Saturday, December 27, 2008

To Reclaim and Rebuild our Communities

By William P. Muhammad

With the economic mess the United States has inherited from the last eight years of the outgoing Bush administration, Black Americans are being challenged to consider both the time and the actions necessary to maintain, if not to improve, our qualify of life. In a period of economic uncertainty, we must come to adjust our ways of thinking, return to a strong sense of self and take to heart the fact that a new president cannot solve the problems our communities face on a daily basis.

Through the failures of the real estate market, the auto industry and Wall Street, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been affected one way or another from home foreclosures, job losses and an undisciplined financial market. Through predatory lending and sub-prime and variable rate loans, people of color, the working poor and the middle class are all being squeezed and stretched within an economy in recession.

For African-Americans weathering difficult days is nothing new and while the November elections have brought a Black man to the White House, Blacks must leverage that victory into a solid strategy benefiting the growth and development of our communities. Making our neighborhoods “safe and decent places to live,” through educating our people to the knowledge of self, is the starting point from which self-examination, self-analysis and self-correction may be carried out.

According to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s study guides: “Self-Improvement, the Basis for Community Development,” the collective change of a community or nation must first begin with a change within the individual. That “transformed” or changed individual effects the environment around himself or herself, which in turn changes a community or a nation for the better or the worse. Bearing witness to the Biblical scripture: “As a man thinks, so is he,” a negative self-image creates a self-destructive people, blighted communities and broken families.

A vision for the future

History proves that Black self-hatred in America was taught to us through centuries of servitude and repetitive indoctrination, and undoing that damage is today the key to improving our people and our neighborhoods. Churches, mosques and other institutions meaningful to Black people must take the forefront in addressing the Black self-image - if real change is to occur. More than paying lip-service to Blackness or by only repeating “I am somebody,” we need a collective and systematic effort that breaks the mindset of Black inferiority.

Instilling a culture of self-determination, excellence and pride will lead the Black community to a bright future where Black-on-Black love will overcome and replace Black-on-Black crime and violence. Rather than making dependency upon a system or a job that others can take away with the stroke of a pen or a kick out the door, we as a people must learn to depend upon each other once again and to realize that true freedom and independence starts with an honest assessment of self.

There is a great future awaiting the wide-awake Black man and woman of America once the love of self becomes the rule rather than the exception, and nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. A transformed family will aid in the transformation of an entire community and by accepting the responsibility to build up ourselves, simultaneously, we will in fact be found building up our nation.

It goes without saying that the immediate future has many challenges within it and that difficult days are ahead, but we will have much to lose if we refuse to adequately prepare ourselves for the changes that are certainly coming. Considering the hour, we know what must be done in order to maintain or improve our standards of living and a thorough knowledge of self is the basis from which we must start.

We cannot expect politicians to do for us what we are capable of getting up and doing for ourselves and looking to the new president to solve the crises in our various communities is equally unrealistic. The Black community is a resilient community that has endured both centuries of enslavement and decades of segregated oppression, but today “we must get our own foot out of our own way.”

By returning to ourselves, or our original state of being, we will return to a heart purified through the vicissitudes of life. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that undeserved suffering was redemptive and today as so many of our people struggle for justice and fair dealing, we are being prepared to be leaders in a time of hardship. Scripture reads “…they will rebuild the wasted cities that have been devastated for generations…,” but in order to do so, we must first be found doing something to improve ourselves, our families and our people.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A green economy and what it means for us

By William P. Muhammad


It goes without saying that education is the basis for advancement in American society, and for Black Americans this is doubly true. With the election of Barack Obama for president, the development and implementation of a “green economy” is being taken seriously at last. As the so-called “green revolution” takes root in American politics, the environmental and energy policy changes so many have advocated may finally become an opportunity yielding tangible rewards.

With the appointment of Berkeley physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary, for the first time in American politics renewable energy, increased efficiency standards and a reduced dependency upon foreign oil will take a front seat at the highest levels of public policy-making.

From individual homes to big business, the incoming Obama administration is challenging Americans to consider a green economy where energy is both generated and made more efficient through personal responsibility and new technology. Following the example of the European Union, where by the year 2020 advocates expect 20 percent of their power to come through renewable energy, the United States is capable of either matching or exceeding their goal while profiting from it economically.

President-elect Obama wants to invest $150 billion over 10 years in order to create a green economy where jobs, a reduction in greenhouse gasses and a generally lower carbon footprint will aid in not only saving the environment, but also in creating up to five million new jobs. Ranging from homeowners with solar panels to windmills for industrial power generation, for Black people to benefit from Mr. Obama’s stated policy we must first motivate ourselves to seek an education stressing math and the sciences.

Through either a college and university program or by way of trade schools and entrepreneurship, there is much to do in preparing for a “green future.” From servicing people’s homes with low energy light bulbs to insulating and weather stripping them for greater efficiency, one person can make a difference, save money and earn a living as well.

In the wind, solar and biomass fields, many colleges and universities are preparing a future work force with degrees in cutting-edge sciences and trade schools are training the next generation of technicians, mechanics and repairmen. Since these fields are entering the mainstream of American energy production, African-American youth can take advantage of this opening by acquiring the knowledge necessary to gain a foothold in the industry.

In much the same way Irish and Italian-Americans entered the firefighting and law enforcement professions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Black Americans have a unique opportunity to enter the green energy economy of the early 21st century.

