I know you know this already, but our country is full of problematic people – bigots, racists, xenophobes, Islamophobes, homophobes, misogynists, anti-Semites, and so much more. We have body-shamers, liars, cheaters, scammers, and people who are just downright mean or hateful.
Eventually, somebody you know and love is going to be problematic. It could be in your presence. It could be a public debacle. Or maybe you just hear about it, but eventually you are going to experience the unique crisis of having somebody you are in a relationship with say or do something that’s flat out wrong.
And until you’ve been in that position, it’s hard to say how you’ll respond.
What I know is that we live in a time where problematic people, particularly men who’ve sexually assaulted or harassed others, and anyone who is found to be a bigot of any kind – those people are being called out. Social media and the ease of publishing now makes calling out such people far easier than it was just ten years ago. And the election of Donald Trump – after it was widely known that he was a man of low character and integrity who was accused of sexually assaulting or harassing over a dozen different women – his election caused a ripple effect that many are calling “a reckoning.” Problematic men, who’ve long since gotten away with various offenses, are being forced to answer for said offenses.
So, I have a friend. Her name is Tamika Mallory. She’s not a problematic man. She’s a wonderful woman, a loving mother, and a world class leader.
Tamika is one of the lead organizers of the Women’s March. Before you ever heard of Tamika or the march she helped organize, she fought for civil rights here in New York for nearly two decades. Years before the Black Lives Matter Movement was even an idea, she and I were once featured side by side in an issue of Jet Magazine for our civil rights work.
And now, she is under fire because people are questioning how she, woke civil rights leader that she is, could have a particularly problematic friend – Minister Louis Farrakhan.
On Twitter, and elsewhere, I’ve come to the defense of my friend. She has come to my defense many times. And this won’t be the last, I am sure, for either of us.
I want to attempt to unpack something that I think looks simple, but just isn’t nearly as simple on the inside as it looks from the outside.
Here’s what it looks like from the outside.
Minister Louis Farrakhan appears to have a lifelong problem with Jews. I don’t even think he would deny it. To his credit, he speaks exactly what’s on his mind and tells his audience precisely how he thinks and feels about a whole host of issues. Frequently, his Jewish critiques go off the rails and venture into what 99% of Jews define as anti-Semitism.
Tamika has attended many of Farrakhan’s events and even been recognized by him publicly at some of those events. She has emceed events where he was the primary speaker. She has posted her support of him on social media.
And too many people, particularly to Jews, but also too many others calling out anti-Semitism wherever they find it, they just don’t understand how somebody as amazing as Tamika could associate with someone as problematic as Minister Louis Farrakhan.
All of that makes sense to me. It does. But I am not outside of that bubble looking in. I’m on the inside. I’ve put my life on the line this past year fighting against anti-Semitism and publicly searching for Neo-Nazi’s who assaulted people in Charlottesville. I’ve worked directly with the Anti-Defamation League (the leading group fighting against anti-Semitism) on projects and I’ve worked directly with Tamika.
I know Tamika is not anti-Semitic. She has fought against anti-Semitism for years. She works alongside amazing Jewish leaders on a daily basis as primary partners on essential projects.
But now I must circle back to where I started this conversation.
When your friends are problematic, not only can it be difficult to call them out for it, it can be hard to even see it.
You see – when somebody we like, or love, or admire is accused of doing something disturbing, it appears we are willing to play Jedi mind tricks to forget about it.
What the Me Too Movement is really all about is ending those mind tricks and holding problematic men accountable for their abuses.
I absolutely, unequivocally support this, but I must admit that it is far easier to hold someone you don’t know or don’t like accountable in some kind of way than it is the person you know.
And that’s not OK.
I understand why many of us see Farrakhan as a fearless friend – I do. But sometimes your friends are problematic and if ignoring that does somebody else harm – we have to check ourselves – and that’s not easy.
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