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.