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Did The Million Family March Fulfill Its Promise?


Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Five years ago the Million Man March firmly established Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as black America's most powerful and influential black leader. Yet many whites and Jews continued to revile him as an anti-Semite, racist and hate monger. It was a short step from branding him as a bigot to painting blacks with the same broad brush. This gave many conservatives yet another excuse to further ravage affirmative action and social programs. Farrakhan hoped that the Million Family March would change that. The MFM was a deliberate effort to prove that he is not the race baiter that he's tagged. Despite the troubling misstep of publicly embracing the autocratic and much scorned Revered Sun Myung Moon and his sect, Farrakhan got generally high marks for sticking close to the MFM's themes of family values, and racial and religious inclusion. But this won't be enough to soften the profound disdain the legion of Farrakhan's hard-core detractors have for him. Farrakhan will have to mount a sustained and intense effort to convince them that he really means what he says about racial and religious healing. Then there's the problem of gender bias. The MFM's national agenda was a marvel of political enlightenment. Its stance on affirmative action, racial profiling, universal health care, criminal justice system reform and political empowerment looked like a tract from Ralph Nader's Green Party platform. But there was a glaring blindpsot on family values. It frowned on any departure from the Christian fundamentalist depiction of the happy all-American heterosexual family. The big danger is that this tunnel vision view of the family will reinforce the fear and loathing many blacks have of non-traditional relationships. This would have disastrous public policy and health consequences in dealing with the HIV/AIDS crisis ravaging black communities. The estimate is that by the end of 2000 African-Americans will comprise nearly half of the new AIDS cases in America. Still, many blacks are deluded by the myth that HIV/AIDS is mainly a gay problem. This deepens the hush of silence about the disease among many blacks and stymies efforts to launch a crash effort for effective treatment and prevention programs. Also, the crisis issues that hammer black communities and drove thousands of black men and women to the Million Man March are still just as compelling. The obscene racial disparities in the prison and criminal justice system, the demise of affirmative action, the ravishing cuts in social programs, the escalation of racially-motivated hate crimes, failed public schools, the still astronomical unemployment among young blacks, and family break-up have taken a big toll on the black poor. The blacks who have turned to guns, crime, and drugs out of desolation, glamour, or the lure of quick riches are the predators who spread fear and terror in many black communities. They were the ones who most needed to be at the Million Man March. And they weren't at the the Million Family March either.

Despite much talk about family values, the MFM ignored the crisis of poor black women. Young black females are more likely to die from homicide than any other single cause of death. They are ten times more likely to be raped. They are seven times more likely to be jailed than white women. For the first time in American history black women in some states are being imprisoned at nearly the same rate as white men

They are also more likely to be single mothers with dependent children, and locked in a chronic welfare cycle. With the draconian state and federal welfare cuts, they are more likely to be bounced from the welfare rolls and tossed in the streets with children to take care of and no money, man, or societal support to help them The Million Family March did not map out a plan to improve local communities. This was the fatal flaw of the Million Man March. Apart from a scattering of local Million Man March committees, it established no permanent local structures to sustain voter registration drives, create more businesses, fight the roll-back of affirmative action, challenge the gaping racial disparities in the prison and criminal justice system and mount campaigns against drugs and gang violence.

Many blacks treated the Million Man March like a rock concert or revival. They enjoyed the show, patted and hugged themselves, called it a symbol of black male power, and then went home and did nothing. If the throngs that flocked to the MFM make that same mistake the Million Family March will be chalked up as just another Farrakhan spectacular that made no lasting impact on the family, failed to promote racial healing, and did not elevate him from black America's leader to America's leader. The MFM like the Million Man March promised great change, the watch is on to see if it fulfills it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. email:ehutchi344@aol.com

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