Keith Ellison’s old Minnesota Daily columns surface amid bid for DNC chair

Ellison wrote four columns with the pen name “Keith E. Hakim” during his final years of law school at the University of Minnesota.

One of Keith Ellison's columns,

Minnesota Daily Archives

One of Keith Ellison’s columns, “Minister Farrakhan never claimed to be a ‘Malcolm X,'” published on Nov. 27, 1989.

MN Daily Staff

As Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison runs to fill the Democratic National Committee’s chair vacancy, multiple news outlets have reported on columns Ellison wrote for the Minnesota Daily while he was a third-year law student at the University of Minnesota.

The Daily retrieved Ellison’s four columns from its archives, written under the alias “Keith E. Hakim” in 1989 and 1990. The columns cover a wide array of topics: From reparations for slavery, issues surrounding campus free speech for students of color, and Ellison’s stance on leaders of the Nation of Islam — namely the perceived anti-Semitism of Abdul Alim Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan.

Conservative-leaning outlets and bloggers have since hammered Ellison for those columns and other comments perceived as controversial or anti-Semitic.

Ellison has since denounced Farrakhan, saying he didn’t grasp the leader’s anti-Semitic leanings until several years after he wrote the columns, the Associated Press reported in 2006.

In November 1989, Ellison sparred with Daily columnists over perceptions of the NOI’s leaders.

A week prior, Daily columnist Johnny Hazard penned a piece on Farrakhan, claiming the leader’s rhetoric improperly drew parallels with Malcolm X — a former NOI member — and inflamed calls for violence.

The Daily has reproduced Ellison’s response to Hazard’s column, along with the three other opinion pieces he wrote during his time at the University of Minnesota. Scans of the original print edition are included before the reproduced text.

Ellison could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ellison’s column, “Minister Farrakhan never claimed to be a ‘Malcolm X'” was published on Nov. 27, 1989. In the same issue, the Daily opinion editor, Michael Olenick, wrote a rebuttal to Ellison’s column, pointing out what he perceived to be anti-Semitism.

Here’s what’s wrong with Johnny Hazard’s piece titled “Despite rhetoric, Louis Farrakhan is no Malcom X” (Nov. 17).

First, with police shooting 13-year-old Asian kids in the back, with Yusef Hawkins’ racially motivated murder in Bensonhurst, N.Y., and with the mass beating of black college students in Virginia Beach, there must be a better way of undoing racism than castigating the Nation of Islam. Whom did the Nation ever lynch? Whose neighborhood did the Nation ever redline? Against what people did the Nation ever wage genocide?

Second, Hazard’s piece has a flawed premise. Unlike Vice President Quayle, who attempted to garner support by associating himself with John F. Kennedy, Minister Louis Farrakhan never associated himself with al-Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X). The Honorable Elijah Muhammad resurrected Shabazz and Minister Farrakhan. Minister Farrakhan continues the Honorable Elijah Muhammaad’s legacy; Shabuzz abandoned it. Therefore, Minister Farrakhan might not be another Elijah Muhammad, but he definitely is not another Malcolm X. He never claimed to be.

Third, Hazard wrote, “Ironically, King was more progressive than the Nation of Islam crowd because he understood the economic nature of racism.” Wrong again. The single most distinguishing characteristic of the Nation of Islam, from a black perspective, is the Nation’s message of economic self-determination. Considering the Power Program, the bean pies and the fish stores, the black community knows the Nation to have a definite economic thrust. M. L. King, by contrast, was essentially a social reformer.

Fourth, there’s nothing trendy about the upsurge in interest among black youth concerning Shabazz. This is a response to the upsurge in white barbarism on American college campuses, including this one.

It’s a response to Howard Beach, Virginia Beach, Smalley and Weisse, the Embassy Suites Five and, most recently, the savage murder of two Asian children.

This upsurge indicates that young people are no longer wiling to depend on white largess for material gains. It’s an acknowledgment that power concedes nothing without a demand. And, of course, Shabazz demanded.

Fifth, Shabazz made a clear distinction between the imperialist/slave traders and the other “white” peoples he met in Akebu Lan (Africa) and the Middle East. It’s true that Shabazz came to understand that “whites” living in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Algeria, Turkey and other places were not devils, but he never came to any similar understanding about the colonial masters and slavers of Western Europe, America, Australia, South Africa and Israel. Shabazz still considered these people very devilish.

