Reaping the whirlwind in a time of trouble

By William P. Muhammad

Among people of color, the tragic problem of youth violence is a condition requiring serious introspection. In cities like Chicago, major news outlets report murder rates among teens as being at least one per week and in Los Angeles, violence between Latino and Black youth threatens the likelihood of Black and Brown coalition building. In order to address youth violence in our various communities, greater attention must be paid to the cause and effect nature of self-hatred, the reckless use of guns and a corporate driven popular culture that sells negative messages to young people.

As demographics continue to change into what some scholars have dubbed “the browning of America,” Blacks together with Latinos will outnumber whites in less than 50 years. While some may accept such change as nothing more than America’s natural growth and development, others are disturbed by the prospect of people of color inheriting the country.

In light of this inevitability, however, the consequences of self hatred among Black and Brown people handicap us from exercising our full birthright as American citizens. For Black people in particular, this problem is even more acute as high school dropout, unemployment and incarceration rates continue to increase. With a public education system that seems only prepared to fit Black youth into the lower echelons of an increasingly obsolete workforce, many will find few opportunities for advancement outside of illicit activity or wartime military service.

Either way, without the acquisition of an education stressing mathematics, the sciences or a useful trade, the options for young Black males in a 21st century economy will be limited at best. More often than not, those young men who have fallen through the cracks will face a deadly mix of unemployment and street life, and with the proliferation of firearms, drugs and gang warfare, the likely outcome is a harsh prison sentence or an untimely death.

If our youth receive proper guidance at an early enough age and they are taught to envision themselves as important fixtures for the future, they will see and better appreciate their educational and career path options. As the rule rather than an exception, by the middle of this century, Black America’s influence could expand to significantly affect both national and international trends. Whether social, cultural or political, positive and aware people make their mark on more than just their immediate surroundings.

Looking at the impact of music, as an example, between the 1980s and early 1990s, rap songs among young people helped to resurrect Black consciousness and awareness through pro-Black messages. Rapping on issues from social justice to Black unity and nation building, young people rhymed to groups influenced by Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash, KRS-One and Public Enemy. Partially guided by the Afrocentric movement, the Five Percenters and in some cases the Nation of Islam, messages of Black empowerment spawned similar awakenings in languages as diverse as Spanish, French, Arabic and Chinese. Having the potential to spark an international movement challenging both white supremacy and the status quo, by the early 1990s the message and character of the art form abruptly changed.

As Hip-Hop crossed-over into the “suburban market” and entered the so-called “mainstream,” corporate interests and “payday promises” changed the genre from the original orientation to one of “gangsterism” and misogyny. In many cases encouraged and promoted by white corporate executives, the commercialization of Hip-Hop derailed the messages that originally mobilized young people to the knowledge of self and Black consciousness. With the demise of the positive came the manifestation of the negative and what played out on records soon played out on the streets.

Today, within various communities of color, youth violence continues to escalate as patience within local government and law enforcement wears thin. If the right pretext for intervention occurs, it is not difficult to imagine battle hardened National Guards and increasingly militarized police departments being sent to suppress those accused of “terrorizing” their community. Deemed incorrigible and against the public good, those seen as sewing the wind will reap the whirlwind in the form of a system fighting to “restore order.”

To reverse the unfortunate and tragic losses we continue to suffer through the murder of our youth, there must be an immediate reassessment of our priorities as a people. With the inevitable demographic shift that will find Blacks and Latinos the majority by mid-century, we must be cognizant of the schemes designed to trick, distract and confuse us before it is too late. Through “racism, sexism and inordinate self-interest,” people of color have been played one against the other as class, education, or the lack thereof, have been used to divide us. As our numbers increase, so too must our wisdom. We can no longer afford business as usual and for the sake of our progeny we must unite or suffer the consequences.

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

Education requires a revolution of the mind

By William P. Muhammad

As the first decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close, one of the greatest challenges facing Black America is education and the acquisition of useful knowledge. Considering self-preservation as the first law of nature and the darkness of ignorance its antithesis, to infringe upon a people’s human right “to know” is to hobble both their mind and spirit.

In 1832, for example, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates is on record as having boasted: “We have, as far as possible, closed every avenue by which light might enter their [the slaves’] minds. If we could extinguish the capacity to see the light, our work would be completed; they would then be on a level with the beasts of the field, and we should be safe! I am not certain that we would not do it, if we could find out the process, and that on the plea of necessity.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia, one state out of several, is on historical record as not only having expressed the desire to deprive an entire people of knowledge, but also of attempting to reduce Black people to the level of “beasts of the field.” As an historical consequence, despite the years that have passed, this effort to deprive an entire people of their humanity could not have occurred without leaving an indelible mark.

Although more than 140 years have passed since the official end of chattel enslavement in the United States, the shadow left upon the hearts and minds of Black people remains in the destructiveness of not only institutional racism, but also through an internalized form of self-hatred reinforced by the myths of Black inferiority and white supremacy.

It is only through an education that embodies the love of self, the knowledge of self and respect for the female that the healing and preserving of a people may take place. It is in this vein that one’s edification and enlightenment is assured and by focusing first on self, a people become rooted not only in their past, but they also become grounded in their present, thereby enabling them to embrace their future with optimism and pride.

With truth, wisdom and understanding as the catalyst, a complete change in thinking shepherds a well studied generation into a revolution of the mind. But what is a revolution of the mind, and how does it apply to the virtues of freedom, justice and equality?

Qur’anic scripture teaches us that “after difficulty comes ease,” therefore, in the cyclical nature of time, returning a people to their former greatness requires a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of history. Requiring study of that which has been traditionally omitted from most Western history books, our people are returned to their original state through the knowledge of their creator and the knowledge of their value as individual human beings.

If revolution represents a complete and total change from one state of being to another, and mis-education, misinformation or deceit represents stagnation and regression, then one may safely argue that an education dedicated to correcting historical falsehoods is apt. In a competitive market-oriented reality, helping to establish not only enlightenment, but also self-actualization requires the overthrow of ignorance, self-hatred and nilhism.

In a world often distracted by “greed, materialism and inordinate self-interest,” too much attention is focused upon the superficial and superfluous while those suffering from the lack of knowledge are prevented from rising above their condition. Therefore requiring early intervention, the natural intelligence with which our children are born must be nurtured and guided in order for them to negotiate the barriers and illusions impeding their progress.

Those charged with teaching our children must implement a “new educational paradigm.” Challenging our youth to see themselves as both relevant and important fixtures in the society cannot be overstated. Underestimating or dismissing the value of our young people closes the door to future possibilities and undermines our potential for greatness and success. An education that sparks to life the will and desire to master a given subject sets into motion that which cannot be undone, a mind made aware of its movement toward the absolute.

As our people begin to recognize that we are the masters of creation, and not the opposite, enlightened minds from among us will step forward into roles of leadership. With the knowledge of self at the center of a new curriculum, new expressions of civilization will emerge and those once at the bottom will be raised to the top as those once considered the tail become the head.

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