A chance to good to ignore, parents, teachers and religious leaders should counsel our young men and women to think forward and to envision themselves not only fitting into the future workforce, but also on becoming important and irreplaceable fixtures within it.

While it is clear that difficult days are ahead because of a worsening economy, factory closings and layoffs, education nevertheless remains the means for advancement and a better quality of life. Mathematics and the sciences are of paramount importance and Black children must be taught at a young age to embrace these fields rather than to avoid them.

With the economic mess Mr. Obama is inheriting from the outgoing Bush administration, Blacks will find well paying jobs few and far between. As competition increases in proportion to the scarcity of employment options, low skilled workers will have much to lose as the country’s economic condition worsens and the government’s solutions take time to work.

The President-elect is coming to office with various crises awaiting him and building a green economy and infrastructure is one way to address the issues of energy production, the environment and unemployment. For those astute enough to see “the time and what must be done,” preparing for the difficult days ahead will help to secure a future for ourselves, our families and our people.

The incoming president, as the leader of the entire country, can only do so much to ensure all boats rise to the top. He can influence policies and programs in order to lay a foundation for advancement and prosperity, but he cannot help a people who will not help themselves.

Education in an of itself is only as good as the effort a student makes to master the subject matter, and as green energy begins to replace fossil fuels, an opportunity is only as good as one’s attempt to use it. In order to ensure a better quality of life for Black Americans, it’s already a known fact we must work twice as hard to achieve the same goals, so now more than ever, it’s time we get on the ball and roll with it.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Just what does post-racial mean anyway?

By William P. Muhammad

By now most of us have probably heard the latest buzz regarding the term “post-racial politics,” and with the political ascension of President-elect Barack Obama, other terms such as post-racial society, post-racial era and post-racial policy have all been floated into the public discourse.

Although for years it has been the hope and prayer of Black folk to overcome racism and to finally arrive at that shining city on the hill, because of Mr. Obama’s November win there are those who say we have. While this position may be true for the privileged few, it is nevertheless clear that the masses of Black people have not arrived, and to say otherwise is na├»ve at best.

There are reasons to be circumspect toward those advocates of the so-called post-racial agenda, not only because of its euphemistic sound, but also because of a solid historical pattern that continues to this very day. When looking at various African-American communities across the country, it is not difficult to note that Black people, for the most part, do not provide for their own goods and services, and many products unique to the needs of Blacks are not controlled by us at all.

Can Black people truly embrace a so-called philosophy of “post-racialism” and sit as equals when land, access to capital and ownership over the means of production are the basis of freedom, justice and equality?

With the end of chattel slavery in 1865, there was an understood promise made of 40 acres and a mule to the formerly enslaved. Later reneged upon during the presidency of Andrew Johnson, there is no telling how it would have played out had it been allowed to follow through. Nevertheless, in spite of the obstacles and the hostility many Southern whites harbored toward Blacks, at the end of the Civil War the formerly enslaved began building lives for themselves starting out with little or nothing. Eventually leading to the establishment of successful businesses, farming communities and even towns, prosperity did not come without a price.

Causing resentment among whites once again, a backlash manifested itself in the form of the nightriders and the Ku Klux Klan, often with the complicity of local and state government. With a federal government that often looked the other way, lynching, intimidation and repressive legal and business practices discouraged and disheartened many causing them, among other things, to move North in what became known as the “The Great Migration.”

Resettled primarily in the industrial belts of the North, those who fled the South or left for other reasons had to start over again, and as before, Black businesses and institutions sprouted up to serve the needs of their communities.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the denial of public accommodations and segregation led some to a revolt against the system, leading many into what became known as the Civil Rights movement. However, as the quest for equal treatment and access to public accommodations evolved into a demand for “full integration,” the economic base African-Americans had built began to erode once more. As the infrastructures and the mechanisms that supported Black communities declined, so did the quality of life within them.

By the 1970s and 1980s, with the closing of inner city factories and the increase of inner city crime, particularly through the introduction of illicit narcotics and guns, the little economic self-sufficiency we had left was more an exception than the rule.

Today, with the loss of Black owned land, restricted access to capital, virtually no ownership over the means of production and mounting debt, Black Americans find themselves maneuvered into a state of economic dependency. Our consumer dollars, which benefit those living outside of our communities, are based upon jobs, which for the most part, are located outside of our communities. This, coupled with the Black middle-class debt burden, proves that Black people must unify, take responsibility for our condition and find solutions to our own problems.

However, to solve the problems plaguing American society by encouraging Blacks to deny their unique struggle and heritage, but this time in the name of a “post-racial” agenda, is nothing new. Traditionally speaking, and under different names, this was used to divide and control both the former slave and the indigenous populations whose customs, folkways and mores were not accepted by the dominant society.

There is still much work to do in breaking up the old mind of white supremacy, but it will only come through breaking the myth of Black inferiority. To deny our Blackness in the meantime is to deny the common thread that binds us together as a people, and doing so would condemn us to yet another generation of losing ground.

In order to be respected, Black men and women must first respect themselves, become a productive people and want for their brother what they want for themselves. If the advocates of the so-called “post-racial agenda” want a society dedicated to freedom, justice and equality, then perhaps it would be better to call for and work toward a “post-racist” society instead.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Now that a change has come, what's next? (Part 3 of 3)


By William P. Muhammad

Within the global community, it is abundantly clear that America’s economic and political standing has seen better days, but regarding what it takes to maintain a super-power status in an increasingly competitive global market, both American leadership and the common man have a duty to reclaim the culture of learning.