In fact, upon his return from Haff, a young white woman asked Shabazz if he would permit any white person to join his new organization, the Organization for Afro-American Unity. Shabazz said, “maybe John Brown.” Brown is a white man who led an armed rebellion to overthrow the slavocracy. He was hanged.

Lastly, Hazard, like more and more people, use the term “racism” in a very loose and erroneous way. Any situation in which an individual of one racial class causes displeasure among members of another racial class is not racism. Under that definition, any black person who speaks of America’s genocidal crimes in unflattering terms is labeled a “racist.” In the same way, people label everyone from the Rev. Al Sharpton to the Rev. Jesse Jackson as “racists.”

Racism, however, has very definite characteristics. It means subjugation of one racial class by another. For Farrakhan to be a racist he would have to be, at least, preaching subjugation of whites. Farrakhan, however, preaches cultural pluralism and repatriation, as opposed to integration.

Racism means conspiracy to subjugate and actual subjugation. That means planned social, economic, military, religious and political subjugation of whites. It cannot be intelligently argued that the Nation of Islam is doing this. In fact, blacks have no history of harming or subjecting whites as a class. On the other hand, whites have it written into their very Constitution that blacks shall be considered three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and representation of their white owners. Their Constitution also makes provisions for the return of runaway slaves. Their constitution is the bedrock of American law; it’s the best evidence of a white racist conspiracy to subjugate other peoples.

Racism does not necessarily mean animus or hatred. Before the American Civil War, whites and blacks lived comfortably, according to the diaries of slave holders. Many whites, like Thomas Jefferson, thought so highly of their slaves that they granted them freedom in their wills. These blacks were nevertheless victims of racism. Hatred emerges only when the subjected class attempts to alter the vertical hierarchy racism requires.

Hatred is a sign of racism in disequilibrium — not racism itself. Simply because Farrakhan’s speech evokes feelings of hatred in some people doesn’t make Farrakhan a racist.

I would like to offer an explanation of why anyone who boldly asserts the interests of blacks is assailed as a racist, a philanderer or a criminal. It goes back to those old American laws forbidding anyone from assisting a slave to gain freedom. Any person, black or white, who attempts to disrupt the slavocracy of white supremacist hierarchy will come under attack by the white supremacists and their trained stooges.

Farrakhan, Dr. Abdul Aleem Muhammad, Spike Lee, the Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and the Africana Student Cultural Center (ASCC) have all come under fire because they are all guilty of helping slaves.

Assistance of the subjected class (slaves) is only permitted when that assistance is severely limited, highly publicized and actually bolsters white institutions (e.g., affirmative action).

Certain forces sought to prevent Dr. Muhammad from speaking last week for one reason: He rips slaves away from chemical dependence in Washington, D.C. Hazard attacks Farrakhan because Farrakhan does that is historically illegal and is currently taboo: He frees the slaves from the master.

Ellison responded to Olenick’s piece with the following letter entitled, “Daily editorial staff should feel ashamed,” on Nov. 30, 1989:

I guess the emotional response would be to lash out at Michael Olenick the same way he lashed out at me, Keith E. Hakim, in his piece entitled “Jews will not stay quiet in the face of hate-promoters” (Nov. 27). I refrain however, because as a black man. I understand why a Jewish person would zealously, even hysterically, attempt to defend his or her people. History, of course, has a way of repeating itself.

But instead, I challenge Michael to identify the word, the phrase or the sentence in which I attacked Jewish people as a class in “Minister Farrakhan never claimed to be a Malcolm X” (Nov. 27). He cannot. My reference to “certain forces” included a broader class than Jewish people, and it did not include all Jewish people. My piece was directed toward anyone interested in the race problem —specifically Johnny Hazard.

It’s also false that the Africana Student Cultural Center (ASCC) brings in a disproportionate number of speakers to whom many people, including some Jewish people, object. Last year the ASCC brought in James Turner, Maulana Karanga, Beverly Manley and many others. The year before, the ASCC brought in Ivan Van Serrima, Dr. Ben Jockanan, Dr. John Henricke Clarke and several other speakers. The truth is that several black leaders and black scholars have commended the ASCC on its programming because of its depth, diversity and courage.

