Ethics, Morality and the Struggle for Black Liberation (Part 2)

by William P. Muhammad

“The black bourgeoisie, as we have seen, has created a world of make-believe to shield itself from the harsh economic and social realities of American life.” (E. Franklin Frazier – Black Bourgeoisie, 1957)

Dr. E. Franklin Frazier
1894 - 1962 

Among the greatest challenges facing 21st century Black America is the necessity of confronting illusion, of coming to terms with our actual position within American society and, in order to effect real change, to develop a producing rather than consuming culture. Furthermore, by distinguishing between wishful thinking and actual facts, we will only garner control over our economics, and earn a seat at the table as a true equal, when productivity outweighs the unfocused and undisciplined mentality of conspicuous consumption.

Stepping beyond the boundaries of America’s unspoken social contract, however, where the wealth and prosperity of others is often built upon the ignorance of the Black consumer, meaningful change is contingent upon reclaiming the resources and intellect of the Black community. Requiring a complete and total, if not radical, break from America’s racial comfort zone, where Black people are usually rewarded for distancing themselves from their historical narrative, a new ethos based upon land, access to capital, ownership of the means of production and the control of distribution, must replace the concept of social advancement through non-economic liberalism.

This radical change, the claiming of our own resources to benefit, uplift and gain advantages for self, is nothing new or extraordinary when applied to other racial or ethnic communities. Often viewed as an obligation, not only for the purpose of legacy and intergenerational wealth creation, but also toward the concept of nation building as seen among Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Jews and other ethnic European-American groupings, building for the sake of self, family and community is the duty of a free and independent people.

In this context, if ethics is defined as being consistent with one’s inner held beliefs and values, and morality, as conformity to a certain group’s norms and ideas, then a Black community that captures its own wealth and resources, for the purpose of taking an equal seat at the table, cannot be faulted for challenging America’s deeply held prejudices while breaking the mold of low expectations.

A new paradigm and its fallout

Has Black America really taken into account the significance of its consumer dollars as it relates to the maintenance of the status quo? Statistics have shown, and many agree, that the collective spending power of Black America, as of 2013, amounts to upwards of $1.1 trillion per year, regardless of the fact that very little of this money circulates back into the Black community.

Furthermore, when looking at the virtual slavery provided by the prison-industrial complex, the so-called public school-to-prison pipeline and the lack of competition among Black Americans in the global marketplace, it is not difficult to see why those who abide by the philosophy of white supremacy wish to
keep it that way. For example, while Civil Rights activists may argue in favor of a policy that educates Black people at a fraction the $10,000 to $30,000 per year that it costs to incarcerate an individual inmate, the monies spent on imprisonment create more jobs and contracts, within a local economy, than does educating a young Black person who may otherwise compete for those same dollars in the future.

Additionally, by hamstringing the black community’s ability to extract dollars on local, national and international levels, by preventing our people from achieving collective economic independence, America’s ruling elite virtually guarantee the denial of meaningful Black participation in the global economy. More than the mortgaging of a house, the financing of an automobile and the amassing of consumer debt, to provide the illusion of having arrived, true freedom allows for the building of institutions to serve the needs of the Black community and, on an individual level, to bequeath wealth to subsequent generations.

As ideals differ among various groups, the Black community can no longer downplay its self-interests for the sake of going-along-to-get-along. While the ethics of Black liberation may challenge the order of White privilege, it is important to consider how conforming to white supremacy has created an acceptance of an unjust equation.

With code words such as “mainstream,” used for approval and “radical,” used to impugn the legitimacy of new ideas, is it in America’s domestic policy interests to make the Black population consumers rather than producers? If 10 million of America’s 40 million Black people stopped smoking, the tobacco industry would be deprived of billions of dollars. Similarly, if the same number stopped drinking, the alcohol industry would be deprived of billions of dollars. With just the example of alcohol and tobacco, who benefits from promoting toxic substances as something cool or sophisticated?