Focusing primarily upon the Black community, however, this argument is much more acute. Domestically speaking, Black Americans must reclaim a pursuit of knowledge that for years defined our traditional pathway to success. From the days of slavery, where in Virginia, for example, it was a violation of the law to teach a Black person to read, many of our fore parents risked the lash, the noose and the gun to have such an opportunity.

Today, however, from either a collective fatigue that has caused various African-American communities to give up or because of a young person’s rebellion toward that which is irrelevant to his or her life’s experiences, the problem of apathy, which has been so harmful to the growth and development of our community, seems to have reached epidemic proportions. As societal distractions, parental obligations and youthful indiscretions clash with “the time and what must be done,” the rest of the world is either passing us by or is preparing to do so.

With the seriousness of the hour requiring immediate intervention, it is a known fact that education and the quest for knowledge are the only realistic tools available for leveling a historically uneven playing field. Re-kindling the desire for the pursuit of knowledge is absolutely necessary, as it opens doors and opportunities that would otherwise be closed and ensures a better quality of life, not only for the American people in general, but also for Black Americans and other people of color.

With concerns over the U.S. economy revealing an automotive industry in trouble, an increase in corporate downsizings through lay-offs and mergers and the exporting of low skilled manufacturing jobs to foreign labor markets, well-paying trades and professions of the future will require a new dedication to mathematics and the sciences not seen since the launch of Sputnik in 1957.

Now that an historic change has come to the American political landscape, the proposed “green economy” and the so-called “green revolution” it hopes to inspire will likewise require a revolution in the U.S. education system. As in the early days of the Cold War where new math and sciences were stressed in American schools, the same is being called for today by environmentalists and policy-makers who argue the paramount importance of “clean energy” and independence from foreign suppliers.

However, with the environmental dimensions of this new challenge being that of pollution control, global warming and depleting natural resources, renewable energy and green technology have also become a rallying cry for buttressing the economy among policy-makers.

Yet with all of these facts in front of us, and the need for such change on the horizon, how do we motivate and inspire a new culture of learning among our young people?

One of the realities of living in a digital as opposed to an analog age is that while attention spans appear shorter, younger minds are much quicker in their ability to process information. Perhaps this being one of the reasons why it is difficult to capture and maintain the attention of our young people, techniques should be examined as to how to place more information within shorter time spans while challenging young minds to question, inquire and analyze the environment around them.

Starting with parents, we must first make an honest assessment of where we stand in inspiring curiosity in young minds. Requiring more than just turning off the television and demanding that homework be done, starting at an early age, we must engage in activities that encourage a culture of questioning and critical thinking.

Visiting museums and libraries and walking outside to look at the diversity and wonder of nature helps to ground children and makes them more apt to succeed in school. Also, showing our youth where they fit into society, as well as into the international community, helps them to know that they too have a stake to claim, and that they matter as persons of color.

With Mr. Obama on his way to the White House in January, he has proven to the world that a Black person is capable of attaining the world’s most powerful seat, and with all that Black Americans have sacrificed for, to forfeit a future we prayed, marched and died for, because we failed to adequately prepare for it, would be a great tragedy.

Education is the key to our success, but only if we use it to our advantage. Sitting and waiting for bread to fall from the sky is just as unrealistic as waiting on a politician to deliver singlehandedly the solutions to our problems. Mr. Obama has shared a vision for the future, but it will take all of us to make it into a reality.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Now that a change has come, what's next? (Part 2)


By Bro. William P. Muhammad

With the domestic priorities of an incoming Obama administration clearly focused upon the economy, healthcare reform, renewable energy and middle-class taxes, immediate issues facing the masses of Black people such as poverty related concerns and racial disparities do not rank high in the President-Elect’s national agenda.

When Mr. Obama takes his oath of office in January, the challenges facing Black people will be no different than before and our communities will face increased national and international scrutiny as the impression that the African-American has “finally arrived” is sold around the world. With the rise of America’s first Black president will come the rise of higher expectations for Black people, putting forth yet more challenges to be faced and solved.

Regarding the African-American standing in a weakening U.S. economy, our consumption oriented dollars still far exceed our production oriented dollars and the Black community remains vulnerable to higher unemployment rates, higher numbers of home foreclosures and a decline in quality of life standards. In an economy where productivity, entrepreneurship and institution building is, for the most part, rewarded, now more than ever, a change must take place in the current African-American ethos.

In the physical and mental health of the Black community, there is much dependence on an affordable healthcare system and African-Americans suffer with the highest rates of preventable diseases.

Certain cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes and HIV/AIDS rank highest among Black Americans and with an Obama administration in power, these maladies will be neither eliminated nor reduced without the Black community’s appreciation of what is in its own best interests. Such problems cannot and will not be solved by a politician, but they can be solved by personal education, enlightened religious communities and good old fashioned home training.

However, with energy probably one of the greatest issues facing the world today, the buzzword for the future is “green economy.” But what position, if any, will African-Americans hold in such an economy if our children are not adequately prepared to participate in it?

Educational statistics show that African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans rank at the lower end of math and science scores - in both primary and secondary education - and these subjects are the keys to prosperity in a so-called “green future.” With one of Mr. Obama’s campaign pledges being to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, renewable energy has become one of the solutions toward alleviating this problem.