Inevitably, however. ASCC brings in some controversial speakers, but that’s its job. That’s the University’s job. Where else will students get the full story on Dr. Abdul Aleem Muhammad of the Nation of Islam? The news media prints only the most sensational bits and pieces, never the whole story. This leaves people believing that the Nation of Islam is some kind of black Ku Klux Klan, and they immediately dismiss all of its laudable work. Michael made an understandable, but nevertheless serious, error.

What really upsets me, however, is journalist Michael Olenick’s disregard for the sanctity of unpopular opinion. Not so long ago The Daily, in its unsigned editorial section, had a squib entitled “Why?” in which the paper stood up for, what I hope, are unpopular opinions. That piece criticized a University administrator for proposing that the University adopt an anti-hate speech provision. Apparently the administrator was outraged by the campus racism at places like the University of Wisconsin, Dartmouth and the University of Michigan. She wanted to address the growing problem of white supremacist speech on campus. The Daily piece called her proposal “stupid.” And it continued to say that any speech, even “racist” speech, must be heard.

Michael did not object; he was silent. Neither did any of the other people who self-righteously denounced Dr. Muhammad. That’s very curious and sad. What sort of journalist or newspaper would stand up for anti-black speech, but deny a black speaker the podium as a so-called “hate” speaker? There’s a problem, I think.

As a journalist, Michael and The Daily’s editorial staff should feel somewhat ashamed. The Daily permitted its Opinions editor to use the page to wage a personal vendetta against a single writer who offered an alternative opinion to the Daily’s three articles and three opinions pieces excoriating the Nation of Islam and the ASCC. Michael controls what shall be printed, and it’s his job to screen everything. It’s hardly fair for someone in his position to write tit-for-tat polemics against purveyors of unpopular views.

This “break with tradition,” I’m sure, won’t improve the liberal Daily’s image in black eyes. Black writers, no doubt, will be shot down from on high and labeled Jew- haters, charlatans or criminals for violating our American social mores.

The saddest aspect of Michael’s piece is that he never addressed the issues I attempted to raise. When are we going to talk about white supremacy?

In February and April 1990, Ellison wrote two other columns. The first, headlined “Affirmative action does not make up for past injustice,” focused on affirmative action — which he believed to be a inadequate response to injustices faced by the black community — and called for reparations:

Conservatives may have a point concerning affirmative action. Why should marginally qualified white college students and blue-collar workers should over 400 years of white supremacy alone? Haven’t all whites — especially the wealthy ones — benefitted from white skin-color privilege? Let’s face it — liberal social programs, including but not limited to affirmative action, foist the burden of brutal white savagery on the most marginally qualified whites, usually students or the white working class.

The liberal social programs have been all roses for blacks either. These programs have made black beneficiaries feel as though their white persecutors, who have dealt them nothing but death and humiliation, are giving them something for nothing. Black students — already plagued with self-doubt — wonder whether they’re really qualified. Worst of all, blacks face the charge that — like whites — they are beneficiaries of discrimination, reverse discrimination, that is. It’s absurd — as if brothers and sisters getting into college under affirmative action amounts to 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow and 25 years of neo-Jim Crow.

The liberal social experiment actually represents a sneaky reparations program without whites ever having to admit their collective misdeeds. It adds insult to injury to project the culprit as the benefactor.

Since no one but the WASP elite really appreciates affirmative action, I have a challenge for all fair-minded middle- and working-class white people: I will urge black people to abandon white-dominated, integration-oriented, give-away programs if you urge white people to justly compensate black people for 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow and 25 years of neo-Jim Crow.

The settlement could be a straight cash transfer for all the black exploitation. This means just compensation for all the labor hours put in by the slaves and just compensation for all the intellectual and artistic property ripped off by all the Elvis Presleys and Pat Boones. It means compensation for all the money ripped off through sharecropping and just compensation owing to all the black athletes of yesterday, such as Jack Jefferson and Joe Louis. It means back payment of the “black tax,” which is the price hike that ghetto merchants and pawnbrokers charge black consumers.

This settlement would include compensation for the loss of society blacks suffered when they were stolen from their homes in Africa. It would also include loss-of-society compensation for family members who were separated from each other when the slavemasters sold them separately to increase his profit. The settlement would include compensation for pain and suffering for the mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters of those blacks who were lynched at the hands of the white mob. The settlement would include compensation for the pain and suffering of those who endured the Middle Passage and those who did not.