The falsehood of illusion has a powerful impact upon the psyche, and the need to project the image of belonging diverts billions of dollars away from true wealth creation and the freedom it represents. By making changes in our daily habits, not only is the lifestyle of death and non-productivity replaced by an ethos of life, but the emergence of a new morality would also prioritize vision and sacrifice over consumerism and short term gratification. The time for change is now, and we should no longer be in doubt about what must be done to secure our future as a people.

Ethics, Morality and the Struggle for Black Liberation

by William P. Muhammad

"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity." - W.E.B. DuBois.“The Souls of Black Folk,” 1903).
From the day of our forefather’s emancipation from physical slavery, much has been said and discussed over what to do about the so-called “Negro problem” in America. Like the Biblical and Qur’anic stories regarding the Children of Israel, and their relationship with the Egyptian Pharaoh, fear over Black interests diverging from White interests has occupied much of the thinking, policy making and social agendas of America’s ruling elite.  

Starting with overt strategies such as segregation and restricted access to resources, for decades, Black Americans toiled under a no-win situation, forcing many to flee to other locations for opportunity, relief or safety. Only to be received by a more sophisticated form of oppression, two seemingly opposed mindsets emerged in Black America by the late 1960s: one that fought for inclusion within a system hostile to a Black presence, and the other, a struggle for nationhood and independence through various ideologies ranging from the religious to the secular. 

As White Americans wielded the right to define through the educational system, public and private  policies focused attention on conformity, non-conformity, personal values, and the lack thereof; and shortly thereafter, new social norms were promoted from the highest levels of government. Designed to maintain White control over the culture, politics and economy of the United States, policies soon clashed across generational, gender and racial lines sparking the so-called counter-culture movement.  Regarding the destiny of Black America, however, under the pretext of ethics and morals, the right to define our own direction and interests was hampered by internal conflicts stoked by external meddling.

Reclaiming our stolen Birthright

Morality is often described as a set of standards that are generally accepted as right or proper, but what is left out of this definition is the statement: “right or proper according to whom?”  If morality is defined by the White elite, then conformity to their interests makes Black groups, organizations or individuals acceptable to what is proper and right in their view. However, in the struggle to define self, while pursuing a destiny independent of White boundaries and limitations, the aforementioned will be labeled immoral according to their resistance and opposition.

Regarding ethics, commonly defined as conformity to one’s own personal values or belief system, choice offers individuals the opportunity to either agree or disagree with national or international agendas undermining Black progress. If Black leadership conforms to White supremacy, while publicly or privately disagreeing with it, he or she is being moral within its purview but unethical toward self and the Black community. When such people compromise their principles for favor, or nearness to power, unethical Black leaders subsequently enable those who use them to continue harmful policies. 

As the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea to enter into the Promised Land, it was division, doubt and suspicion of leadership that caused them to wander in the wilderness for an additional 40 years. Today, Black American leadership must be bold and courageous, not only to see through a sophisticated tangle of competing agendas and deceit, but also to offer clear guidance in reclaiming a 400-year-old stolen legacy. If Black leaders see the value of remaining true to their originally stated beliefs and ideas, they will be negatively labeled by the world of White supremacy, but if these same leaders become apologists for oppression, they are no better than those to whom they have submitted.  

In order to reclaim our birthright, the concept of nationhood and independence can be neither ignored nor dismissed. As free and independent people do, uniting, pooling resources and working toward building a reality for themselves and their children, it is of paramount importance to take a principled stand.  Resisting conformity to the ways of this world, while remaining true to the ushering in of a new one, is not without precedence, and whether we decide to rise to the occasion or not, we cannot escape the overall condition of our people.

The double-consciousness W.E.B. DuBois described 110 years ago is not a phenomenon, it is only the manifestation of stress in a people forced to conform to a reality that is not in their best interest. Hopefully, as we come into a higher awareness of our true position within American society, Black people will understand “the time and what must be done” and that worrying more about what others think is not as important as what we think and what we do for ourselves. 