Requiring advanced degrees and inventions in a multiplicity of disciplines such as chemistry, engineering, agriculture, practical oceanography, physics and a myriad of other sciences, a great change must first come in the thinking of parents who wish to prepare their children for this new future. Mr. Obama may propose and lay out the mechanisms to create five million new “green economy” jobs, but only individual families can prepare their children to prosper and thrive in such a labor market.

The last eight years has placed a burden upon the shoulders of the middle-class and the promise to reduce that stress by cutting taxes for those earning less than $250,000 sounds well and good, but for the urban and rural poor this will do little to change their realities.

Leaving few opportunities available for advancement except for some form of federal service like the military or the Peace Corps, the only other realistic option for escaping poverty is education, which requires a cradle to grave respect for knowledge and understanding. Looking at the state of the American public school system; however, and the priorities of the teenaged subculture, there is much work to do, particularly among Black youth. Yet how do we inspire and motivate our young people to step up to the challenge and accept the mantle of excellence?

After many years of struggle, some Black people have become tired, if not complacent, and as a result, some have become satisfied with “just getting by.” This unfortunate attitude, fueled by decades of barriers and resistance to Black advancement, appears to have manifested itself in a form of apathy that truly undermines the national and international image of Black Americans.

Nevertheless, the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States has re-energized the hopeless among our people, but in that new spirit of hope, Black folk cannot afford to rest upon the laurels of November 4, 2008. Requiring more than the usual lip-service and the desire to be included now is the time for stepping up to the plate to claim what is rightfully ours - a dignified seat at the table with the best civilization has to offer.

However, in order to take our proper and rightful place in what is called the United States of America, we must not only create a vision for our own future, but we must also work to bring that vision into fruition. We must qualify ourselves for those future positions awaiting us and we must inspire our children to see their role in that future. The election of Mr. Obama should prove to the world that an intelligent Black man can make a place for himself in any civilization, and his campaign should likewise serve as a sign that nothing can keep us from success. If we are willing to endure the trials necessary to see any challenge through, now that change has come, we know what we must do for ourselves, our families and our people.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Now that a change has come, what’s next? (Part 1)

By William P. Muhammad

Most of us may not have been ‘born down by the river in a little tent,’ but we can certainly say that many of us have marched, strived and prayed for the change that seems to have come in the presidential election of Barack Obama. After 143 years from the official end of slavery, some 44 years from the end of Jim Crow and only 40 years since the vicious assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Black man has been elected President of the United States of America.

In what has become a seemingly surreal moment in American history, with the official inauguration only two months away, Americans in general, and Black people in particular, have reached a significant cross-roads where hope and expectation meet the challenge of change and pragmatic realism.

While it has been ‘a long time coming,’ those issues which have traditionally knocked Black people to their knees have not changed with the November elections, and as Mr. Obama’s campaign rhetoric has attested, issues affecting the poor will not become a priority in his administration. Mr. Obama’s stated focus is with the middle-class and we should not expect poverty related issues to be solved overnight or from his first term in office. Such a responsibility lies more directly with “we the people” in our individual households, our houses of worship and through our individual consciences.

According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, the first definitions of change are: to cause to be different, to give completely different form or appearance to; to transform. With this said, what are the changes President-Elect Obama intends to bring to the country if not to Washington D.C. and to the White House and how will it effect African-Americans and other people of color?

During his near two year campaign for office, then Senator Obama repudiated the ‘trickle-down’ economic theory, where wealth concentrated at the top of an economy, if given the opportunity to expand through legislative favors and tax cuts, would “trickle down” to the masses below. Therefore causing all to prosper in proportion to their station within the American economy, the theory puts forward a top-down philosophy skirting the edges of elitism where those at the top know what is best for those at the bottom.

However, after nearly eight years of such a policy, a failing economy, factory closings, manufacturer relocations to foreign labor markets and a general decline in America’s quality of life, Mr. Obama’s repudiation appears correct, not only in economics, but also in the philosophy of change itself.

If “self-improvement” is in fact “the basis of community development” and self-improvement is the goal of national, regional and local change, then the African-American community must respond to President-Elect Obama’s call for a change not only by agreeing that change is, in fact, necessary, but also by engaging in “self-examination, self-analysis and self-correction” as called for by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan since the 1980s.

By embracing a bottom-up method as opposed to a top-down method for implementing change, Black people, people of color and Americans in general have the opportunity to both turn the page of history and to prosper as never before, but not without a serious change in individual, family and community priorities.

In what may be called a quartet of high priority national issues: the economy, energy independence, health care reform and middle class tax cuts, the common denominator needed to implement the so-called agenda for change appears to be in the comprehensive education of the American people.

When compared to the rest of the world, however, particularly to that of India and China, American secondary education leaves much to be desired. Subsequently hobbled by inadequate pre-college preparation, American students often find themselves inadequately prepared for the increasingly competitive math and science oriented career paths their foreign peers are mastering.

Regarding Black Americans, in order to qualify ourselves for those positions awaiting us in the global marketplace, a great change must first come from within if we are to claim Barack Obama and his ideas. In our schools we must pursue excellence in all of its forms and manifestations; we must applaud scholastic achievements as we do athletic accomplishments and we must rebuild a culture of learning and a respect for grades, higher education and the intellect among our young people.

