Louis Farrakhan and Afrocentricity Essay

Louis Farrakhan was born May 11, 1933, in The Bronx, N.Y. At the time of his birth, his given name was Louis Eugene Walcott (known as Gene). Farrakhan was raised by his mother in Roxbury, Mass. in a high disciplined and highly spiritual household. His mother believed in the value of work, responsibility and intellectual development. Having a strong sensitivity to the plight and misfortune of Black people, she engaged him in conversations regarding the struggle from freedom, justice and equality. During his early years, Farrakhan’s childhood was filled with open rejection of African Americans in the neighborhood that he lived in, which was predominately Jewish. Couple with these experiences and the racial discrimination of the past, these experiences fueled his distain for whites and for the Jewish community.

As the public knows him, Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and is regarded as one of the world’s most controversial Black speakers. He is widely known for his outspoken and candid speeches that many consider to be extremist rhetoric, which is consistent with racial and religious distain. Outside of these ideas, Minister Louis Farrakhan is one of the best known and most articulate Black Muslims in America. Described as a “self-avowed racist” after he called Judaism a “gutter religion”, The Pope an “Anti-Christ”, and Adolf Hitler a “wickedly great man”, Farrakhan promotes Black separatism and self-reliance. He believes the in order for there to be any kind of positive social change in the Black community, they must first organize and come together as a collective unit in an attempt to reposition themselves in society historically, economically, socially, politically, and philosophically.

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Minister Farrakhan was first came into contact with the teachings of the Nation of Islam in 1955 while in Chicago, IL. When he was introduced by the Nation of Islam’s doctrine, he became immersed and captivated by the values and lessons that it preached. Inspired and encouraged by Malcolm X, Farrakhan joined the Nation of Islam in July of 1955. Upon his acceptance of this new faith, he adopted the name Louis X. Adoption of the “X” surname is a tradition within the Nation of Islam faith. It is explained that in mathematics, “X” represents an unknown variable. Nation of Islam followers accept the “X” surname as a way to reject and denounce a name in which they believe to be their “slave name”. Eventually, the “X” name is replaced by a proper Muslim name that is more descriptive of an individual’s personality and their character; having gone through this process while accepting his new destiny of becoming a part of the Nation of Islam, Louis X finally accepted the name, Louis Farrakhan. While under the leadership of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Farrakhan dedicated himself to the Nation of Islam and to the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

Upon the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in 1975, the Nation of Islam was succeeded by Muhammad’s son, Wallace Muhammad (now known as Imam Warithuddin Mohammed). Accompanied with his succession, drastic changes were made to the Nation of Islam. These changes brought a quite, more moderate NOI, which seemed to separate itself from the teachings of its previous leader. Disturbed by these turn of events, Farrakhan believed that the condition of the Black community and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad needed to be reevaluated; upon this determination, Farrakhan resigned from Wallace Muhammad’s movement and established a new Nation of Islam. This new Nation of Islam adopted many of the principles of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Specific dress and behavior codes were implemented, family was regarded as the “backbone” of its new teachings, and children were reared to reflect the highest morals and training to perfect the community. Along with these ideas, the new Nation of Islam strongly believed that the Black community was a unique and separate entity from that of all other groups, primarily white America.

Farrakhan’s words, as well as his rhetoric have had the ability to spark outrage and controversy throughout the country and around the world. As a result of his separatist attitudes and his outlook on how Black America has been degraded and ostracized by white American culture, the criticism that is befitting to explain Louis Farrakhan is Afro-centricity. He strongly believes that the Black community can no longer be controlled by any group outside its community and must take responsibility for itself, its future and can no longer be dependent on others who do not understand the trials and tribulations that the Black community is forced to endure on a daily basis.

Afro-centricity is a concept that has been popularized by Molefi Kete Asante. The term itself suggests the existence of an African culture system; the combination of African and American ways; and the values that have been derived from the African American experience. A more mainstream definition of this idea is about the social, historical and spiritual development of people of African descent. It is essentially a way for African Americans to look at themselves differently from the way other people look at them. It praises beautiful African heritage and praises the best of African and African American culture which we have today.

