Queen for a Day?

One woman among the million men

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Against my wishes, the Million Man March proceeded as planned. The organizers did not notice that Minister Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, sexist, and homosexual-baiting racism had left me 'unable to support' the march. Not 'opposed to' it, but unable, in good conscience, to let its supporters have any peace. A million brothers united for peace and atonement is every sister's dream. But under a banner borne by Benjamin Chavis and Farrakhan? Surely we demean ourselves and insult our fellow Americans with such company. And why must those they claim to be honoring remain behind; why not apologize to our faces?

As the march neared, I feared the worst: whites, whipped into a post-O.J. frenzy, blowing something else up; swaggering black youths expressing their newfound pride as racial and sexual aggression; our women working that much harder while our men attend male-only meetings. In this pre-election year, I dreaded the political fallout most of all. I foresaw a direct relationship between the number of marchers and the number of new prisons planned. And then, just before the march, I went shopping.

My sister, her husband, and my nephew had driven in from St. Louis so I needed something in the fridge besides beer and portobello mushrooms. Laden with packages, I struggled from the supermarket behind three young black men who looked back briefly when one of my bags toppled. One of them stopped, grabbed the other's arm, and gestured toward me. 'We should... do something?' he whispered with almost comic intensity. He looked 18 and scared to death of me.

The others stopped, blocking my path and looking stupidly around. Brainstorm. 'The door! I'll hold the door!'

The pattern kept repeating itself. Black men stepping aside with exaggerated courtesy to let me pass, black men giving me their Metro seats, black men calling me 'sister' instead of 'baby.' Not all, not even most, but a very noticeable few.

I followed the march's progress in the media and my own excitement grew; clearly, we were groping not for Minister Farrakhan but for unity and self-respect. By the time my family arrived, I was still 'unable to support' the march, but much less vigorously. We stayed up all night while they told me of the caravans heading for D.C. and the camaraderie they shared with these strangers on the road. People had helped each other with repairs and places to sleep; they'd shared food, child care, directions, life stories. My criticisms seemed like non sequiturs to them.

'We didn't come to join the Nation,' my brother-in-law told me in a tone that suggested I might actually be misinformed.

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