Old Testament scriptures say that where there is no vision, the people perish, and if our communities are socially, politically and economically dead, then the shepherds of our communities have truly failed in their duty. President-Elect Barack Obama can inspire us with his vision, but he cannot do for us what we cannot or will not do for ourselves, and there is no one outside of ourselves required to do so. If the Black community is to benefit from his victory, it must also realize that now, more than ever, is the time to work for change within ourselves, our families and our communities.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Win or Lose, the Game Remains the Same

by Bro. William P. Muhammad

Whether Senator Barak Obama wins the upcoming Presidential elections or loses them, the bottom line is the world has now seen that a Black man is both willing and able to occupy the highest office in the United States and as such to sit in the world’s most powerful seat. While many in the African-American community are proud of the Illinois Senator’s achievements, and would be elated with an Obama victory in November, a question nevertheless remains: How would the day after the elections be any different from the day before?

From the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements to now a Black man who has become the Democratic Party’s nominee for President, Black people have always risen to the occasion no matter how high the bar and how difficult the challenge. But as all things come with plusses and minuses, the African-American drive to succeed has many times been stunted by a mindset that rests upon the laurels of another which stifles the struggle for excellence, self-sufficiency and self-determination.

Without doubt, Black people have benefited from the sacrifices, struggles and aspirations of those known and unknown heroes and heroines within our community, and credit should be given where credit is due, but standing next to another’s greatness and watching their greatness from the sidelines does not necessarily give the observer any points on the scoreboard.

For instance, during Reconstruction there were Black politicians who, under federal protection, rose into prominence in former Confederate States, but their successes were short-lived as resentment and hostility among whites led to the emergence of night riders, the Ku Klux Klan, unjust Supreme Court decisions and what would later become state sanctioned Jim Crow Laws. Effectively suppressing African-Americans through mob terrorism on one hand and state enforced apartheid on the other, Black leaders continued to emerge in spite of the seemingly all encompassing attacks in both Northern and Southern states.

Inspiring others to succeed in their wakes, however, and regardless of the consequences, many of our people sacrificed their lives to force social, political and economic change. Those who didn’t either cheered from the sidelines or quietly reaped the benefits of their sacrifices. During the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, it was the same paradigm once again, and this time the backlash manifested itself in the “Law and Order” rhetoric of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” the “War on Drugs,” a seemingly euphemistic code word for a war on Black youth and a general flight of whites from the Democratic party into the Republican party - particularly in the South.

Today, however, for those observing his political ascension, the candidacy of Senator Barak Obama signals a paradigm shift in that for the first time a Black man has secured the nomination of a major political party and a good chance of winning the White House.

Like the resentment Southern whites had to the rise of Blacks during the Post-Reconstruction period and the political backlash toward the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the success and rise of Senator Obama is likewise fostering resentment and hostility, but this time in a more nuanced and sophisticated manner among politicians, their handlers and conservative interest groups.

Whipping up fear for an America with a Black president, stereotypes of lazy and shiftless Black constituents and outright hatred for the idea of a Black man leading a campaign against the best the right wing has to offer, it is clear that a yet-to-be-seen reaction is in the making should Obama win the Presidency in November.

With Machiavellian adeptness, conservative interest groups are stirring the pot of racial confrontation through white nationalist rhetoric and patriotic zeal as a means to determine who is truly American. These efforts should tell those paying close enough attention that the racial fault lines in American society are closer to the surface than many would like to admit, and those hidden hands manipulating the general public, to energize their partisan interests, are responsible for any negative fallout.

Those Blacks hoping to ride Barak Obama’s coattails to the “new day in America” will be sorely disappointed if they do not take inspiration from his candidacy and pursue excellence for themselves. Those who sit on the sidelines hoping to gain from his struggle will likewise be disillusioned if they fail to roll up their sleeves and reach for their piece of the American pie through perseverance, hard work and sacrifice.

Whether Senator Obama wins or loses the election, the African-American community will benefit from his candidacy only in proportion to its love for self and kind and through an awareness of what is in its best interests. We can admire and draw inspiration from the Senator, but we cannot look to him to do for us what we are capable of doing for ourselves. Win or lose, the game remains the same, and its time that Black folk understand that the solution to our problems lies within each man and woman willing to sacrifice for change.

Bro. William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Surviving Disaster requires wide-awake leadership

By Bro William P. Muhammad


By now, we’ve all heard, or to some degree felt, stories about the tanking economy and how another “Great Depression” may be in the making. As the President, the Congress and the American people all debate over the long and short term implications of the $700 billion “bailout package,” (now called a rescue package) it is only reasonable and fitting for African-Americans to prepare themselves for the uncomfortable changes that seem to be coming. While it is true we as a people have been relatively well off since the 1930s and the uncertain days of World War II, under best case and worst case scenarios, Black people have always been America’s proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine.’

With that said, it is always in Black people’s interests to work for the best while preparing for the worst, considering strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities in both individual homes and in the community as a whole. Without going into details regarding the various contingency plans federal and state governments are making in the event of a national emergency, Black organizations, religious institutions and individual families should plan for how they can best serve themselves and their communities should the unthinkable happen and the need arise.

According to a September 30 article in the Army Times newspaper (Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1), the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the US Army 3rd Infantry Division will be assigned to domestic duty and “…may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.”