From class, we learned that the concept of Afro-centricity is a criticism/critique of Eurocentric teachings and beliefs and consists of three main points: Unity and Harmony: the cycle of social and environmental experiences that are shared by everyone within a specific culture; Orality: the idea that the performance and presentation is just as important if not more than the content of the message; and Signifying: the idea that group meaning can be and are different from external meanings (Brummett, pg. 205-209). When thinking of Minister Louis Farrakhan, it is clearly evident that these three concepts are definitely conveyed to a specific audience. One particular text that further expresses these concepts is the Million Man March. The connection between the message of Louis Farrakhan, the event of the Million Man March and Afro-centricity lies within the belief that as a community, African Americans aspire towards a common goal of social change and the need for African Americans to be repositioned in society historically, economically, socially, politically and philosophically. Mambo Mazama stated:

Afrocentricity, as an emancipatory movement, inscribes itself within a tradition of African resistance to European oppression. It is a perspective on the African experience that posits Africans as subjects and agents, and which therefore demands grounding in African culture and the worldview on which it rests (Journal of Black Studies, pg. 219).

However, many believe that this concept is a form of “racial fundamentalism” and that it is based on the ideals that have not been founded or validated by credible sources. Be that as it may, Molefi Kete Asante’s Afrocentricity continues to offer an analysis of the role of Africa and African culture in postmodern history (Western Journal of Communication, pg. 114).

In October of 1995, Farrakhan called upon at least one million African American men to converge in Washington, D.C., to reinvigorate their community through unity and harmony. The event in itself was an occasion that was set out to create a sense of solidarity among the Black community; primarily Black Men. Farrakhan called from “a million sober, disciplined, committed, dedicated, inspired Black Men”, to show the public and our country that its image of Black Men (and the Black community) is greatly flawed. Marable stated:

Farrakhan’s message of personal responsibility, patriarchy, and racial self-help resonated so profoundly among millions of Black people. In the political consciousness of African Americans, distinct memories of earlier formations and movements with strikingly similar goals and objectives were persistent. The contemporary influence of Farrakhan can be understood only against the background of the inner history of black folk who, through their own experiences and in their own language, constructed an approach towards social development which would ensure their collective survival in a hostile world. Farrakhan’s entire program, accompanied with the Million Man March presumes the permanent boundaries of race and racial antagonisms, and the patriarchal households within the Black community (Race & Class, pg. 6).

While analyzing the event the Million Man March, I found that there was a sense of collectivity, solidarity, and harmony. Maulana Karenga stated that the march within itself was a “reaffirmation of our self-understanding as a people that we are our own liberators, that no matter how numerous or sincere our allies are, the greatest burdens to be borne and the most severe sacrifices to be made for liberations are essentially our own” (Black Scholar, pg. 4). This statement illustrates the idea that before the Black community can gain any form of attribution within a society that is driven and run by a white majority; we must first take responsibility for ourselves and our actions within our community, if we strive to solve problems of a societal magnitude.

Though controversial, Farrakhan is considerably one of the most electrifying speakers of the day. His speeches are filled with moral empowerment, entertainment and charisma. It is known for his orations to typically last for up to three hours. The significance of his charisma and magnetism was poignant in drawing almost two million people to the Million Man March. Before the march, Farrakhan spoke at a gathering and stated:

The proliferation of drugs and gun-related violence in the Black community, and the escalation of Black male fratricide has diminished the positive role attributions of Black men, and instead has elevated ugly images of Black men as thieves, criminals, and savages-projected through movies, music and other communication technologies throughout the world (The Final Call, pg. 17).

Through this statement, he made a conscious attempt to explain why he felt there was a serious need for Black unity and that the images of African American men portrayed by the media were completely false and needed to be addressed.

