Thursday, January 29, 2015

GAYS NOT ATTACKED! ACTIVIST AL-MALIK FARRAKHAN DEFAMED, REPORTER TAKEN TO TASK

Written by: Charlotte A. Williams


 (Link to Will Sommer's article at the end of my letter)

Mr. Sommer: 

 
I feel compelled to write you for various reasons, chief among them, the negative impact and fallout that your misleading article had on the reputation of Mr. Al-Malik Farrakhan (no relations to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan). In addition, your failure to keep an agreed upon meeting with Mr. Farrakhan on December 30th,  denied him the opportunity to discuss with you his exception to your piece in the Loose Lips column (December 1, 2014, online). He was prepared to share with you transcripts from an audio recording of that day’s event that I prepared for the meeting.  Mr. Farrakhan shared your texts messages with me and I find it suspect that you would cancel that meeting after sending him the following text message:

                                 

From: Will Sommer < wsommer@washingtoncitypaper.com&gt;
Date: December 24, 2014, 3:32:46 PM EST
To: Al-malik farrakhan < ceasefdstb@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Meeting with Al-Malik Farrakhan


“In the meantime, if you believe there's a factual error in my Barry memorial story,
please let me know as soon as possible. Washington City Paper strives for accuracy,  and if you believe there has been an error, the better that can  get corrected (if it is indeed in error), the better.”

 
In addition, I certainly could not turn a blind eye after reading negative comments left on news-generated message boards as well as on message boards from blogs spawned by your negative story.

 
You sounded a false alarm with your screaming and misleading headline: Harry Thomas Jr., Anti-Gay Slurs Make Appearances at Barry Memorial.” You failed to substantiate your slant that Mr. Farrakhan’s use of the word “faggot” was in the context of a verbal assault on gays. Judging from some of the comments left on message boards, many of your readers wrongly concluded that Mr. Farrakhan slung “anti-gay slurs” at members of the gay community, which as you know is a false conclusion.

 
Some of the comments along with the ensuing brouhaha that unfairly targeted D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange, serve as standing proof of this. You maligned Mr. Farrakhan unfairly by ignoring the context in which he used the word faggot, and not to mention that your angle on former D.C. Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. was a distortion of the facts, and boy, oh boy, did you ever spread it on. I’ll get back to that later.

 
You were at the memorial, so you know the following quote is how Mr. Farrakhan prefaced the word faggot: “We weren’t in the penitentiary as no [sic] punks, no [sic] faggots; we fought against injustices…”   You wrote: “Al-Malik Farrakhan urged disadvantaged Washingtonians to develop a political agenda and stop behaving like "faggots and "females.” This quote in addition to your misleading headline acted as sign posts for readers to follow and wrongly conclude that Mr. Farrakhan was an anti-gay bigot and misogynist.

 
While I appreciated the transcripts from your very brief interview with Mr. Farrakhan that you posted here in reply to his letter to you (found on this thread), and the nanoseconds of audio of that interview that you forwarded me at my request; there was never a bone of contention over whether or not Mr. Farrakhan uttered the word faggot, he did. What one might argue is word choice, intent and word usage, but not “anti-gay slurs” as if he attacked members of the gay community; because that simply would not be true. Your piece led readers to make false assumptions rooted in a false premise that if one used the word faggot, that he or she must have used it as an anti-gay slur; if the premise is false, so too is the conclusion. 

                       

Putting Mr. Farrakhan’s words in the right context, he was talking about ex-prisoners showing backbone by mobilizing and becoming a political force just as you suggested in the aforementioned quote about “developing a political agenda.” What’s most obvious can be heard in your audio interview with Mr. Farrakhan: You asked, “Uh, during your speech, uh, you made a reference to, uh, faggots, uh, did, did [sic] you say that? Uh, uh, what, what [sic] was that in reference to? I heard you say that, uh, the ex-offender community or, or perhaps in generally underprivileged people in general need …” Click on audio link below.

 
      
So you knew that Mr. Farrakhan was not talking about sexuality, let alone gays, Mr. Sommer.  The average reader most likely would not have discerned that from your misleading headline and bigoted-misogynistic- carefully-framed quote that only served to influence opinion from the outset, despite its illogical inference. This was a celebration of the life of Mr. Marion Barry, for heaven sakes, not an anti-gay rally.

