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'Million Man March' Draws Support and Concerns : Rally: Many back the focus on black males, but others remain wary.

September 16, 1995|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That theme, he said, "plays to a certain stereotype about black men," implying that "everything society says about black men--they're irresponsible, derelict, they've done no good"--is true. "The greatest destabilizer of the black family is not absence of morality on the part of the black man, but an absence of income."

Howard University political scientist Ronald Walters said he is "not going to atone for anything, and I think they ought to rethink some of that."

Although he is troubled by what he calls the religious implications of atonement, he said he supports the march because it "starts with the supposition, which I think is correct, that the black male is the most vilified category of humans in American society."

Black manhood "needs to be reasserted," Walters said. "A lot of people are down with the fact that it is time to do that."

Los Angeles lawyer and political activist Cynthia McClain-Hill concedes that "Farrakhan has a number of well-documented problems," but she doesn't think she has to explain him to anyone.

"No other group of people in the country are called upon to justify, account for or explain the actions of individuals in the public eye," she said. "No one is explaining Jesse Helms, nor is he being held up as representing the views of an entire race. No one is explaining Pete Wilson.

"I can't explain Louis Farrakhan, but the need for African American men and women to organize and be responsible for working against those things detrimental to our future is unequivocal."

Although many march supporters are more than willing to look beyond Farrakhan's role for what they see as the greater purpose of the march, his involvement is far more disturbing to others.

"I think it's condescending when people try to look upon Louis Farrakhan as any kind of solution to anything," said cultural critic Stanley Crouch, author of "Notes of a Hanging Judge." "Farrakhan is going to remain a racist, anti-Semitic nut leader."

Mary Helen Washington, a professor of English and African American studies at the University of Maryland, has cast a wary eye on the march because of what she sees as Farrakhan's contempt for women and the subordinate role of women in the Nation of Islam.

Many men registering for the march "know Farrakhan's attitude toward women is contemptuous, and it was especially contemptuous at the Mike Tyson rally," she said, alluding to Farrakhan's comments at a gathering for the boxer ridiculing the woman Tyson was convicted of raping. Any statements coming out of the march "without women as peers and partners come as condescension and arrogance," she said.

(At the rally in question, Farrakhan crudely suggested that rape victim Desiree Washington really meant "Yes" when she said, "No." "You bring in a hawk at the chicken yard and wonder why the chicken got eaten up," Farrakhan said. "You bring Mike to a beauty contest, and these foxes just parading in front of Mike. . . . Mike's eyes begin to dance like a hungry man looking at a Wendy's beef burger or something.")

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Richard Yarborough, UCLA professor of English and Afro-American studies, supports the march's goals but is concerned about what its practical results will be.

"The goals as I've heard them are admirable and necessary--to build unity and solidarity around issues of empowerment and responsibility," Yarborough said.

"If I knew this was a way to get a million black men registered to vote, how could I not support it enthusiastically?" he said. "My point is that when you look at the conservative, racist right wing in this country, they did not gain political power by symbolic acts." Instead, conservatives worked at the local level for 10 years, doing massive voter registration and taking over local school boards before it appeared that they were "exploding on the scene," he said. "But they were doing their homework."

Black America is in "absolutely dire straits," Yarborough said, with a "longstanding vacuum at the level of community organization." He is not convinced, though, that the march will result in anything more than a symbolic act.

Farrakhan has called upon African Americans to make Oct. 16 a day of fasting and prayer-- a "holy day of atonement and reconciliation" when no one goes to work or school or makes any purchases. At a Los Angeles news conference Thursday, he said the march will be a way of "letting the world know it just won't be business as usual. We will be leveraging our power against corporate America. You are not going to leave the cities to die. We will exact a price. This time we will not come with hat in hand but with power in hand."

"We want America to see what it looks like without us, since they don't want us," he said. "If you really want us, then you want us with justice."

On Thursday, three young men who appeared to be panhandling approached the march's Los Angeles headquarters on Degnan Boulevard. Albert Brown, 18, said he and his friends Lawrence Roberts, 16, and Nathaniel Grigsby, 17, were "hustling quarters to go to D.C."

For them, jobs were the critical issue.

Grigsby said some of his teen-age friends support the march, "but some of them don't understand the real.

"The real," he said, "is that we have to get education to get jobs. White people are not going to give them to us."

Times staff writer Paul Johnson and correspondent Marilyn Martinez contributed to this story.

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