Monday, November 30, 2009

A prerequisite for the ideal Black community

by William P. Muhammad


As we approach the end of the millennium’s first decade, it is clear that many of history’s lessons from the twentieth century have gone unheeded. With America embroiled in two wars, unemployment in the double-digits and a population divided over the policies of America’s first Black president, Black Americans have still found themselves “the last hired and the first fired” while clinging to increasingly outdated social, economic and educational paradigms.

As middle management is cut in the name of flattening tall organizational structures, profits are coming at the price of increased worker output as job positions are both downsized and eliminated. Employment opportunities that were previously long term, leading to pensions and retirement, are now becoming things of the past as the dollar loses its value and economic uncertainty continues.

For years Black people in America have been made to believe that the key to socio-economic advancement has been in getting an education in order to find a job. While such thinking has been the traditional model for upward mobility, it is fast becoming an outdated plan of action within the context of both wealth creation and long term economic security.

Going to college to find a job may be desirable, but graduating from school in order to create jobs is much more in tune with the time in which we live. Receiving a true education that stresses math and the sciences, and frees the mind to seek out and accomplish self-interests, is superior to that which trains prospective employees to fit into an increasingly obsolete workforce.

In an economy that continues to streamline itself by sending manufacturing and service industry jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas, Black workers are increasingly compelled to compete against a labor force that earns only a fraction of the American wage. Within this context, additional stress is placed upon both individuals and communities as jobs disappear and workers are left behind.

Building Community

Since it is unlikely that vibrant and dynamic Black communities will emerge from the hard work of others, our social scientists, business professionals and urban planning experts should consider new models for our collective advancement and success. With the aim of breaking the counter-productive mindsets of ignorance and dependency on others, for those bold enough to try, new ideas will open the doors of opportunity.

With the goal of building communities that are “safe and decent places to live,” a meeting of the minds, focusing on properly training, guiding and supporting our people, could make technological innovation, the skilled trades and college level education into a means of breaking the mold. With finding employment after graduation only a stepping stone toward independence, matriculating for the purpose of doing for self will help to create a new economic paradigm.

Nearly every ethnic group in America has built an independent community that manifests its social, political and economic interests. Through building businesses or by exercising cultural assertiveness, these groups also educate their children to continue their legacies and to build upon their collective successes. Whether Asian, South Asian, Latin, or European, these groups have immigrated to America with a tradition of doing for self, building for self and establishing institutions that serve the interests of self.

Black people have already proven a capacity to build according to our self-interests and in the face of opposition we have also shown an ability to rise above the circumstances in our lives. No one will build a Black community but Black people, and it is only when we take ownership of the fruits of our labor that we will have the wherewithal to maintain and safeguard “a piece of this earth that we can call our own.”

To build a community that is productive, respected and relevant, Black people must consider the importance of transformation. Changing the aesthetics of a rundown neighborhood by planting gardens, cleaning up trash and painting over graffiti is good, but transforming our people through a new “educational paradigm” is better. An assertive people with pride in themselves take pride in their communities and proud communities make for stable environments where men, women and children can live in peace together.

In order to build schools, factories, hospitals and enter into international trade and commerce for the good of ourselves, our families and our people, we must resurrect the do-for-self work ethic that had proven so effective among us in the past. We must also be about the business of leaving a legacy of which our children will be proud and allow for them to build upon it. The window for taking decisive action is fast closing and there isn’t much time to lose.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Uncovering the Thanksgiving Myth

by William P. Muhammad

As we approach that venerated time of year when Americans sit down to enjoy their ham and turkey, some time should be taken to reflect upon the impact European settlers had upon the original inhabitants of the “New World.” As Native Americans today barely number two million people inside the Unites States, questions must be asked about the effect of genocide from the first days of the Caucasian’s presence in North America.

Adopted as an American myth by the 1800s, Thanksgiving has been introduced to the public and to the world as an example of goodwill between the “Indians” and White Europeans. Missing from the official narrative, however, is the voice and testimony of the many Native Americans whose suffering has been downplayed and ignored since the arrival of the first English colonists.

Thanksgiving, traditionally rooted in autumn harvest festivals, but identified as having its American origin on Plymouth Plantation in 1621, could not have taken place without the life-saving intervention of Native Americans there. Teaching the English colonists how to survive the harsh winters of the American Northeast, the actual facts regarding the true relationship between the European and the “Indian” has been lost to both time and historical interpretation.

For instance, it is a known fact that European adventurism into the Western Hemisphere came at a high price for the “New World’s” indigenous populations. From Spanish and Portuguese conquests of the Caribbean, South America and portions of North America to the Anglo-Dutch exploits of the Atlantic seaboard, in what is now called the United States, long established civilizations were wiped out within the span of a few hundred years.

For example, on December 4, 1619, after claiming nearly 8,000 acres of Indian land about 20 miles north of Jamestown, Virginia, Captain John Woodleaf led a service of Thanksgiving in accordance with the Charter of the Berkeley Hundred which stated in part: "We ordaine (sic) that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon (sic) in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept (sic) holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God."

Perhaps viewed in the context of a divine right, the 38 persons staking claim to the land did so without consideration for those who already owned the land, laying the foundation to greater conflicts that would follow. While the European historical record in 1622 cites massacres led against the English by Indian tribes, these attacks were obviously fomented in retaliation to European encroachment upon yet more Indian land, where wanton attacks upon Indian villages led to homes being burned and crops being destroyed by Englishmen.

Setting the backdrop for yet more conflict, the interactions between the Indians and the English was actually that of Europeans coveting, and by force taking, the assets of North America’s original people. A paradigm established through the slaughter and destruction of America’s indigenous populations, the circumstances under which colonial expansion evolved, eventually becoming a doctrine of manifest destiny, revealed the violent nature of what would become American self-interests.

Today, the indigenous nations within the United States suffer from the highest infant mortality rates, the highest suicide rates, high alcohol and drug abuse rates and a continued erosion of tribal sovereignty that was originally guaranteed by treaties with the United States government. In addition to this, after family separations, generations of forced assimilation and a life relegated to reservations, the spirit of North America’s original people has been subjected to trauma and abuse through acts commission and omission.

By taking Indian land, forcefully removing its people and miseducating the American public to the country’s true history, the uphill battle of America’s native people for freedom, justice and equality remains an arduous one. As the Native American fights for his rights and stands for his beliefs, the European American should contemplate the impact of one of America’s original sins.

This year, as the country observes Thanksgiving, time should be taken to reflect upon the heavy price the Original people have paid in the formation of this nation. If the holiday is to live up to its name, for the giving of thanks, then it is only proper to recognize that American people stand upon a legacy soaked in the blood, sweat and tears of those who were not originally counted as “true Americans.”

Whether Black, Brown or Red, the descendants of the Original people must be respected and remembered for the suffering they endured in the establishment of the United States of America. If no one else will reflect upon these facts during the Thanksgiving season, we should at least remember this for ourselves and never forget.