 
Given the context, Mr. Farrakhan’s intended audience (ex-prisoners and family and friends of ex-prisoners) and the definition that many African Americans, prisoners and ex-prisoners understand the word faggot to mean, Mr. Farrakhan’s use of the word in his extemporaneous speech was on point for his audience. For well over 50 years, the word faggot in African-American social culture as well as in prison culture (which also includes whites and other racial and ethnic groups) has meant a weakling; or someone too afraid to stand up for himself or herself and fight back. Off the top, words I would say are synonymous with faggot in this context would be coward, punk, sissy, wimp and jellyfish.

 

Moreover, the word faggot has absolutely nothing at all to do with one's sexuality when used in this context, let alone homosexuality. And it is most likely the reason for why many in the predominately African-American audience that included ex-prisoners, professionals (including other reporters) and everyday people, seemed nonplussed when Mr. Farrakhan included the words faggot and punk in his speech, this, according to Freelance Journalist Valencia Muhammad in her letter of support of Mr. Farrakhan posted here. Muhammad attended the celebration of life for Mr. Barry.

 

Was Mr. Farrakhan’s utterance of the word punk the reason you added the “s” on slur in your headline? While you identified faggot in your chosen quote, you failed to name the other (s) anti-gay slur. Nowadays, the intellectually curious might consult the Urban Dictionary before jumping to conclusions. You know, for when the “just in case I might be wrong” factor kicks in -before publishing. The hint to consult a slang dictionary should have kicked in when there were no gasps coming from the audience, according to Ms. Muhammad.

 

The definition of faggot held by the demographic groups I cited is not exclusive to them. White actor and stand-up comedian Joe Rogan who has never been incarcerated seems to hold the same view that faggot is not an anti-gay slur.  The following quote was attributed to Rogan in a ‘10 post in the Washington City Paper: “Faggot never meant “gay” when I was a kid. You kind of knew that you could call a gay person faggot if you were ignorant, but nobody ever called someone a faggot if they were gay.” Rogan also said, “It’s about a guy wimping out, being a douchebag. It has nothing to do with your sexual orientation.”


 
The Urban Dictionary’s definition:

                                       faggot

 

                  In these times not really used if somebody is really a homosexual.

                           
                             Ralph: Chris hasn't been answering his phone.

                             John: Yeah, he is probably hanging out with those other kids that’s why.
                             Ralph: He is such a faggot.     
                             John: Yeah him and his faggot friends.

                             by Matt March 17, 2005


 

Just in case punk is the other word you were suggesting as an anti-gay slur, Mr. Farrakhan used it in the same context as faggot – meaning a weakling. The original meaning of punk meant prostitute, a slur. I don’t know anyone today who would use the word punk in that way, do you? Today, punk has so many different meanings that calling it a slur today would be a misnomer.

 

 So you see, Mr. Sommer, meanings do evolve and that is why context, social/cultural language and targeted audience are important factors to consider when interpreting intent. In this case, it is apparent by Mr. Farrakhan’s theme - mobilizing the ex-prisoner community that he never slung an anti-gay epithet at gays or at anyone else for that matter. Remember, you said, “Mr. Farrakhan urged disadvantaged Washingtonians to develop a political agenda.” In that context, Mr. Farrakhan’s intent was clear - a call to action.

 

And oh, by the way, according to vocabulary dicitionary.com, the etymology of faggot is “to tie or bind together, especially a bunch of sticks.” So, your narrow definition of the word faggot evolved out of this definition and somehow got assigned to male homosexuals. It had long since evolved to mean a weakling among certain demographic groups, and has since evolved to include the Urban Dictionary’s definition (www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/faggot).

 

On top of all of this, you also misinterpreted Mr. Farrakhan’s use of figurative language during his call to action. What Mr. Farrakhan actually said was, “We [men] prostrate like we’re some females…” It is no big secret that female ex-prisoners have never mobilized like male ex-prisoners who stand up against discrimination that hinders their successful reintegration in society, hence the quote. Once again, Mr. Farrakhan was addressing his intended audience, ex-prisoners and family and friends of ex-prisoners.  He prefaced that particular quote, saying: “and then we come home, huh? and then we prostrate like we’re some females or something!”  Mr. Farrakhan was addressing those male and female ex-prisoners who sit on the side lines. He followed the quote in question, saying: Come on men, I’m talking to us! Sisters, I’m talking to you!”

