Imagine that a major white entertainer had died and that at his funeral, a huge affair, a white nationalist figure had been given a seat of honor in the same row as political and cultural celebrities. You would assume that some of the other mourners might have balked and the media would have gone to town with the story. But nothing like that happened when the anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan took his seat of honor at the funeral of Aretha Franklin.
Farrakhan is an obsessive anti-Semite. He sees Jews lurking everywhere he goes, responsible, as he recently said, “for all this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men,” seasoning, as usual, his anti-Semitism with rank homophobia. At that same event — the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day program in Chicago — he called Jews “the mother and father of apartheid,” which slandered the disproportionate number of Jews who were active in the American and South African civil rights movements, some of whom lost their lives in the struggle.
Nevertheless, silence. Not a whisper of protest that I could find. Farrakhan’s neighbors on the stage at Franklin’s funeral did not bolt and demand to know what that bigot was doing there. Nothing from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Nothing, too, from former president Bill Clinton. And nothing, really, from an American media that would have been all over the appearance of a white racist at a similar event.
I am well aware of Farrakhan’s service to the black community and that he and Franklin had a personal relationship. I am well aware, too, that others — including several organizers of last year’s Women’s March — also have supported Farrakhan at times, as if the good he has done eradicates his bigotry. (In an odd way, Farrakhan is a victim of the racism he both espouses and fights. He has to know that few people view him positively — some because he’s a bigot, but some, alas, because he’s black.)
But those who defend Farrakhan and the people who shared the stage with him at Franklin’s funeral act as if victims cannot be oppressors. This is simply not the case.