The speech given by Louis Farrakhan at the Million Man March exemplifies the idea of orality. He captured the attention of his audience by quoting familiar Negro spirituals, as well as passages from the Bible. It seemed that as he used the references from the Bible, Negro spirituals, and the experiences of the present, Farrakhan made a mindful decision to try to connect ideals and experiences from the past to the present. In doing so, he proves how knowledgeable, skilled and exceptionally gifted he is as a speaker. One such quote by Farrakhan during the march which demonstrates this idea is as follows:

So my beloved brothers and sisters, here’s what we would like you to do. We must belong to some organization that is working for, and in the interest of, the uplift and the liberation of our people. Go back, join the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People if you want to. Join the Urban League. Everyone of you must join some church, synagogue, temple, or mosque that is teaching spiritual and moral uplift… we got to register eight million eligible but unregistered brothers and sisters (http://www-cgi.cnn.com/US/9510/megamarch/10-16/transcript/index.html).

He manages to embrace and captivate his audience(s) by moving them with his speech patterns, his knowledge, and his message of self-reliance, perseverance and determination. His skill as a speaker has the potential to gain the attention of both Black and white people. He gains the attention from the Black community because he speaks and conveys a message to them, while he gains the attention from whites because he speaks against them (Vital Speeches of the Day, pg. 376). Farrakhan’s ability as a speaker has the power and influence in these communities because his assessment of the world, whether right or wrong, has the capability of making both communities examine and study themselves in a closer and clearer way.

Another aspect of the message of the Million Man March is the fact that it was signifying; meaning that, the overall message of this march meant something completely different for those who were not a part of the Black community. The essential purpose of the march was to advocate unity, atonement, brotherhood, the rebuilding of the Black community, investing in black businesses and to promote peace and responsibility within the Black community. While many people believed in this positive message, a number of others were not comfortable with what they believed the message to be. According the USA Today, many people believed Farrakhan’s message to be encrypted with separatism and hypocrisy. Many thought that the march would serve as a catalyst and further polarize and drive our country apart.

However, one of the most powerful effects and consequences of the march was to signify to America and the majority that the Black community is not what it is assumed to be. It is not a community filled with thugs and gangs, it is not a community of violent people, and it is not disinterested in the happenings of its community. The march was an extremely powerful consequence that affirmed the fact that the Black community is willing to be self-critical and self-reflective in order to reach its goal of atonement, while rejecting the vicious stereotypes of Black men.

Louis Farrakhan is an extremely important celebrity/key figure for this particular movement because he made the demand that one million Black men join together at the nation’s capitol for the atonement and reconciliation of their wrongs, as well as to rectify the negative stereotypes placed upon them by the white majority. Although the march did not solve the social problems that are still very much evident today, Farrakhan utilized his influence as a leader of the Black community and brought the societal troubles and the injustices of the Black community to the forefront. His objectives not only involved the convergence and meeting of one million men, but he called for these men to take action. He believed in that in order for the achievement of this goal to be a success he used his celebrity, his knowledge, his charisma, and his credibility as a leader to fill the march with African American rhetorical manifestations: manifestations of pride, dignity, grace, solidarity and unity.

The concept of Afrocentricity is extremely important simply because it argues that the main problem with African and the African American community has unconsciously adopted a Western worldview and perspective. It seems as if the ideals of the Western world has invaded and taken over and left the Black community to be relegated to the periphery of the European experience. In a sense, the idea of Afrocentricity aims to give the Africans and the Black community back its consciousness. Mazama states:

Our liberation and Afrocentricity contends and rests upon our ability to systematically displace European ways of thinking, being, feeling, and so and consciously replace them with ways that are germane to our own African cultural experience (Journal of Black Studies, pg. 388).

This idea expresses the importance and the significance of the Afrocentric idea, what it truly means and why it is such an important concept for the Black community.

This analysis of Louis Farrakhan, the Million Man March and the criticism of Afrocentricity provide a better understanding as to how and why Farrakhan is a very important figure in the Black community. Not only is he a brilliant and diligent speaker, he provides insight on how and why the Black community need to come together as a collective unit in order to change the social injustices that have been forced upon them. Although he is exceptionally controversial and many of his speeches have been deemed extremist and separatist rhetoric, he has the influence to be recognized and respected as one of the greatest Black leaders worldwide.