The Washington Blade
September 10, 1993
RICHARD J. ROSENDALL
Alliances that can 'sabotage' the cause
The recent decision by the DC Coalition of Black Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals, as well as LifeLink, to endorse a coalition led by Urban, Inc. and the Abundant Life Clinic, poses a new challenge to Washington's Gay community. The Sankofa Community Coalition seeks a $2 million city contract currently held by Whitman-Walker Clinic, in the name of improving AIDS services to the "underserved" groups which in fact make up a majority of Whitman-Walker's clients.
This might appear to be a bit of healthy competition, if it were not for some ugly facts: Urban, which in seeking to become the broker for public health care funds in the black community has accused others of racism, sent a threatening, anti-Semitic letter to Mindy Daniels, the representative of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance on the Ryan White Care Act Planning Council. The Abundant Life Clinic's director, Dr. Abdul-Alim Muhammad (who is also Minister of Health for the Nation of Islam), routinely combines extravagant medical claims with racial paranoia in his speeches. Since his clinic is to be Sankofa's primary service provider, let us examine some of Dr. Muhammad's medical teachings.
In a speech recorded at Howard University's Blackburn Center last February, Dr. Muhammad gave a skillful, crowd-pleasing performance of bone-chilling demagoguery for over three hours. He claimed that HIV was created in a U.S. biological warfare laboratory for the purpose of destroying Africa's black population. He said that the virus was spread by the World Health Organization through a contaminated Smallpox Vaccine.
Muhammad went on to insist that his highly-touted "Kemron" and "Immunex" treatments, which have repeatedly been found ineffective by AIDS experts, were dismissed by the health care establishment precisely because they might be effective in saving black people's lives and because the "white devils" in charge of the genocidal conspiracy would never take seriously anything discovered by an African doctor. He cited the notorious Tuskegee Study of syphilis among black men (sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service), which was conducted between the 1930s and the 1970s, as a reason to discredit the entire present-day NIH as a tool of "the enemy." In another speech in June, he said that no whites should be trusted, and alternated between portraying white people as murderous devils on the one hand and as fools easily "twisted around your finger" on the other. Throughout the speech his mouth retained the trademark Louis Farrakhan smirk.
During an encounter outside the Department of Human Services on North Capitol Street on June 21, DC Coalition leader Carlene Cheatham told me that even if Dr. Muhammad were a bigot -- which she did not concede -- she would not care as long as his clinic helped people with AIDS. Setting aside the racist double standard implied by that statement, I would like to ask: What confidence can the DC Coalition or anyone else place in a health care facility run by a man who makes a career out of preaching paranoid, hate-filled theories about genocide, and whose unsupported claims about the efficacy of alpha interferon are laced with charges that all who disagree with him are murderers? In the words of black gay activist Phil Pannell, "It makes as much sense to give Abundant Life Clinic money for AIDS . . . as it does giving the Catholic Archdiocese money to run an abortion clinic."
One result of this politics of division is that Caitlin Ryan, who deserves an award for her aggressive efforts in turning things around at the Agency for HIV/AIDS (AHA) during the past two years, has instead been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency at the expense of the public health. Her reputation and career have been all but destroyed by people who have shown far greater support for the cause of racial polarization than for solving the AIDS crisis, and who have shown a brazen disregard for the truth in this case. In the meantime, AIDS-related contracts are languishing unawarded in the chilled atmosphere and lack of leadership at AHA.
If we are to have any hope of successfully fighting the enemies of Gay rights and racial harmony, then we must apply our principles consistently. When black Gay and Lesbian activists either ignore or make excuses for black racists and hatemongers, as the DC Coalition and others have done in allying themselves with the Abundant Life Clinic and Urban, Inc., they dishonor and sabotage the cause for which they claim to work.
The only way that people can work together effectively is through give and take. Double standards, however noble their motivation, are incompatible with egalitarianism. As long as black prejudice cannot be talked about for fear of giving comfort to the enemy, then we will have little more than a cosmetic movement dominated by the unresolved anger of people who refuse to hold themselves to the same standards that they demand of others.
This case should demonstrate once and for all the bankruptcy of the doctrine, so popular in recent years, that members of traditionally oppressed groups are incapable of oppression themselves. Those who repeat this lie or pander to it are no allies of Gay liberation, much less of peace and justice. It is time for us to find the courage to speak the truth to each other, to encounter one another honestly as individual human beings instead of as symbolic representatives of various personal and social histories. Let's stop out-victimizing one another, let's stop the futile ranking of oppressions, and get on with the business of working together to end discrimination in all its forms. If our rainbow flag is to be anything but a mockery, we must begin with an act recommended by poet Maya Angelou last Inauguration Day: "Look into your sister's eyes, look into your brother's face, and say simply, very simply, with hope, 'Good morning.'"
Richard J. Rosendall is a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.