I’m a research junkie. I research almost everything. I have always been that way. The first thing I ever researched online was Louis Farrakhan. I don’t remember the year, but it was of course after online search engines came along – Ask Jeeves, I think. It was so far back in the day, that I can still hear the dial up logging in through AOL. It may seem like an unlikely subject to be among the first things to research, but he had been with me for a long time. I still follow his life and his work. Do I agree with Minister Farrakhan on all matters? No, but I am not qualified to an agreement or disagreement with him on most matters that matter to him – or of those to whom he speaks. I do not have his enormous obligations, his life experience, his memory and foresight of the futility faced by so many he was and is spiritually and politically committed to leading. That, in fact, is why I’ve studied him. He remains the most important subject I’ve ever researched because he and his life, private and public, taught me the critical importance of checking things for yourself from the outset of my search-engine baby years, and even before. Few have more erroneous information tossed about so freely other than Jesus, The Black Panthers, Black and Indigenous histories by omission in American textbooks, and anything to do with histories that would give America, or any other country a shiner. And that can be true of people as well. Nothing motivates the telling of lies, than face saving or not accepting who and where you are in life.
Negationism isn’t new. Revisionism isn’t either, but revisionism broadly describes the act of revising historical accounts – period. That includes things that are inaccurately redefined, as well as those that rightly correct prior inaccuracies. Negationism is just what it sounds like. Negating the truth. It’s a word coined by Henry Rousso in his 1987 book The Vichy Syndrome – a book I no longer have, never finished, but skimmed often before I moved to Mexico in 2014. The main value I gleaned from Rousso is how historical accounts depend on a lot of things. The book is about France 1940-1944 and the occupation of France by Nazi Germany. Too long to cover here but in a nutshell, France had both collaboration with the Nazi’s and a resistance. Corrections to, and accounting of, facts has changed over the years as to what France and its body politic have been willing to accept of themselves and of their country’s dualistic roles in the good and the bad as contrasted against contemporary moralities related to The Holocaust. Truth that has been hidden, is often popularly recognized not when it is happening – not even after- but when those closest to the hidden truth have passed, have sought redemption or when its victims and generational lines gain the voice to be fully heard. Richard Reeves said, “A lot of history is just dirty politics cleaned up for the consumption of children and other innocents.” It can be a lot worse than that, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and just this once.
I first saw Farrakhan on Tv in the early 1970’s. For this, I had to look up the terminology he used to describe himself then. I knew it was something other than Leader of Nation of Islam, and I remembered it was in reference to “The Honorable Elijah Muhammed” but I couldn’t remember exactly what. As soon as I saw it written – “that was it,” I said outloud. “As a representative of The Honorable Elijah Muhammed.” Oh the memories that Google first afforded me. I was 13 when I first saw Mr. Farrakhan on TV. What I remember most was researching what I heard Farrakhan say. He spoke of Allah so passionately, so reverently, with such deep and palpable connection. I had to know who Allah was. No one I knew spoke of God with such power, so clearly, so directly or to such an elegant audience of people. It captivated me. Time to research the word “Allah.” At thirteen, that meant either a dictionary of which there were plenty in the house – or World Book Encyclopedia. I can’t remember which one – likely both. I also can’t remember exactly what it said. It meant “god” in another language. I do remember that. It almost took the frosting off the cake. Surely it was much more, and why was it only for Black and Brown People – something he repeatedly qualified over the many times I watched him.
My father passed through the room twice the first time he saw him on the Tv. The second time, when he became aware that I was actually watching Louis Farrakhan. Those of us of a certain age remember the days when you had to get up to change the channel. There was a dial that made sparks when you turned it, and between the clicks and sparks the cogs in the gearwork made – new channels would appear. Sometimes with snow, even if the imagery was Fort Lauderdale. But I digress. That’s precisely what my father did. Flipped the rotary knobl with a single high torque random rotation, and voila … nothing but snow. “Don’t watch that crap. Not on my TV” as he swept through commander in his inimitable ‘kids these days’ style. Look, it’s understandable. He objected to some record albums also. He threw out anything not in its sleeve the day I played Country Joe McDonald’s The Fish Cheer. have to hand it to him. At 65, 100% disabled war veteran shot down over Germany and interred in a combination Nazi concentration camp – slash – POW camp – he made it across the room upstairs, down two flights of narrow right angle stairs, across a game room around a pool table before Country Joe made it all the way from F to C, and before I could leap to retrieve and salvage my Van Morrison and Doors albums. No Olympian, but not bad either.
I was caught watching Farrakhan several times more that I recall. One time, my dad entered the room with his patience and some authentic curiosity. “Why do you watch that” he asked – and I told him I found him interesting. Farrakhan was still talking while my father inquired of me. It is indelible in my memory as one of the first times I ever challenged my father before I had chest hair. “Why do you object” I countered. “Listen to him” he huffed. “I have, I am. what is he saying that you think isn’t right or isn’t true?” This time he flipped the Tv off, and walked out with reciting a list of words that I am certain would expand the seven word inventory of George Carlin’s “can’t say on Tv collection.
That confirmed my interest in looking things up for myself. A light went on in the moment I saw a reason withheld, and it continues to go on today – every time I see a lie or an evasion for which the reason is not clear. Learning how to know the truth of what I say, in the event that I did speak of something important- that became as important as anything I could say. Learning to hear the truth, to check it and know its origin – that came much later. I have an automatic respect for those who have endured malicious or prejudicial mischaracterization. We all have an interest in the truth being told. The truth never has an agenda other than that of reconciliation to and of itself. Truth serves to preserves all, even those condemned by it. Lies serve to preserve only the liar and condemns all else that would reveal the lie and the liar. Politics and lies are not synonymous. Knowing how to get to the truth requires three things. 1) An interest. 2) Practice seeking it. 3) some skill. Of these three, the rarest and the hardest to attain is number 1, interest. Interest when it does not directly impact one’s life or circumstance is the foundation of a just society. ‘A’ truth is not the same as ‘The Truth.’ An interest in the truth is an interest in all lives – all living things.