Philadelphia’s NAACP president Rodney Muhammad was wrong for having an anti-Semitic meme on his social media site last week.
Muhammad either posted or allowed (at this point it is not clear which) an image on Facebook on July 23 of photos of Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson and Nick Cannon, all of whom have been criticized recently for posting or making anti-Semitic comments. Below their photos is an image of a yarmulke-wearing man, using his hand to crush a group of people. The photo also includes the quote, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” The quote is misattributed to the French writer and philosopher Voltaire and has been frequently used by white supremacists and Neo-Nazis.
Muhammad said in a statement late Monday that he removed the post when he was told the images had previously been distributed by white supremacists.
“I later learned that not only was the quote I used misattributed to the philosopher Francois Voltaire, but in fact, the quote and image had been used previously by white supremacists,” he wrote. “I immediately removed both the quote and the offensive images. It was never my intention to offend anyone or cause any hurt.”
On Thursday, Muhammad released another statement:
“Last Thursday I learned of an image posted on my timeline that bared significant offense to the Jewish community. After learning of its significance I immediately of my own volition removed it. I do regret the insult, pain and offense it caused to all particularly those of the Jewish community by this unfortunate episode. I AM NOT NOR ARE ANY OF OUR MEMBERS ANTISEMITIC! I have worked with city workers of Jewish origin for the past 28 years in this city on separate issues confronting Philadelphia. I have shared often both stage and platform with Jewish Rabbis I have worked on a number of critical issues with a Jewish mayor in Philadelphia, for the past 3 years the NAACP Philadelphia has held its major annual event bringing national figures to our city at the Museum of American Jewish History. I am not anti-Semitic and from my national and state Presidents, the NAACP strongly condemns offensive language or imagery, hate speech and antisemitism. Our aim now is to engage thoughtful, meaningful, and we hope productive dialogue between our communities. THANK YOU.”
Muhammad actually owes an apology to two groups in particular — those of the Jewish faith and the African-American community.
He should apologize to the Jewish community for perpetuating a stereotype pushed by white supremacists who hate Jewish people and African Americans.
He should apologize to the African-American community for harming the reputation of the NAACP and undermining the fight against systemic racism in Philadelphia. His actions have divided the Black community and alienated allies. The infighting has led to shameful attacks on African-American politicians who have called on Muhammad to resign from his leadership post of the NAACP.
At this time we are not calling for Muhammad to resign. We are asking him to do better.
The local leader of the NAACP cannot engage in actions that harm the reputation of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Muhammad should have known better. It was not like he was making an intellectual argument in which there are opposing views. He should know that posting an image promoting the sweeping generalizations and stereotyping of another group cannot be defended. Muhammad is a prominent leader in a major city. The Tribune has repeatedly honored him as one of Philadelphia’s Most Influential African Americans.
Muhammad should also know that the charge of censorship by Jewish leaders is increasingly made by the far right and white nationalists against African-American leaders and organizations. They call it political correctness.
The fact is that when someone makes anti-Semitic remarks against Jewish people or racist comments against African Americans they should be held accountable.
The NAACP could play a role similar to the Anti-Defamation League by organizing against people who make racist comments.
It is a sign of progress that some people have been forced out of their jobs because of a pattern of racist or anti-Semitic remarks and actions.
Muhammad should also apologize to the African-American community because he has caused a harmful disservice.
The George Floyd killing on Memorial Day sparked global protests and calls for action against police brutality and addressing the issue of institutional racism in the workplace, classroom and other American institutions.
The movement against institutionalized racism and hate has become a national and global outcry.
Locally, there is much work to be done. Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the United States. Homicides are surging in Philadelphia and other major cities. Black men, women and children are being killed in the streets because of gun violence. COVID-19 is disproportionately taking the lives of African Americans.
This recent controversy should spark dialogue and a call for honesty and healing between African Americans and the Jewish community. While we have our differences, we also have a clear enemy in fighting bigotry and hate.