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July 17, 2020

Allen Iverson responds to criticism for posting photo with Louis Farrakhan

Philadelphia 76ers' legend offers muddled explanation, but rejects anti-Semitism and hatred

Allen Iverson says an Instagram photo he shared of himself with Louis Farrakhan "wasn't meant to offend anyone," adding that he does not support the Nation of Islam leader's anti-Semitic or homophobic views.

The 76er great and NBA Hall of Famer became the latest celebrity to face backlash this week when he shared a three-year-old photo he took with Farrakhan, whose long history of anti-Semitic remarks and radical theology have earned him the designation of an "extremist figure" by numerous monitoring groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson provoked a wave of condemnation last week after he shared Instagram posts that misquoted Adolf Hitler, peddled anti-Semitic conspiracies and lionized Farrakhan as a trailblazer for Black empowerment.

Despite Jackson's apologies and commitments to educate himself about the Jewish community, numerous public figures have shown either tacit or explicit support for Farrakhan in the wake of the incident. Several Black celebrities attended Farrakhan's July Fourth speech, in which he repeated that Jews are "Satan" and "the enemy of God."

Iverson's statement exemplifies the cognitive dissonance that seems to underlie Farrakhan's enduring base of support. 

"I respect Louis Farrakhan's strong voice on behalf of Black people and his impact on the Black community," Iverson said. "I also acknowledge that he is viewed as a controversial figure and I am aware that he has made remarks and comments that are different from my own views and beliefs."

For whatever reason, those who admire Farrakhan don't feel any misgivings when they selectively embrace the positive messages he has for the Black community while ignoring the hateful ideology he preaches about other groups, no matter how much Farrakhan trips over himself trying to deny it publicly.

To say that we all have different viewpoints and can be friendly with those who don't share our own is a gross oversimplification of the dilemma Farrakhan represents. Hatred stands in a different category. It's discrediting in ways that warrant disavowal and an unequivocal challenge. 

While there is clearly a deeper set of legitimate issues regarding the history of Black oppression that somehow informs this choosy perspective on Farrakhan, nobody has offered a compelling mainstream defense of why it's acceptable to support an anti-Semite. What gives Farrakhan a pass for those views?

When Iverson and others state that they are not anti-Semitic or homophobic, it does nothing to lend legitimacy to Farrakhan, or explain why he should be a vessel of knowledge, rather than anyone else whose uplifting platform for Black lives isn't also steeped in such unnecessary hatred.

The timing of Iverson's first Instagram post can't be be mistaken for anything other than a commentary on the backlash against Jackson and others who support Farrakhan. Despite his apologies, Jackson's Instagram account initially liked Iverson's post before that quiet endorsement disappeared.

As Michael A. Fletcher wrote this week for The Undefeated, Farrakhan's vocal anti-Semitism appears to be a blind spot that his supporters overlook, without realizing how much co-signing him contaminates and undermines their message:

Farrakhan's Nation of Islam is widely admired across Black America for its 90-year track record of lifting up and cleaning up Black lives and its emphasis on Black self-help. Many African Americans look past Farrakhan's frequent forays into mind-bending conspiracy theories and his long history of anti-Semitism to focus on what they see as his core message.

That has long been a sore point in Black-Jewish relations. Through the years, a series of Black leaders have attempted to forge partnerships with Farrakhan in the hope of tapping into his broad grassroots appeal and were criticized for minimizing or ignoring his anti-Semitism, rather than acknowledging it for what it is.

NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar similarly denounced the general shrug in response to anti-Semitism, lamenting the support celebrities have given to Farrakhan. Via The Hollywood Reporter:

These famous, outspoken people share the same scapegoat logic as all oppressive groups from Nazis to the KKK: all our troubles are because of bad-apple groups that worship wrong, have the wrong complexion, come from the wrong country, are the wrong gender or love the wrong gender. It’s so disheartening to see people from groups that have been violently marginalized do the same thing to others without realizing that perpetuating this kind of bad logic is what perpetuates racism.

Prior to the mess with DeSean Jackson, no one would have had any reason to think that he, Iverson, Stephen Jackson, Malik Jackson, Nick Cannon, or any other celeb hitting the "like" button held hateful beliefs toward Jews or any other group. All of them publicly insist they don't, and yet they have seemed shocked and offended that they might come across that way for endorsing a person who does.

Simply writing off Iverson and others for this perplexing allegiance doesn't help anyone understand why it's there and why Farrakhan is worth the moral compromise of a movement much bigger than any one person or leader.

The final paragraph of Iverson's statement is worthy of praise, but why should it take such mental gymnastics to reserve a place for the 87-year-old Farrakhan just to get there? 

There is a conversation taking place. There are attempts being made to explain it. But it's not making sense. Excusing the hatred of effective leaders, avoiding the evidence that they're demagogues, is always a dangerous and detrimental path.