 

Keeping the backdrop of Mr. Farrakhan’s speech in context, Mr. Farrakhan shared with his audience during the memorial service how years earlier he had warned an audience of ex-prisoners that the day the Mayor for Life Marion Barry died would be the day that their hopes for having their needs addressed would die, because they [ex-prisoners] were not working together as a unified group to lobby in their interests. Bringing his speech to the present, Mr. Farrakhan stressed that male and female ex-prisoners alike must unify in order to build a strong foundation.  

 

Mr. Farrakhan went on to say, “but if we don’t have a foundation up under us, under us, we got nothing. All the unity in the world it’ll be evaporated like that; it will become like a weak chain, because we keep being divided by little crumbs, instead of putting that foundation up under us and putting that cement in between.” This was Mr. Farrakhan’s repeated thread – mobilizing (male and female ex-prisoners) to become a political force. It had nothing to do with the gay community – period. So why did you intertwine bigotry against gays (anti-gay slurs) with Mr. Farrakhan’s message to ex-prisoners? Why?


And now, back to the Harry Thomas Jr. angle. Let’s just say that it was completely distorted and a reckless disregard for the truth. Here’s what you wrote:

 

 “Disgraced ex-Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., who's still serving time  in a D.C.-area halfway house, made an appearance to heavy  applause from the crowd of three or four dozen. Farrakhan welcomed  him with an old story about how Thomas —who plundered grant money meant for kids around the  same time—always carried around wads of hundred dollar bills in his wallet.”

 
What a twist! Your story is not the story that Mr. Farrakhan regurgitated for his audience and the disgraced former council member.  He never once said that Harry Thomas Jr., who fell from grace after being convicted of embezzlement, “always carried around wads of hundred dollar bills in his wallet.” And more importantly, Mr. Farrakhan never once told his audience that Harry Thomas Jr. ever gave him one red cent – period!

 
What Mr. Farrakhan clearly said while simultaneously joking with the former council member and introducing him at the podium, was that the councilman’s father, Harry Thomas Sr., the beloved three-term Ward 5 councilman who died in ’99, was the one who gave him money. Although no blood relations to the Thomas family, in what could be best described as a “Dad liked me better than you” routine, Mr. Farrakhan shared with his audience that Harry Thomas Jr. once told him that he wanted to get him in a boxing ring one day and beat him up. Mr. Farrakhan:

                             “I told him his father would jump him, man.

                             Harry Sr. would tear him up because he    loved

                              some Al-Malik Farrakhan and Cease Fire…Don’t

                             Smoke The Brothers and Sisters. Every time I’d see

                              him, he’d walk    up to me, right? He’d say, ‘What you

                             got in your  pocket, son?’ I’d say, I ain’t got nothing.

                             He’d go in and pull them hundred dollar bills out.

                             He’d say, ‘here.’”

 

Mr. Sommer, you cast Mr. Farrakhan in a false light by suggesting to your readers that he was accepting money from Harry Thomas Jr., which was bad enough, but then you added, “around the same time [Harry Thomas Jr.] plundered grant money meant for kids.” The juxtaposition was malicious.


 It cannot be denied that you omitted important texts from Mr. Farrakhan’s speech that might have given your readers a different perspective. You wrongly painted Mr. Farrakhan as an anti- gay basher, misogynist (“stop behaving like "faggots and "females”) and shady at best (Harry Thomas Jr. angle), when none of those things are true. Some of the comments posted on news-generated message boards and also on blog message boards give credence to my statement. Once again, your damaging article might have negatively impacted fund raising for Mr. Farrakhan’s organization, Cease Fire…Don’t Smoke The Brothers and Sisters, Inc., and also requests for him to speak at different events.

 

Mr. Farrakhan is a man who is very passionate about his work with at-risk youth, ex-prisoners, gang bangers and former gang bangers, and about quashing beefs. His organization has educated many with entrepreneurial skills, G.E.D. preparation, television production in addition to other programs and services offered. He has been fighting injustices on different fronts for many, many years.

 

 In her letter to you in support of Mr. Farrakhan, Social Activist Anise Jenkins, who was one of the speakers at the memorial celebration, cited an incident about a wheelchair bound Mr. Farrakhan rushing to the aid of an openly gay white man who was being physically assaulted by police at a D.C. Control Board hearing. The police tussled with Mr. Farrakhan, “knocking him out of his wheelchair,” she wrote.

