The racial rift cannot be ignored

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The rift between blacks and whites in this country has never been more clear than now, in the wake of the O.J. Simpson verdict.

That controversial verdict has highlighted a gap in experience and perceptions between the two groups that is infinitely wider than most of us could have imagined.

It is a frightening and intimidating disparity. But instead of ignoring it, we must confront what it means, and what we — as Jews and Americans — can do to narrow it.

One thing to which the aftermath of the verdict seems to point is the glaring need for leaders in the black community.

But we all need leaders who will heal the rifts between our communities. Minister Louis Farrakhan is far better at exploiting them than healing them.

While the Nation of Islam leader preaches crucial messages of black empowerment and self-sufficiency, he also spews vicious anti-Semitism. The fact that he is a racist has not significantly tarnished his position as a national black leader.

Farrakhan's duality, of course, is noteworthy now with the approach of the Million Man March on Washington D.C. Many white leaders, as well as members of the press, have questioned whether Farrakhan is the right man to lead such a massive call for civil rights.

To be sure, there are those who resist the march because deep in their hearts they abhor the notion of black equality and empowerment. There are those, however, who wholeheartedly believe in full civil rights but believe those rights should not be preached alongside anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred.

It is in the best interest of all Americans to encourage those black leaders and role models who elevate blacks without denigrating others — a Cornel West, for example, or a Maya Angelou.

Those are people who point to racial inequities in American society while simultaneously preaching love for — and respect for — fellow citizens of all races and religions. Those are the leaders all of America, both black and white, needs.