I would like to reiterate that I and the other student leaders who created the petition about hosting Louis Farrakhan at UC Berkeley “completely support the annual Afrikan Black Coalition Conference as an indispensable contribution to the empowerment of black students across the state of California.” The BSU had the First Amendment right to bring Farrakhan to campus. Farrakhan had the First Amendment right to speak in Wheeler Auditorium. However, I and other student leaders have the First Amendment right to protest the ideology of Farrakhan while expressing the impact he has had on our campus communities. Although Farrakhan brings much-needed empowerment to students, empowerment at the expense of other communities perpetuates a dangerous cycle.
Those who signed and created the petition “respect the right to self-determination of the BSU and would never ask to dictate which speakers the group brings to campus.” In no way was the goal of the petition to force the BSU to change its mind. The autonomy of student groups rests at the core of diversity, and the petition never asks the BSU to alter its choices. If the BSU had decided that it would like to change speakers because of the impact that we pointed out in our petition, then that would be their choice to make. Farrakhan addressed those concerned with his presence on Saturday and said that he had a word for students who “arrogantly thought that they could frighten this generation.”
When addressing those concerned Berkeley students, Farrakhan asked, “are you still in the mold and the mind of a slave master that you think we should bow down to you and you tell us who you should listen to?” Although the petition explicitly respects the self-determination and First Amendment right of the BSU in bringing Farrakhan, this kind of rhetoric that compares other students to slave masters transcends controversial and is absolutely hateful and unconstructive. Continuing with his analogy, he expresses that such concern is the “mentality of the slave masters who owned us.”
Farrakhan continued to devote significant segments of his speech to the Jewish people. Claiming that Jews control the media, Farrakhan asserted that “they’re the publishers, they’re the writers, so if you want to be well spoken of then be a lackey” and said that since “you have a lot of influence on the government, you can bring the government against me too.” Mocking an Asian accent, Farrakhan asked the audience, “can you imagine Ching Lee Joong with a picket sign?” Louis Farrakhan’s fresh accusations and hateful rhetoric from this Saturday add to the past remarks that contribute to his infamous and vile character.
Most frightening was that during his speech, Farrakhan expressed his avid support for the book entitled “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews” and sold copies inside Wheeler Auditorium. The book proposes that Jews disproportionately contributed to the slave trade. New York Times writer Henry Gates labeled the book as “the bible of the new anti-Semitism” and said that “it suggests a doctrine of racial continuity” where Jews inherently bring down the black community. The Anti-Defamation League has stated that “it assaults the integrity of the Jewish religion, the meaning of Jewish history, and the foundations of Jewish scholarship upon which the book’s own fraudulent charges are based.”
Although already stated in the petition, I will insert a few especially offensive quotes that illuminate Louis Farrakhan’s past and ideology:
In reference to the LGBT community, Farrakhan declares, “God don’t like men coming to men with lust in their hearts like you should go to a female. If you think that the kingdom of God is going to be filled up with that kind of degenerate crap, you’re out of your damn mind.” Referring to Jewish people, Farrakhan proclaims, “The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man.” On Caucasians, he says, “White people are potential humans … they haven’t evolved yet.” Denouncing the revolution of the Libyan people, Farrakhan explains, “I know something of the good of Moammar Gadhafi that made me to love him as a brother.”
Louis Farrakhan’s speech lasted just two hours, but its messages outlast that isolated moment. UC students who purchased “The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews” have now been taught a message of hate. When Farrakhan compared concerned students to slave masters, that message will also be perpetuated and inhibit the building of relationships. His past discriminatory statements about the LGBT community and countless other minority communities creeps onto this campus with his mere presence. It must be noted that Farrakhan did promote empowerment during his speech in Wheeler Auditorium, but it was a breed of empowerment rooted in hatred.
Still, even with Farrakhan’s discriminatory words Saturday morning, the BSU had every right to bring Farrakhan to this campus. Autonomy is crucial for student organizations, and it is up to each student group to decide how much the pain of other communities matters in its decision-making.
Noah Ickowitz is an ASUC senator.