 

A reporter from The Washington Post, and the Washington Informer newspaper, respectively, covered the memorial event and neither reporter mentioned the use of the words faggot or punk in his or her published story. And, a couple of my friends told me on the day of the ex-prisoners service that they saw television news reports on the event and not one of them ever mentioned anything that sounded remotely like your story, not a one.

 

Setting the record straight, Mr. Farrakhan loved the late Mayor For Life Marion S. Barry Jr. and never would have said or done anything to dishonor his memory. As a matter of fact, it was Mr. Farrakhan who came up with the idea for ex-prisoners and the families and friends of ex-prisoners to hold their own celebration. He planned and organized it down to the minutest detail in three days.

 

And, Mr. Farrakhan also respects Councilman Vincent Orange and would never consciously say anything to put him in an embarrassing situation.  A former gang leader and ex-prisoner himself, Mr. Farrakhan is well versed in street and prison jargon, hence, faggot and punk. On February 28, 1995, Mr. Farrakhan met with 50 gang members who represented five different warring factions in D.C.  to call for a truce. That meeting took place in then Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.'s office. Mr. Farrakhan met with the young men for several months before successfully getting the members to call a truce – a truce that to date has never been broken. Being able to communicate was a key factor and Mr. Farrakhan knows how to communicate with the population he serves.

 

As for using Councilman Vincent Orange’s last public response concerning this matter, he never should have been subjected to having account for the misinterpretation of others. You, yourself know that neither the subject of gays or sexuality ever came up at the ex-prisoners’ homage to the late Marion S. Barry Jr. I can only imagine that the look you described on Councilman Orange’s face was probably a look of, “Uh-oh, I know that will get misinterpreted.” Your framing of the story caused the councilman to be taken to task unfairly, because according to some, he did not publicly admonish Mr. Farrakhan (for his anti-gay slurs) in the way that they felt he should have. It’s interesting, though, how a majority of the people who posted comments on a blog spun from this angle of your story - felt that if they ever found themselves in a similar situation as Councilman Orange - that it would be best not to interrupt the speaker to admonish him or her. http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/12/05/homophobic_slur_at_a_funeral_should_you_speak_up.html

 

Had you ever attended one of Cease Fire…Don’t Smoke The Brothers and Sisters’ annual events like the “Six Months Moratorium to Stop The Killings Cookout/Amateur Boxing Match,” where thousands of people from different races and different walks of life intermingle every August without one incident of violence, or the annual sit-down Thanksgiving Day Dinner held at the organization’s community center on Thanksgiving Day, both events free to the public, then you would have come to know that it is not the organization’s policy to espouse bigotry or hatred .

 

And, had you covered either event, you also would have known that anyone who walks through the door in want of a Thanksgiving Day meal, not to mention that Cease Fire…Don’t Smoke The Brothers and Sisters pick up and drop off indigent people to dine with them on Thanksgiving Day absent bigotry, is welcome. Members of the organization do not ask anyone about his or her sexuality or other demographic information as criteria for participating in any of their free activities. 

 

Click on the link below to read a story on the Six Months Moratorium to Stop The Killings written by me in ’12. The link below it is also on the Six Months Moratorium to Stop The Killings written by a reporter with the Washington Informer newspaper. Both stories were published in the Washington Informer.

 


 


 

 

Below is a link to a ’11 story on the Thanksgiving Day Dinner published in the Washington Informer newspaper.

 


 

There is also a story on the sit-down Thanksgiving Day dinner on my blog written by me. You can access it and an updated story covering the moratorium to stop the killings  by clicking on the link. http://www.agnespower-raceandpolitics.blogspot.com.

 
Mr. Sommer, you owe a strong apology to Mr. Farrakhan for mischaracterizing him and you also owe him a retraction in every news source and on every blog site where your spurious story appeared. You also owe an apology to Councilman Vincent Orange for causing a public-relations crisis.  Additionally, you owe an apology and explanation to your readership. This unfortunate event illustrates why diversity is so important. The seen and unforeseen damages caused by your ambiguous story impacts a lot of people. 

 
I invite you to read "Media's Racist History: A Psychological Affair" on my blog where I discuss framing, semiotic language and tacit knowledge to illustrate how our views are often shaped and manipulated by mediated messages. By the way, please do not misinterpret the title of my essay to think that I am calling you a racist when I am not.  http://www.agnespower-raceandpolitics.blogspot.com.

Charlotte A. Williams, Freelance Writer
Sec’y of the Board, Cease Fire…Don’t Smoke The Brothers & Sisters, Inc.

  

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