The real deal is that few intellectually sophisticated black people are ever seen on television discussing issues. Reporters seem to prefer men like Louis Farrakhan and Jess Jackson over genuine thinkers and scholars. Farrakhan obviously reads little that gives him any substantive information, and Jackson admitted in his Playboy interview that he hates to read. As Playthell Benjamin, one of Harlem's finest minds, says, "There is a ban on black intellectuals in the media. As the '60s proved, if we were allowed back into the area of discussion, the nature of the social vision would be radically changed, from politics to art. There are all kinds of men like Maynard Jackson, David Levering Lewis, Albert Murray, and others who could bring this sophistry and nonsense to a halt. They could make the dialogue more sophisticated." Benjamin is absolutely on the money. We rarely get to hear the ideas of black people who have spent many years studying and thinking and assessing their American experience and the policies of this country around the world.
By and large, those were not the kinds of people who came to hear Louis Farrakhan, roaring and cheering until the evening was finished off by an overripe Chaka Khan singing, strangely, a song called "Freedom," a cappella and quite beautifully. Beyond the podium and not far from Farrakhan's white limousine were the young women bodyguards, who had stood through the entire three-hour address, hardly moving and constantly scanning the crowd for assassins. They were hugging each other and crying, releasing the tension that had percolated through the long watch. Some were thanking Allah that their leader hadn't been harmed. All of them were brown and their skin had a luxuriant smoothness, their eyes the clarity of those who don't dissipate, and behind what I'm sure was experience in martial arts, was the same tenderness a man always notices when women feel deep affection.
Yet one image remained in the front of my mind: this light-skinned young man wearing a camouflage shirt and pants, brown fringe sewn across the shoulders, studded black leather covering his forearms. Whenever Farrakhan said something about "the Jews," that young man screamed or shouted, pushing both fists into the air, frequently leaping to his feet. Near the end of the evening, when I had moved down toward the stage and was preparing to leave, I looked up and saw him once again. The front of his eight-inch-wide black belt bore a large Star of David formed in studs.