooks at all.

          But I think Coates was constructing a really quite annoying strawman argument that was based on the assumption that people who are irked at Farrakhan and his apologists approve of Brooks.

          Brooks sucks.

          I want to see less of that kind of suckiness, not more.

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    • Well, Jews are generally part of the anti-Trump coalition in the United States and the willingness to look the other type of way when it comes to some Jew haters like Farrakhan or refuse to pearl clutch about NOI as you put it comes across as betrayal like us. To the right you have Alt-Right yahoos with Ulster cowlick haircuts screaming “the Jews will not replace us” while waiving about tiki torches and to the left you have Farrakhan and company calling we Jews the whitest most colonial, capitalist people of them all. Its like being stuck between two idiot armies bent on genocidal elimination. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t oppose anti-Semitism from white men and say “hey Jews, we have your back” but look and yawn when anti-Semitism comes from people of color and say “you have to understand.”

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      • I’m not suggesting that I like the NOI’s anti-semitism or their broader ideology. I’d like it go to away and I would like as suspect to somebody who supports it.

        That said, the bothsiderism here is lunacy – on the left, you have a fringe group of black muslims who don’t like Jews and who have essentially no power in American politics. On the other hand, you have an increasingly organized white, alt-right movement who had people that support its ideology in the white house.

        That’s my point. Context does in fact matter and having ACTUAL power is a meaningful distinction in commentary. That said, feel free to question anybody that supports the NOI or who affiliates with them – but like, shrugs, like, this is the real fight I want to pick on, a relatively powerless group of crazy people?

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    • I loathe explaining and defending Trump voters but as a Jewish person I also can’t defend soft-peddle left-wing anti-Semitism either.

      This puts Jews stuck in the middle. The Trunpists hate us and see us as note white. Some sections of the left just see us as white and are willing to soft-peddle or even defend anti-Semitism.

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  9. Great piece. I kept having thoughts like, “OH BUT…!” and then you’d address those. More than anything, this piece represents a remarkable degree of empathy and both a desire and ability to understand others. Bravo.

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  10. One of the really frustrating things about the entire Intersectionality thing is that liberals and progressives seem to have a lot more tolerance for the more radical identity politics organizations from groups they like than Jewish ones. Its the entire radical chick idea. The Black Panthers, Nation of Islam, the further left parts of the LGBT liberation movement that wanted to smash heteronormity, radical feminists, etc. They all get love or at least understanding to one extent or the other. They are seen as with it, doing important work.

    Jewish identity politics groups and activists do not get the same love or respect. By this I mean the Zionists. When Zionism emerged in the late 19th century, Jews were undergoing intense persecution. They came up with what was on paper a reasonable solution to the problem. They determined that we Jews are subject to persecution because we lack a state to defend us and the only solution to prevent a Jewish slaughter was for the Jewish people to achieve sovereignty. Most people on the Left see Zionism as white racist settler colonialist movement rather than an act of Jewish self-determination.

    On a more individual level, look at how Menachem Begin is treated compared to Malcolm X. Menachem Begin like Malcolm X underwent some very radicalizing experiences. His family was killed by the Nazis, he was imprisoned in a gulag by the Soviets as an agent of British imperialism, and the British wanted to arrest him for what would be seen as national liberal activism in any other group. Yet, because he is a Jew he wasn’t supposed to get radicalized in a Jewish nationalist way but become I guess some sort of Communist activist that doesn’t care about Jews according to Leftist opinion. Meanwhile, somebody like Malcolm X has his radicalism romanticized.

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    • You’re not wrong but I think it’s also important to realize/remember that Malcolm X had a watershed moment near the end of his life, which turned him specifically against bigotry as un-Islamic (oh, if only ISIS could do the same…), and he rejected Farrakhan. I know a lot of the romanticizers *don’t* remember that, but when looking at someone’s legacy, I think it’s important to acknowledge when they themselves realized what was broken about their prior beliefs.

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        • Good point, and I agree. (I also don’t villify Menachem Begin, or Zionists generally, particularly those of previous centuries.)

