Redefining Black in a 21st century world

by William P. Muhammad

Long before the period of African enslavement on the islands and continents of the Western Hemisphere, much of the Western world’s religious doctrine, philosophy and culture equated blackness with imperfection, foreboding mystery or evil in general. In describing virtue, Western civilizations defined “the good” in terms of whiteness while explaining the lack thereof as blemished, flawed or untamed.

With the advent of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Eurocentric Christianity justified the dehumanization and enslavement of Blacks through both a self-serving interpretation of scripture and through the myth of White supremacy. As international trade in human beings continued to benefit the coffers of Europe for more than three centuries, the ramifications of such an enterprise lead to long term consequences regarding skin color in the “new world.”

For instance, in North America, a social contract developed between Blacks and Whites where each was expected to know their place in society. Through a paradigm that defined a race based social hierarchy, white skin ranking over black skin was enforced through public policy and law. Forcing an understanding that became both a cultural and psychological norm, the damage inflicted upon the psyche of Black people became multi-generational.

Through negative perceptions of self, the indignity of self-hatred has become a chronic problem in the Black community. Fueled by assimilation into a society that rejects aspects of the Black phenotype, culture and ethos, Americans in general have been taught to associate the good and the bad literally in terms of black and white.

However, as the twenty-first century continues to unfold, Black people must take the responsibility to overcome the mental trauma and damage wrought by three centuries of chattel enslavement, the Jim Crow racism that followed and post-Civil Rights Era discrimination. Mentally, spiritually and culturally, the time to define Black from our own perspective is long overdue, and as so many teachers from among us have attempted to convey, we must now embrace the concept of blackness as we reassess the value of our own attributes.

Starting with the commonly accepted notion that black is associated with imperfection or gloom, delving into the “origin of blackness” will teach the observant student that blackness is in fact an integral part of the creative process. From the sciences to religion and philosophy, an updated understanding of creation requires not only an open mind, but also a willingness to see how our thinking defines us as human beings.

For example, astrophysicists hypothesize that blackness is the origin of the visible universe and that dark matter (or dark energy) is the origin of our galaxy’s structure and its evolution. With the seen shaped and molded by the unseen, scripture also reflects this idea through the Biblical creation story, where the universe was called out from darkness, and through the Qur’an, where creation is described as originating from triple darkness.

With a new understanding that strips away the negative connotations associated with blackness, perhaps a new definition will denote the universal creative force within it. No longer associated with imperfection or evil, true darkness may not only be the origin of matter, but the origin of life also.

In the meantime, with the knowledge of modern science freely accessible to those who desire to learn it, leaders, teachers and clergy have a responsibility to inform and instruct their followers to rise to the next level of understanding. As the Western world grew to accept that philosophies linked to an earth centered universe were incorrect, many beliefs systems built upon their fallacies collapsed under their own weight.

Today, with a new understanding of the “origin of blackness,” perhaps the myths of Black inferiority will likewise collapse. Freeing those laboring under a false stigma promoted by the ignorant, the Black man and woman of America will finally take their proper and rightful place as they emerge to the knowledge of self.

While it is commonly accepted that the original human was a Black female from Africa, her origin is still unknown. The original man from whom mankind finds its beginning has no recorded birth record and anthropologists are still searching for it to this day. As descendants of the original man, Black people have cause to be proud and as we begin to respect one another and ourselves, the world will follow suit by respecting us.

From the days of our enslavement to the days in which we now live, Black people of the western hemisphere have overcome many obstacles and roadblocks on the journey to self-actualization. By reexamining the origin of self, we open the door to new possibilities and by reaffirming our dedication to knowledge we assure ourselves an “equal membership in society with the best in civilized society.” As we redefine Blackness in this twenty-first century, we prepare ourselves for leadership and in so doing we can rest assured that the future is indeed bright.

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