While the article claims the soldiers will train with non-lethal weapons for the purpose of controlling traffic and for subduing dangerous individuals, it emphasizes their package of non-lethal weapons will only be used in overseas war zones.

Be that as it may, one need only look to Hurricane Katrina and the fleeing Blacks gunned down by the authorities, accusations of Black people looting while actually salvaging for food and water and initial abandonment by FEMA for African-Americans to be suspicious of this US Army homeland assignment. That coupled with “armed to the teeth Blackwater contractors” patrolling the streets of New Orleans, the neglect and abuse suffered by many storm victims and the reneged upon promises to survivors, Black people have more than just cause for concern.

In the event of a major earthquake, another Katrina, a major flood or even the much touted economic collapse the government is trying to prevent, is the Black community truly prepared for the various scenarios that may take place under such conditions?

In the event of prolonged power outages, having extra canned goods in the pantry makes the difference between going without and having food for your family. Access to clean water, a resource we often take for granted for cooking, drinking and hygiene, is likewise to make a difference should potable water become an issue; and extra blankets, sleeping bags, warm clothes and kerosene heaters would also make a difference should disaster strike in winter. Owning a generator, a camping stove or a gas grill can all make the difference between going with or without during emergencies, as will keeping a full tank of gasoline in your automobile.

On a community level, churches can maintain food and clothing banks, promote community vegetable gardens and offer places of refuge should the need arise; but how many African-American churches are in the position to keep the lights on, offer shelter and feed the public in the event of a local crisis or national emergency?

There is a fable by Aesop (which you probably read as a child) about an ant and a grasshopper. Without going into all of the story’s details, one summer day, a frolicking grasshopper questioned a hard working ant why it was dragging an ear of corn. While the ant replied it was working to store food for the winter, the grasshopper failed to see the need as food was plenteous and in abundance under the summer sun.

Needless to say, when the winter finally arrived, the ant and his brethren ate well while the grasshopper starved outside in the bitter cold. Those familiar with Aesop’s fables know the moral of the story: “It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.”

We need wide-awake Black leadership today that will not apologize for its actions and concerns. We need leadership that knows how to anticipate change and to prepare for it. We need leadership that understands humility is strength and that service to others is the root of organizational longevity and effectiveness.

Most important, however, is the fact that Black leadership, which sees the handwriting on the wall, be able to articulate its concerns, plan for how to minimize the impact of change and implement solutions to future challenges as they arise. Anything less than decisive action is idle bluster and for the sake of our future and our children’s future, we cannot afford to engage in empty rhetoric, rest upon our laurels or posture for praise. Only wide-awake leadership will do the job and the time for action is now.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Are you 'fiddling' while the 'hood is burning?

By William P. Muhammad

Students of classical history are familiar with the old axiom of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, and for those who are not, it simply means that leadership preoccupied with the frivolous often preside over a declining state of affairs. Today this term has a likewise axiomatic meaning, as some in Black leadership posture for an illusionary sense of power and indulge in self-congratulatory praise.

In the meantime, Black youth, particularly our boys, are in danger of self-nullification by: 1) failing to take education seriously because of a lack of guidance, 2) filling jails and prisons because of anti-social behaviors fed by self-hatred and 3) jeopardizing their future with unhealthy practices leading to fatal diseases such as HIV and AIDS.

With this said it should be of no surprise that policy-makers - recognizing the coming 2050 demographic shift where people of color will become the majority population in the United States - have been both shrewd and pragmatic in their approach in dealing with the so-called unmentionable “Black problem.” Manifesting this reality in everything from long-term urban planning and “gentrification” to eminent domain and selective code enforcements, it has become clear that “urban renewal” is a euphemism for “Negro removal.”

When inner-city properties are reclaimed by the more affluent, causing property values to increase, African-American leaders may find their traditional constituents increasingly relocating to more affordable areas. As a result, Black influence dwindles in proportion to their declining numbers in urban areas.

While on the surface some may claim diversity as the motivating factor behind the trends leading to such demographic shifts, across the country Black leadership should nevertheless remain mindful that the buzzword “post-racial politics” may in fact be a code phrase for the political neutering of African-American communities.

The late Democratic Representative Tip O’Neill once said: “All politics is local.” If this is the case, when African-Americans find themselves politically out maneuvered, Black people and Black issues become of little or no importance in the formulation of national public policy. Therefore, as the 1960s and 1970s trends of Black people moving in as white people moved out reverses itself, Blacks are losing politically important locations in the cities, and with it their ability to influence local policy.

The gains made by African-Americans during the civil rights movement and the legislation that passed as a result, created greater mobility allowing Blacks greater access to inner-city factories and residences. However, with the “white flight” that followed and the moving out of jobs to the suburbs and other outlying areas, to quote the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan: “politics without economics” started becoming “symbol without substance.”

Today, as downtown and inner-city properties are bought up and redeveloped for a more “upscale clientele,” effected African-Americans will either scatter to various other locations, thereby diluting their political influence, or they may once again concentrate in other less desirable locations starting the process over again.

Since most American cities have urban planning agendas, often stretched out into five, 10 and 15 (or more) year plans, once change has begun, it is difficult to alter course. Also, those who may feel the Black community has been manipulated or out maneuvered through an urban planning agenda may find that it is too late to do anything about it. However, all is not necessarily lost.

