ONE MILLION black men.
That's what Louis Farrakhan and former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis hope to gather for their Oct. 16 march on Washington. It's a vision to lift the downcast eye and fire the extinguished spirit.
Business suits and backwardcaps, --ikis and overalls, youngbloods and oldheads, the hip-hop nation meets the talented tenth.
And the Angry White Man meets a million black men who feel rather cheesed off themselves. The march, and accompanying call for blacks to boycott jobs, stores and schools on that day, are a response to the so-called "conservative revolution." In addition, Mr. Farrakhan says the event offers black men a chance to "atone to God" for their mistreatment of their women, daughters and sisters.
I love it. I just wish almost anyone other than Mr. Farrakhan were leading it. There would be less risk of something noble being subverted bysomething low. But then, no one else would have a chance of pulling it off, would he?
For all the racist pandering of his Nation of Islam and the brackish bile he and his lieutenants sometimes spew, Mr. Farrakhan is charismatic, a man of imagination and vision.
More than a powerful symbol, the Million Man March is a propaganda masterstroke of potentially historic proportions. And it forces a moment of truth upon those of us who are troubled by, or at profound philosophical odds with, Louis Farrakhan. Will we support this event anyway, doubts and all?
I will. I see no alternative. All I see is need.
As Donald Payne, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told a reporter: "There is a need for African-American men to become more instrumental in dealing with the problems that beset the black community. A lot of the erosion in the black community is the result of the absence of strong black leadership."
Black men are at ground zero of America's racial angst, more so than Chinese or Cuban men, more even than black women. We are the ones who are feared, the ones who are hated, the ones imprisoned by jump shots and dance steps, the ones who are every day convicted without testimony in the media, the government and the court of public opinion.
We are also the ones who have not done our job in the face of all this, the ones who have been shamed and conned into donning those fears, hates, imprisonments and convictions like an ill-fitting mask. Hiding behind that mask we have, many of us, left our women and children unprotected and our communities bereft of our wisdom and strength.
I hope the Million Man March will lift the mask to show the face beneath. I want America to see it, to study the eyes, the lips, the lines -- and the pain. I want black men to see themselves, too, and to know that the mask was ever unnecessary because the face is beautiful and always has been.
And I want more, man. I want brothers who write poetry to embrace brothers who can't read. I want brothers who fly over the clouds to high-five brothers who hustle on the street. I want Magic and Michael and Spike to show. Colin too, if he's in town. And I want Clarence to look out the window of his office at the Supreme Court and see what he's missing.
Do I want too much? Do I hope too high? Probably, but I can't help it.
Back in the days when hope was a less rare commodity, singer Willie Hutch sang of how "brother's gonna work it out." I always felt reassured by that song.
It's been a long time since many brothers had that confidence, or believed in their ability to shape their lives and protect those they loved. You get beat down enough, humiliated and lied about enough, and it changes you, you know? Skews your perception of your own abilities.
The Million Man March offers a chance to right that perception, even if, as is likely, the final head count falls far short. More, it offers redemption, an opportunity to put the mask aside and reclaim our true face. Messrs. Farrakhan and Chavis can achieve no higher goal than to remind us of the faith we once had:
.' "Brother's gonna work it out."
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.