Overcoming Black Complacency in an Hour of Crisis

by William P. Muhammad

“Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. A servant will not be corrected by words: for though he understand he will not answer.” (Proverbs 29:17-19 King James version)

In American society, there is a commonly held belief that learning the lessons of history will prevent past mistakes from reoccurring. Likewise, an adage that defines insanity as continuing a given behavior, while expecting an altogether different result, gives credence to those advocating alternative solutions beyond the narrative of obsolete ideas.

Seeming to rest upon the laurels of the 1950s and 60s, traditional Civil Rights leadership, in the name of access and inclusion, is today focusing more upon selling partisan loyalties than on promoting an unapologetic Black agenda. Within the context of America’s various Black communities, the common denominator of substandard education, unacceptable incarceration rates and high unemployment reveals not only the failure of “non-economic liberalism,” but also the failures of a movement that for too long has relied upon corporate patronage, political favoritism and the diluting of Black agendas in order to secure acceptance and approval.

Furthermore, in this compromising of Black interests, as a means for admittance into the so-called mainstream establishment, Black America’s collective well being is unfortunately being harmed. By rewarding the few, at the expense of the many, and contingent upon a political climate that changes every four to eight years, the relevance of ideas, programs and solutions, accepted and rewarded by government and philanthropic organizations, is limited. Clearly requiring a new direction and perspective, the current Civil Rights paradigm, which demands jobs and justice over independence and land ownership, undermines the concept of meaningful participation in a global market-oriented economy.

For instance, when comparing Black Americans to the collective economic progress of relative newcomers, it goes without saying that within one or two generations, many immigrant communities are reflecting a greater level of freedom and productivity. Although the hamstringing of Black economic advancement has been well documented since Post-Reconstruction, the fact remains that 21st century obstacles are more psychological in nature than they are of physical obstruction.

Subsequently creating a so-called permanent underclass, the decimation of Black communities through disenfranchisement laws, poor public education and an overabundance of political posturing, the system, to which Civil Rights leadership has tied itself, is cruelly indifferent to the plight of the Black masses. While the rural and urban poor are under no illusions regarding the limitations inherent to such an arrangement, regardless of well meaning intentions, Civil Rights leaders must reassess their agendas, reflect upon proven and workable solutions and leave egos at the door.

Considering the “Economic Blueprint,” long advocated by the Nation of Islam, as one model for positive change, the issue of poverty and want could be addressed within a relatively short period of time. Incorporating a holistic approach starting with teaching Black people the knowledge of self, the importance of unity and the value of pooling resources, if only one percent of the $1.1 trillion Blacks spend annually were harnessed, a renaissance of wealth, consciousness and productivity could be the result. Having an impact reaching far beyond the borders of the United States, once adopted, the “do-for-self” model would not only elevate Black America in the eyes of the world, but it would also do a great service in redeeming a flawed American society.

Unity is the key to Black America’s relevance and prosperity and our failure to “consider the time and what must be done” will lead to an unfortunate loss. With the simple elimination of alcohol, tobacco and other unhealthy habits, the dollars needed to make such an endeavor possible could be achieved with minimal sacrifice.

By capturing only $10 billion dollars annually, urban factories could be repurchased, thousands of acres of farmland could be acquired, healthcare facilities and new schools could be built and the Black community could enter into international trade and commerce for the good our ourselves, our families and our people. Such a vision is not a pipedream; the model was actually carried into practice and proven to be successful by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and studied by both advocates and detractors alike.

If we are to defeat the complacency that is hindering Black America’s progress, then it is time to consider a program with a proven track record. Whether you are Muslim, Christian or Hebrew, if you are Black, you cannot escape the overall image and condition of our people. The time for action is now and the world is definitely watching.