It’s estimated that at least 50 million Africans died on the trip between Africa and North America. Of course, the settlement would include interest and could not be taxed without consent. Punitive damages would be assessed against the descendants of slaveholders, Ku Kluxers, slumlords, redliners and all parties who caused black men to die in wars to advance U.S. interests.

Black people would not accept money obtained through the exploitation of other oppressed nationalities. Whites would have to tax themselves, or, as usual, borrow from the Japanese. Hopefully, this tax scheme could be severely progressive. Hopefully, poor whites and whites who fought white supremacy would pay the least, but, of course, this wouldn’t be my concern.

Finally, blacks would have the option of choosing their own land base or remaining in the United States. Since black people toiled most diligently in the southeastern section of the United States, this land, quite naturally, would be most suitable. That means Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Black, of course, would not be compelled to move to the black state, and, of course, peace whites would not be compelled to move away.

This is a bargain.

Whites would be relieved of the burdens of the black-faced but white-dominated social programs. Black would employ themselves, teach their own children the truth and control their own neighborhoods. Black-white interaction would be voluntary instead of compelled. No more busing, no more affirmative action and, best of all, no more white guilt. White people could righteously say they have settled their debts with blacks. Urban Blacks, long alienated from society by poverty, forced segregation and media-vilification, would no longer strike fear in whites. Think of it, whites could reclaim their cities — without dispossessing anyone.

Now the liberals may oppose this reparations program because, of course, they justify their existence by championing so-called lost causes. Others also have a material interest in black exploitation. Urban renewal money might completely dry up, the social work industry might collapse, and agri-businesses who profit from the food stamp programs might suffer losses. Also, the prison industry and the police apparatus might be scaled back. The mass exodus of black soldiers from the U.S. military might also cause some short-term problems. Weapons contractors would have fewer uniforms, boots, meals and rifles to supply. But this would represent only a short setback, because America still benefits from the exploitation of many.

If you don’t accept my challenge, rest assured that black-white relations will continue to be, at the very best, bumpy. White jubilation over freedom and democracy in Eastern Europe will continue to illustrate white American hypocrisy in black eyes.

Ellison’s opinion piece published in April, “Blacks struggle for freedom of speech,” discussed free speech for black students at the University, and touched on the alleged push by then-University President Nils Hasselmo to stifle students’ of color right to free speech.

Over the past two years the Africana Student Cultural Center has been in a pitched battle to preserve its right to free expression and free academic inquiry. That battle intensified when University President Nils Hasselmo imposed his official presidential stamp on the campaign to chill black speech on campus.

Under intense outside pressure, Hasselmo decided to denounce Kwame Ture’s Feb. 2 speech sight unseen in a secret meeting on Feb. 23. Later that week, after black students protested, Hasselmo issued a thinly veiled censure of the ASCC for inviting Ture, Hasselmo said he was offended whe Ture said in an open speech that Zionists collaborated with Nazis during World War II.

Though Hasselmo ultimately stood up for free expression, he denounced Ture’s comment without offering any factual refutation of it, and despite Ture’s continual reiteration that “Judaism as a religion must be respected.”

This struggle started when the ASCC invited the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam to speak on campus three years ago. The views and opinions of the Nation of Islam – a long-standing and vital institution in the black community — are a matter o public interest, as Farrakhan’s recent television appearances suggest. Consequently, the University is clearly a legitimate place for the Nation’s leadership to speak.

Instead of openly challenging Farrakhan’s opinions, however, detractors in and outside the administration attacked the ASCC’s funding and its access to Northrop Auditorium. They also attempted to pub a disclaimer on the ASCC’s posters in following years.

The struggle intensified when Elaine Tyler May, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts, wrote an internal memo castigating the ASCC for placing pictures of lynchings in the 1989 Africana History Month flier. She thought the flier did not properly highlight themes of “creative resistance.” Despite several uplifting pictures, speech excerpts and poems on the flier, May still considered the overall theme too black and, therefore, unacceptable.

May’s internal memo only reached the ASCC by accident, and like the parties who plotted against the ASCC for inviting Farrikhan and Ture, May never dealt with the ASCC in a forthright manner.