          What I have found is that the intersectional left either detests or sanctifies Israel, rather than being fully on the detest-all-Zionists creepy anti-semitic side of that divide. Among the people I *know*, there seems to be little room for “I support Israel but …” (or “I can’t accept what the Israeli state is doing to Palestinians, but…” for that matter.) I’ve certainly seen plenty of examples of disgusting anti-semitism dressed up as support for Palestine, as if they were indistinguishable. I’ve also seen (among people who proudly declare themselves intersectional) naked anti-Arab prejudice dressed up as support for Israel.

          The consensus loud-voice-viral narrative around the subject on the left definitely has solidified toward the anti-semitic part of that divide though. It’s exceptionally disconcerting, and I can only imagine that for a Jewish person it’s a million times worse.

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          • My general finding of the Intersectional Left is that they seem to see Jews at best as a weird kind of white folks and have a hard time placing us in their cosmology, so they do their best to ignore us. When they don’t, it is usually to our detriment. The Dyke March incident from 2017 in Chicago, where Jewish groups were told not to bring anything with the Star of David because it is a white colonialist symbol or something, is a really good example of this. The inability of the Women’s March to distance themselves from Farrakhan and Linda Sarsour’s passive-aggressive attitudes towards Jews in her movement.

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            • I remember that incident and it was really stupid. I may know more people who identify as both Jewish and intersectional than you do? I also know a lot of people who are just generally very pro-Israel for a variety of reasons, regardless of their own ethnicity, and fold that into their intersectionality as well.

              Which would account for me seeing things as more balanced…. albeit with a gaping hole in the middle.

              If all I knew about the intersectional left was the crud that goes viral, I would see things exactly the way that you do.

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  11. I have no qualms about joining together with people of views differing from my own.
    In fact, I quite expect others’ views to be different.
    As far as our goals are aligned, let our efforts be aligned.
    When the time comes, let us depart company in peace.

    I believe the second sentence here is the intolerable part.
    I don’t have perfect people around me to talk to, so I have to make due with what I have.
    That is incredibly impolitic.

    Odd, that.
    I seem to remember William James and pragmatism being something of the forerunner for some type of political movement.
    Imperfect, the lot of them.

    Also, Geo. Washington, a plantation owner in Virginia, owned slaves.
    We must immediately send the Queen a note forfeiting the Revolution.
    We’ll worry about apologizing for our conduct in the War of 1812 later.

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  12. Great post, . And great commenting, . Jaybird has already said most of the things that I wanted to say after reading the OP.

    The thing that I do want to say is that it sort of misses the point to spend too much time debating the acceptability of the NOI when the whole point of the NOI is to purposefully eschew mainstream acceptability. That is Farrakhan’s message, as it was Malcolm X’s before he left, as it was Elijah Muhammed’s message. The NOI is never going to be part of the acceptable mainstream left. If they ever moved in that direction, some splinter group would split off and reconstitute itself as a radical movement. And that’s exactly how the present NOI came into being. Farrakhan rebuilt the NOI after Elijah Muhammed’s son rejected his father’s black supremacy doctrine and essentially disbanded the group, pushing its followers towards orthodox Sunni Islam.

    The whole point of the NOI is to say to black people that it is better and more effective to foster independence and self-reliance within your own communities than it is to seek white acceptance. It should be pretty obvious why that message will always be equally an anathema in both mainstream right and left political circles. But that’s what the message is. It ain’t going to change. And if Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory want to stand close enough to Farrakhan to take some of his heat, then they’re likely doing it because that’s exactly what they want to do. It’s not because they have failed to think this through the way that you, or anybody else, want them to. Accept that. Or don’t. Generally, people spend way too much time debating mainstream acceptability and respectability. And I say all of this as someone who is not a huge fan of the NOI and doesn’t really spend any time at all thinking about Sarsour and Mallory and the Women’s March.

    In a nation of 330 million people, one of the best things that you can do for your mental health is just to accept the fact that a few million of those people believe various things that you find abhorrent.

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    • Thank you.

      (For what it’s worth, I wrote, then deleted, then re-wrote, then deleted some more comments about unintended consequences that follow from successful full marginalization of the NOI. Couldn’t get the phrasing right.)

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