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How Black Political Leaders and Influencers Failed Congressman Keith Ellison

Rep. Keith Ellison (Associated Press)

Rep. Keith Ellison (Associated Press)

As Black men are made to denounce other Black leaders for their rhetoric in order to get ahead, no one is forced to repudiate the racially discriminatory policies of individuals, organizations and corporations who serve against the interests of Black people.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim-American member of Congress and only one of two Muslim lawmakers on Capitol Hill, is vying for the position of chair of the Democratic National Committee. He also is another Black leader facing unfair charges of anti-Semitism and being forced to repudiate Minister Louis Farrakhan. Ellison, who has received key endorsements from Senators Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, members of Congress and heads of unions, as Politico reported, is being opposed by a Democratic donor and the Anti-Defamation League.

As CBS reported, Ellison was a supporter of the Nation of Islam 25 years ago when he was an organizer and young civil rights lawyer, and he helped organize the Minnesota contingent to the 1995 Million Man March. Further, as a student, he had come to the defense of Farrakhan in his writings. Ellison also had received criticism for a 2010 speech in which he questioned U.S. policy on Israel. In the speech, Ellison asked why “United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad for a country of seven million people” as The Hill Reported. “A region of 350 million all turns on a country of seven million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right?” Ellison said. Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, described the speech as “deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” according to CNN.

“If you go back to his positions, his papers, his speeches, the way he has voted, he is clearly an anti-Semite and anti-Israel individual,” said Haim Saban, an Israeli-American billionaire and major Democratic donor who, as CNN reported, contributed millions of dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. “Words matter and actions matter more. Keith Ellison would be a disaster for the relationship between the Jewish community and the Democratic Party” said Saban, who is chairman of Univision Communications, the largest Spanish-language media company in the U.S.

Meanwhile, so many others who are worthy of denunciation for their racially discriminatory actions get a pass.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, falsely and maliciously prosecuted Black civil rights activists for voter fraud when he was a U.S. attorney. In the 1980s, during the Reagan years, the Senate denied Sessions’ nomination for federal judge because of his record of racial discrimination, as The Nation reported, which included calling a Black prosecutor who worked under him a “boy” and telling him “be careful what you say to white folks,” and opposing the Voting Rights Act as a “piece pf intrusive legislation.” Further, Sessions also is affiliated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which are white-supremacist hate organizations, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC reported that following the Haiti earthquake in 2010, CIS head Mark Krikorian wrote, “My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough.”  And CIS staffer Stephen Steinlight suggested lynching as an alternative to impeachment for President Obama, saying “I would think being hung, drawn, and quartered is probably too good for him.”

As the head of, Stephen Bannon, Trump’s senior White House adviser, provided a platform for white supremacist, fascist and neo-Nazi groups and sentiments, and attacked Black activists. Bannon reportedly has advocated for the genetic superiority of whites, limiting the vote to property owners and excluding Blacks from voting, of which he said, “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” as Fusion reported.

Then, there is President-elect Trump himself, who, along with his father, was sued by the Justice Department in 1973 for racial discrimination in connection with his housing developments. The lawsuit, which, according to The Washington Post, was one of the largest of its kind, accused Trump’s firm of violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The suit revealed that Trump employees had coded applications from Black people with a “C” for colored. After signing a consent order with the federal government promising not to engage in racial discrimination, the Trump family business was once again sued for racial bias, this time in 1982. The Open Housing Center, an advocacy group, accused Trump company and other landlords of “steering black persons away from predominantly white apartment buildings and into predominantly black or racially mixed apartment buildings, denying housing or making housing unavailable on the basis of race, discriminating in the provision of brokerage services and representing to persons that dwellings are not available for inspection, sale or rental when such dwellings are in fact so available, based on the race of those persons,” according to Mother Jones. Once again, like the 1973 suit, the Trump family business agreed not to engage in racial discrimination.

In 1989 after five Black and Latino teens were falsely arrested for the rape of a white woman in Central Park in New York, Trump took out full-page ads in the city’s daily newspapers calling for the death penalty. The young men were wrongfully convicted and spent years in prison. When they received a settlement for their wrongful conviction, Trump called the settlement “a disgrace” and still maintains the men are guilty.

Meanwhile, in response to Ellison’s condemnation of Min. Farrakhan, Richard B. Muhammad–the editor in chief for The Final Call Newspaper– criticized the congressman for attacking the Nation of Islam leader. In a commentary, Muhammad said neither the Nation of Islam nor Min. Farrakhan is anti-Semitic, nor have they harmed any Jewish people or deprived them of their rights. He added that while there is nothing wrong with Rep. Ellison helping his party and America move forward, Rep. Ellison “must be condemned and lambasted for trying to make his political bones by smearing the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.”  Pointing to the minister’s lifetime of work as a “vibrant elder” and “indispensable leader in the community,” the Final Call chief cited Ellison’s own description of Farrakhan in 1995 as “a role model for Black youth,” adding that those who misuse the minister’s name for personal advancement should be confronted and condemned for their cowardice and hypocrisy.

And lest we forget, the Million Man March was one of those seminal moments in history when one man mobilized the multitudes of Black men–the hardest hit, and most criminalized, vilified and marginalized demographic in society– to stand up, take responsibility for their families and communities, take charge of their destiny ans seek justice.  The gathering of brothers on the National Mall–engaged in nonviolent protest, accepting the challenge to atone for their shortcomings and failings and strive to become better–should have been hailed and applauded by lawmakers who always preach “personal responsibility,” unless, of course, America really does not want Black people to empower themselves and become woke.  Because, after all, there is much profit to be made in the continued slumber of Black bodies.  And today, we are still playing games where Black leaders must denounce the next big, bad Black man du jour as a rite of passage, whether it’s Min. Farrakhan in the case of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama and now Keith Ellison, or Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which presidential candidate Obama threw under the bus in order to gain crossover appeal and make it to the White House.

Meanwhile, as Rep. Ellison is smeared in the press, who is stepping up to denounce the many individuals and interests who enact policies against Black people everyday, including those who are about to lead the government come January?  The attacks on Ellison and his response provide lessons on the use of political power, and the consequences for failure to appreciate or leverage that power.  For example, where are the Black political and business leaders expressing their support for Ellison?  Further, why aren’t the Black movers and shakers the wealthy influencers and civic leaders banning together and using their influence to pressure Trump to denounce the white supremacists in his midst?  The Black community applying the pressure on Trump rather than allowing Ellison to flounder would have focused the attention where it belongs–on the Klansmen, fascists, grifters and robber barons who are about to seize the reins of government.  With Saban and the ADL exerting their power and looking out for their interests by symbolically lynching Black leaders, Ellison and his supporters have not responded with equal force, nor have they acted in their own interests.

As a result, whether Ellison wins or loses the DNC battle, Black people may have lost the war.  Ellison was forced to denounce a man who, say what you will, gathered one million men in Washington, something which no one else has accomplished.  In the end, Black people will pay the price.

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