In fact, this controversy surrounding the decision to invite Kwame Ture is but the latest chapter in a continuing saga over black free-speech rights. Contrary to popular opinion, this controversy cannot be explained as a “black-Jewish” controversy. The attacking faction does not include all Jewish people, but, in fact, it includes many non-Jews. All, however, find their ancestral roots in Europe.

The bottom line appears to be that black students cannot invite speakers who speak of the western world’s genocidal crimes in clear, unflattering terms. Why does America’s most prominent and beloved right, the right to freedom of expression, lose its significance whe black students exercise it?

This phenomenon has historic implications, and at bottom it touches on whether black people are citizens. A right is meaningful only if the state will use its military and economic power to enforce it. To the degree that one’s rights go unenforced, is to the same degree that the statutory right is merely a nominal right. Those with nominal rights are nominal citizens.

Now, if black people are only nominal citizens, then this explains why Hasselmo punishes black students for exercising their First Amendment rights, and conversely rewards white students.

Hasselmo did not feel particularly compelled to speak out when two black women were assaulted and called “niggers” by a group of white fraternity members. However, on March 20, Hasselmo admitted his motivation for releasing the statement was that a teary-eyed “little Jewish girl” asked him to denounce the ASCC.

In January, white supremacist graffiti has stayed for six weeks on the pedestrian portion of the Washington Avenue Bridge. The scribblers declared, “Tar Queens = Welfare Scum,” and “Tax more blacks.” In addition, the scribblers wrote “Hasselmo is white,” and underscored the slogan with a swastika. Hasselmo was not compelled to speak out against racism then. Perhaps the last scribbling had meaning beyond the obvious.

Concerning Zionism and Ture’s speech, the ASCC’s position is simply this: Whether one supports or opposes the establishment of Israel in Palestine and Israel’s present policies, Zionism, the ideological undergirding of Israel, is a debatable political philosophy. Anyone, including black people, has the right to hear and voice alternative views on the subject — notwithstanding our nominal citizenship.

If Zionism is nationalism — and not religion — then, it necessarily is a political matter. Political matters are always subject to debate, which means support or criticism. Those who opt to criticize Israel are not necessarily ant-Jewish. Moreover, history teaches that nationalism is not inherently good or bad. Nationalism helped most colored nations of the world throw of colonialism and it helped the Nazis gain state power in Germany. Analyzing Zionism as Jewish nationalism lends nothing to the greater understanding of Zionism.

If prominent Jewish writers like Lennie Brenner, who wrote Zionism in the Age of Dictators, ALFRED Lithenthal, who wrote The Zionist Connection, and Edwin Black, who wrote The Transfer Agreement: The Untold Third Reich and Jewish Palestine, can question Zionism, then so can Ture. If the United Nations can equate Zionism with racisms and apartheid, then black students can invite black speakers to campus who hold views critical of Israel and Zionism.

If the world’s most prominent political prisoner, Nelson Mandela, can hug and kiss Yasser Arafat, and then state publicly, “Yasser Arafat is fighting against a unique form of colonialism, and we wish him success in his struggle,” then certainly a speaker, invited by black students, can question the legitimacy of Israel and its behavior. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, said recently, “when you hear descriptions of the incidents taking place on the West Bank, all you need to do is change the names and the descriptions would be apt for south Africa.”

Now, of course, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu, Kwame Ture, Lennie Brenner, Alfred Lilenthal and countless others may very well be nothing more than Jew-haters, but it seems unlikely. These people have pretty good credentials; their criticisms merit some investigation.

Alternatively, the Unviersity’s position appears to be this: Political Zionism is off-limits no matter what dubious circumstances Israel was founded under; no matter what the Zionists do to the Palestinians; and no matter what wicked regimes Israel allies itself with — like South Africa. This position is untenable.

On March 20, Hasselmo claimed his decision to issue his poorly disguised denunciation was “principled” despite the fact that his decision was based on emtion, an despite the fact that he provided absolutely no factual refutation of Ture’s statements. In issuing this statement he sent a message to the greater University that the ASCC should suffer any sanction outside of explicit censorship. By his own words, he acted because he was “offended” — so offended that he felt compelled to abandon his position of impartiality. And create an even more chilly environment for black students. This method of decision-making seems unbefitting of the “the Brain State’s” chief academician.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.