Various cultures, groups and families demonstrate examples of their values, customs and norms. As such, whether Black neighborhoods are clean and decent places to live or depressed examples of crime, unemployment and blight a community by nature manifests the physical, social and mental condition of its people.

For instance, when mentioning Chinatown, Greek town or one the various other ethnic districts found throughout the United States, one immediately envisions their unique characteristics. From food and architecture to clothing and entertainment, such communities reflect proud heritages, tangible contributions to society and a general knowledge and love for self.

For the descendants of enslaved Africans, however, it is quite difficult to identify a specific culture beyond the plantations of the old South. With our links to the mother continent cut off, our history and achievements as a civilized people (and yes, I said civilized) were lost while a negative image of Black humanity was taught throughout the Western world.

Through social indoctrination, a Eurocentric educational system and an entertainment industry that for years portrayed Blacks as uncivilized savages, buffoons or menaces to society, Black leadership today has too big a job cut out for itself than to waste its time on deceitful games, false pride, jealous bickering or envious subterfuge.

Is there time to waste as the clock ticks down to the year 2050? How will a Black child born today feel 42 years from now? Will he thank our current generation for its righteous deeds and sacrifices or will he condemn us for our empty rhetoric and posturing while we chased symbols over substance? The choice is now up to us, and the time for proactive solutions is long overdue.


Bro. William P. Muhammad is an author and a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Monday, September 22, 2008

We see the Promised Land so what's next?

By Brother William P. Muhammad

According to current demographic trends and statistics, the year 2050 will reveal an America the founders neither realized nor imagined, a nation where people of color may very well become the majority population. Subsequently translating into governorships, congressional seats and, as heralded by the past campaigns of Shirley Chisholm, Jessie Jackson and now Barak Obama, the Oval Office, as a rule rather than the exception, may find people of color routinely occupying its seat.

This potential reality, a dream for some and a nightmare for others, would change current social, political and economic paradigms. Manifesting significant domestic and foreign policy changes, such as wealth distribution at home and abroad, strategic realignments overseas and perhaps more equitable relations with the developing world, the mid 21st century may indeed become the beginning of the non white world’s rise.

Bringing a new meaning to words E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) is such a future realistic, if not overly optimistic? Are the American people, particularly our youth, adequately prepared to inherit such a reality? And as the old saying goes: if “there are two sides to every coin,” with reality often found somewhere in the middle, where will the United States truly stand, and toward which direction will the current facts lead?

On the eve of his 1968 assassination, in what became his final speech, Dr. King referred to reaching the mountain top and seeing the “Promised Land,” a profound if not prophetic statement on America’s future potential. This often misrepresented statement of his, if interpreted properly, should put into context the “Valley of Decision” in which the American people find themselves today. However, Blacks and Latinos who desire to occupy that “Promised Land,” serve themselves and their interests better by taking into account where they fit into the “big picture.

According to US census data, the United States may instead find itself a nation where power rests with an older, wealthier and more educated class among whites and Asians, with an increasingly undereducated, poorer and non-skilled majority consisting primarily of Blacks and Latinos.

Demographic projections for 2050 indicate an America more diverse, with increasingly higher numbers of non-whites, than at any other period in its modern history. As these numbers continue to grow with current socio-economic domestic conditions remaining the same, this new and emerging majority may not have the qualifications necessary to maintain America’s status as a world power.

According to the religious traditions of Jews, Christians and Muslims, the “Promised Land” was a civilization, and as such, a society built and maintained, in part, by a mastery of mathematics, the sciences and law. From a secular perspective, Dr. King’s “Promised Land” is no different and history bears witness that the American civilization was likewise based upon a mastery of these three things. Therefore, in order to enable the eventual emergence of a new socio-economic and political order, people of color must first qualify themselves in order to occupy the future positions awaiting them, requiring much more than the oft repeated mantra of “stay in school.”
Parents, educators and policy-makers must offer a crystal clear vision of how the future will look in order to motivate the coming majority population and academic achievement should carry the same weight, if not more, as athletic achievement.

For instance, how many schools hang banners of conference, regional and state championships in their gymnasiums, how many school hallways prominently display sports trophies and how many schools do the same or better for intellectual exercises such as math, science or debate and which is the priority?

Education and the seeking of knowledge are the keys to success for any generation, and to remain relevant within in a market-oriented global reality requires an intense commitment not only to excellence, but also to a vision relevant to the people involved.

According to educational statistics, by order of race, Asian-Americans leave high school with the highest math and science scores, followed by whites with slightly lower numbers, while Latinos, Blacks and Native Americans score at the very bottom (and this does not take into account those who dropout before graduation).

Coupled with current incarceration rates which find nearly one-in-three African-American men, and increasing numbers of Black women, entangled in the criminal justice system, the disposition and relevance of African-Americans by 2050 appears only open to speculation.

Whether it is false pride, self-sabotage and personal destruction promoted in popular culture; envy, materialism and unnecessary debt promoted through conspicuous consumption or racism, abuse and low expectations promoted in our national priorities, our young men and women are digesting the bitter fruits of social, economic and political irrelevance, and the old saying says: “You are what you eat.”

In 2050, a Black or Latino child born today will be 42-years-old. In a country where they will no longer be a minority, but together the majority, will they be relevant in the onward march of civilization? Today will the elders lead them over the mountaintop and into the “Promised Land” or will we wander in the wilderness another 40 years without vision as our young people continue perish? The time for change is now, and we know what must be done.

