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Farrakhan demeans Aretha's gospel of respect
Not everyone celebrated the late Aretha Franklin at her passing.
The hate website, Right of the Right, views the universal mourning for "The Queen of Soul" as the culminating chapter of how "a jewish [sic] producer magically turns [her signature song "Respect"] into a vehicle to promote two socially-destructive jewish [sic] agendas - feminism and 'civil' rights."
They got one thing right. It was impresario Jerry Wexler who convinced Aretha in 1967 to record a new version of the song that made her a star and thrust her into America's national heart and soul.
Wexler later remarked, "The call for respect went from a request to a demand. And then, given the civil rights and feminist fervor that was building in the 1960s, respect - especially as Aretha articulated it with such force - took on new meaning. 'Respect' started off as a soul song and wound up a kind of national anthem."
When Wexler died in 2008, Aretha said of Wexler: "He provided the vehicle to allow me to perform and express myself." She also declared: "It's not cool to be Jewish, or Negro, or Italian. It's just cool to be alive, to be around. You don't have to be black to have soul."
Aretha Franklin earned universal acclaim for her inclusive celebration of the human spirit - not cheering on divisive "identity politics."
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's appearance at Aretha's more than six-hour funeral - seated in the front row with President Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - dishonored Aretha's legacy, American politics and the human rights movement.
It's not sufficient, as some mainstream media outlets did, to crop Farrakhan out of photos from the funeral to avoid controversy. We need to explore openly why, at an event celebrating her loving life's journey, a publicity bonanza was given a perennial preacher of hate was given a publicity bonanza.
First, Farrakhan has contributed nothing discernible to the success of African-American popular music - unlike the Jewish producers he slanders as "bloodsuckers" of black musicians. Yet his quarter-century manipulative flattery of rap performers and other African-American artists has borne fruit in his musical project, "Let's Change the World," the title song of a seven-CD set released this year for the gold-plated price of $250 with riffs by Stevie Wonder, Snoop and Common. Netflix is to be commended for deciding against magnifying the pernicious impact of Farrakhan's self-adulatory biopic celebrating him as an African-American musical godfather and guru. Farrakhan is no friend of African-American or American culture.
Second, far from being treated as a bigoted relic of the 20th century, Farrakhan's recent honeymoon shows his treatment as a 21st century political rock star. Those willing to be seen with him include not only African-American political and religious luminaries but even White House occupants Barack Obama (in 2005) and Bill Clinton today. In our topsy-turvy political world, the cynical calculus seems to be to not offend the mercurial Farrakhan, who is capable one day of lambasting President Donald Trump as a racist honkey, yet later "destroying every enemy that was the enemy of our rise." (Read: Jews.)
If former presidents give Farrakhan free passes, why should we be surprised that he is embraced by the likes of Tamika Mallory, co-president of the Women March on Washington? Like another Women's March organizer, Linda Sarsour, Mallory preaches the new "progressive" gospel of "intersectionality," according to which oppressed women and racial minorities, persecuted immigrants, Palestinian activists, and LGBTs should coalesce into one "liberation movement" that has space for everyone except Jews and Israel.
New Leaders Council women's caucus co-chair Kylie Patterson, a promoter of women- and minority-owned businesses, said that, although Farrakhan has "a mixed history," he shared with Aretha a commitment to "the liberation movement."
But today's "intersectional" ideology was not Aretha Franklin's gospel. As Benjamin Ivry points out, she was sending a very different message when she chose as her opening act Joshua Nelson, a Jewish, African-American gospel singer. Nelson refers to Franklin as helping inspire his own amalgam of Hebrew culture and African-American music. To her choice of Nelson, and her towering voice and message, we add our "amen" - a Hebrew word that Aretha sang with exalted fervor.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Global Social Action director.
Dr. Harold Brackman is longtime consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance and co-author of "From Abraham to Obama: A History of Africans, African Americans, and Jews" (Africa World Press, 2015).