The Million Man March has turned out to be the vehicle for a number of conflicting messages.
On one hand are the important messages of the event, billed as a "day of atonement and reconciliation" — calling for black unity in fighting for civil rights and against crime and the disintegration of African-American families.
On the other hand is the organizer of the march, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose philosophies cannot be separated from the event. As recently as last weekend, he was unable to restrain himself from calling Jews and others "bloodsuckers."
The dichotomy between the message and the messenger has placed many Jews in a precarious position. Obviously, we cannot remain silent in the face of such hateful assaults on us and others in this country. Such vitriol, we know all too well, can lead to disaster.
It is troubling that a bigot such as Farrakhan is the leader who seems able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of black men.
Certainly we wish the organizer of such a successful public demonstration could have been someone who brings people together rather than divides them. And we wish the organizer had the wisdom and foresight to talk about black self-reliance and pride without scapegoating others.
At the same time, we cannot let Farrakhan's messages of hate blind us to the pressing circumstances that brought so many black men to Washington, D.C., this week. Farrakhan may be a bigot but the critical issues facing black men — and all black people — in this country deserve our attention nonetheless.
Whether or not we choose to open our eyes to it, blacks still face inordinate discrimination in this country — in hiring, in housing, and in daily events. Blacks tend to be treated differently than whites by police. Most blacks can talk with familiarity about the indignity of being looked upon with suspicion when they walk down the street.
As American Jews who care about the dignity of all people, we care about the end to such injustices, and believe in raising our voices to fight them.
But we also believe that the quest for black empowerment need not degrade others. And we question the apparent ability of so many people to gloss over one man's bigotry in seeking justice.
When they do, all of America is demeaned.