Education is more that just showing up in the classroom. It requires a desire among both the teacher and the student to feed from the wellsprings of knowledge which is an ever evolving process. It requires parents to recognize the light of brilliance in their children’s eyes and to stoke the fires of their natural curiosity. It requires limiting the television and reading to or with them, discussion of current events, the physical world around them and how they fit into the big picture.

It requires a vision for the future and how young people will impact and affect that world when it comes, and perhaps more important than anything else, it requires parents, teachers and policy makers to recognize that if Americans wish to maintain their quality of life and status as a world power, together they must value their children more than they value their own personal interests.


Bro. William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.

It's time to get it together

By: Brother William P. Muhammad

It is undoubtedly one of the most understated facts any person of reasonable intelligence could ever hope to make, to say our sojourn in North America has been arduous from the time enslaved Africans first arrived here. Without rehashing what should be regarded as “home lessons 101,” among Black folk at least, perhaps in addition to the February ritual of pulling out and dusting off the old curled and browning pictures of inventors during Black History Month, maybe our various community leaders should consider setting aside the internal subterfuge and bickering that far too often hinders the badly needed solutions to the many problems plaguing us.

It is abundantly clear that the top-down models of umbrella organizing, in the name of coalition building; charismatic leadership, in the name of ego and leadership by proxy, through begging white philanthropy, have all failed to provide the long term solutions needed to secure our youth and subsequent generations. With longevity, success and prosperity being the legacy our fore-parents worked so hard to leave for us, now more than ever, as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has challenged the Black community to do, it’s long past the time to look inward and seriously exercise the concepts of “self-examination, self-analysis and self-correction.”

Undoubtedly, most Black folks reading this will agree that the above said is true and on point, but in the meantime, are we nevertheless willing to concede defeat to the strategies and tactics of Willie Lynch? (And if you don’t know who Willie Lynch is by this late in the game, I’ll forgive you only just this one time.) But many have done just that, conceded defeat, not necessarily in words, but in deeds. Particularly if we expand Mr. Lynch’s list of exploitable differences among us to include those of religion, education and class, it won’t take a rocket scientist to see that our positive efforts, for the most part, will become exercises of futility as the clock runs out on Black America.

Eurocentric education, both public and private, white oriented national and international political interests and philanthropic efforts by those of good will outside of the Black community, cannot and will not make us into a people who love and respect ourselves, our families and our fellow Black brothers and sisters. That responsibility rests squarely upon the shoulders of those assertive people who are aware of their own self-interests and don’t apologize for it.

History teaches us at the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, with the denial of public accommodations, legal segregation and outright oppression, Blacks owned more producing land than today; we were more producer than consumer and we relied more upon the resources available in our own communities. Therefore, it is not an accident that the denial of land, access to capital, ownership of the means of production and control of distribution, as the keys to real political power and independence, has been among the goals of institutional racism. Without these things, the concepts of self-reliance, self-sufficiency and self-actualization diminish, and the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness become, in fact, an illusion.

But, are we capable of overcoming these manufactured impediments? Emphatically, yes!

The study of history, and our willingness to learn from its consequences, teaches the wise how to avoid the snares and pitfalls in the present, and only an earnest, honest and comprehensive introspection, will achieve this to any meaningful degree.

For instance, in the early days of the 20th century, personalities such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois and the Honorable Marcus Garvey all championed individual ideas sufficient to lead us to the proverbial promised-land. Also, between these men, their individual agendas contained the economic, intellectual and socio-political blueprints necessary to overcome America’s problem of “the color line.” However, their ideas failed to cross-over and congeal into long-term solutions when their philosophies were misinterpreted by Black people, redefined by whites and undermined by government machinations. Either criticized for “accommodating” Southern white racism, disrespected as being co-opted by Northern white elitism or rejected as a movement of so-called “hateful negroes,” these individually successful models, proven to lift us as a people, nevertheless died on the vine, and Black America paid the price for it.

By the middle of the 20th century, successful models again emerged in the Black community through the socio-economic paradigms put forth by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam and the socio-political agendas championed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the SCLC. Though attempts to merge their ideas of empowerment, economic independence, political solutions and legislative initiatives, through cooperative strategies and tactics, were marginal at best, the same factors undermining Black progress in the early 20th century, returned once more in the 1960s and ‘70s forcing Black America, once again, to pay for the price for failure by the end of the 1990s.

Now in the dawn of the 21st century, with the disintegration of the American Black family, a failing public educational system, increasing incarceration rates among Black youth and the export of formerly well paying factory jobs to Third World markets, the economic uncertainty facing Americans has clearly spread beyond the borders of our individual communities. With more pressure not only upon the poor, but also upon the middle and working classes in general, can Blacks now afford to wait for others to create the jobs we need to improve the quality of their lives?

Overseas conflicts spawned by globalization and the subsequent Euro-American efforts to “manage” the rise of the non- white world, have brought the American Black man and woman into the “valley of decision.” Will it take yet another generation to finally learn the lessons of the past? Will it take another hundred years to truly partake of the so-called American dream? Can the Black community really afford to not amalgamate its various philosophies into functional strategies and tactics for the benefit its future?

It is possible, but the clock is running down. If Black folk don’t get it together, and soon, we as a people may not make it through the 21st century, and the American dream so many desire, may very well become a nightmare that could have been avoided.

Brother William P. Muhammad is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso and an author.