It has been nearly two weeks since Women’s March co-founder Tamika Mallory attended a “Saviour’s Day” speech by Louis Farrakhan in Chicago. CNN’s Jake Tapper highlighted some of Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic ranting at the event on Twitter. Mallory has been trying to explain her attendance without criticizing Farrakhan directly. Yesterday, she wrote a piece for NewsOne in which she claims she attends a lot of meetings that make her uncomfortable (even with the police!). Mallory says it’s just not fair to hold her responsible for the speech of others.
I didn’t expect my presence at Saviour’s Day to lead anyone to question my beliefs, especially considering that I have been going to this event regularly for over 30 years. I first went with my parents when I was just a little girl, and would begin attending on my own after my son’s father was murdered nearly 17 years ago. In that most difficult period of my life, it was the women of the Nation of Islam who supported me and I have always held them close to my heart for that reason…
Where my people are is where I must also be. I go into difficult spaces. I attend meetings with police and legislators—the very folks so much of my protest has been directed towards. I’ve partnered and sat with countless groups, activists, religious leaders and institutions over the past 20 years. I’ve worked in prisons as well as with present and former gang members.
It is impossible for me to agree with every statement or share every viewpoint of the many people who I have worked with or will work with in the future. As I do not wish to be held responsible for the words of others when my own history shows that I stand in opposition to them, I also do not think it is fair to question anyone who works with me, who supports my work and who is a member of this movement because of the ways that I may have fallen short here or in any other instance.
Let’s start with the idea that Mallory attended the Savior’s Day event because she goes “into difficult spaces.” This is a complete rewriting of very recent history. She didn’t go to that event because it was difficult (but necessary). As she admits, she has been attending this event her entire life. She enjoys it and finds comfort in it. That’s not the same as a confrontational meeting with police or legislators to bring about change. What change did Mallory bring to Savior’s Day?
If she had gone in as a speaker at the event and denounced anti-Semitism in Farrakhan’s presence, that might qualify as a difficult space. Also, if she’d done that, I suspect no one would be criticizing her attendance. But that’s not what she did.
Mallory attended and posted selfies from the event which made it look like she was having a great time. She got a shout-out from Farrakhan himself. She was honored by him, just as she has honored him previously. Last year she posted a smiling photo with Farrakhan calling him the GOAT, i.e. the greatest of all time. And when Farrakhan was criticized after the event, she defended him by claiming he had the same enemies as Jesus (i.e. the Jews). So Mallory not only tolerated Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, she seemed to share in it.
But yesterday she claimed it wasn’t fair to make her responsible for what Farrakhan had said. “I do not wish to be held responsible for the words of others,” she wrote. Well, that certainly an interesting take. Imagine someone who spent 30 years attending speeches by David Duke and seemed to enjoy David Duke and defended David Duke when he was attacked. Is that person accountable for being a Duke booster? Put another way, would the founders of the Women’s March invite that person into their midst without criticism? Would they ask that person to explain their long association with an unrepentant racist?
Jesse Singal wrote a piece yesterday for New York magazine asking why it appears to be so hard for the Women’s March co-founders to denounce Farrakhan as they surely would any other racist:
To be fair, there are definitely situations in which nuance is required to evaluated complicated, flawed figures, particularly when it comes to the leaders of bygone eras where different social mores reigned. But in this case, the subject at hand is a man who, in 2018, continues to spout murderous propaganda against a group that was, in his lifetime, almost entirely removed, via gas and bullet and starvation, from the European continent. If you’re a Jew, it’s absolutely baffling and infuriating for anyone to meet this sort of rhetoric with “Look, it’s complicated,” or “But what if our political enemies use this divide against us?”
Tamika Mallory isn’t the only co-founder of the Women’s March who is a Farrakhan fan. Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour have also associated with him and refused to criticize him directly. Maybe that’s why the Women’s March response to this has been so half-hearted.