The Universal Dilemma of Racism

Category: Life & Society Views: 1031

I remember life as a young black child growing up in America. I remember that life in St. Louis, even though it was the south, was a life that for me was filled with days at play, and nights at rest. I dreamed about Cinderella and Snow White, and entertained the same fantasies that no doubt preoccupied the minds of all young American girls, who longed for knights in shining armor, a house with a picket fence, children and a dog. I remember schoolyards filled with other black children, and our teachers and principal were also African Americans. I remember my fourth grade teacher allowing the Bible to be read in class each morning before we said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Nobody thought that perhaps some of the students were not Christian, or that some of us may not have felt that we owed any allegiance to the flag. What went on in the privacy of one's home was considered private, and what went on in school and the classroom was a matter of great public importance. The minds of these young people would one day, it was hoped, advance their race beyond a past of servitude and deprivation and humiliation and into a prosperous future. In so doing, we would also enrich our country and perhaps the world with a moral message that would change the way we were perceived as a race. And more importantly, we would change the way the world viewed the issue of racism.

We were children. We had no concept of law. It didn't seem strange to me then that the teacher would hand me an opened Bible, tell me to read and then leave the classroom. She would return several minutes later and lead us all in our oath of loyalty to our country, and what stood out in that oath, was "One Nation under God." That was 35 years ago. A lot has changed. I remember once the principal of my school called me into his office, he looked at me and said, "You are a smart girl, stay out of trouble." I didn't know how to respond. So I answered the way I had heard my mother answer when people offered advice. She would simply say, "pray for me."


Perhaps it is not too late for us, the people of color, to challenge the intellectual and moral paradigm of racial superiority. Suggesting that if mankind must judge, let us judge according to the criteria of God, who taught through his prophets that virtue is what distinguishes a human being, and not the color of one's skin.


I looked at Mr. Evans and said, "pray for me." I believe that he did. I did not avoid the troubles that plague the lives of most young people trying to make sense of life in America in the '60s and '70s. Yet, I believe that I often felt the hand of God guiding my way as I navigated the complexities of a modernizing society that was moving away from the things I had been taught and toward what were new and sometimes confusing ideas.

We were the generation of promise. We were not schooled in the rhetoric of discontent. We were taught to love all people, and to refuse to hate, even though we might be hated. It was clear then, as it is now, that one could not criticize or condemn wrongdoing simply because it created an inconvenience for you. This type of activism is driven by self-interest. It was made clear to us that the movement to free the Africans of America and ultimately people of color throughout the world from the pains and limitations of racism could not be a movement mounted upon hate, nor fear, nor self interest. Often, when I have had the misfortune to see music videos where young African American women, barely dressed, dance and twist seductively for money, oblivious to the impact that their behaviors will have on young people who are looking for clues and a way out of the intellectual and spiritual quagmire that overcame the African American movement, I cringe at the thought that our generation may have been the last generation of African Americans who took pride in the fact that there were no X rated movies that featured African American women, or videos where African American women displayed their attributes in the way we see now.

Are we losing the battle to be free? Did we lose hold of the spiritual freedom that had been handed to us, and exchange it for the illusion of "equality" that dummied us all down and made us satisfied to be included, rather than free?

A movement that was born in the Black churches of America, and premised on the immorality, not the illegality of racism has been stalled, and its argument diminished from one of morality to one of a "civil right" to be included, instead of an inalienable right to be free. America, which God had blessed and chosen to lead the world into freedom, chose instead to abandon the spirit of revolution that brought it into being, opting instead to limit the great conversation to a national discussion of civil rights. It was not apparent to us in the '60's that we traded freedom for inclusion. It seemed that inclusion was the way out of the segregation that we were told was preventing the progress of the African American community in America.

We realize now that it was not law that was holding freedom in abeyance, but an immoral and false belief that the darker races are inferior, and that nature has predestined that other races be superior and have the natural right to enslave others. It is apparent now that the right to be included in an immoral society lacks promise and is a poor substitute for the freedom and liberties that were the treasure sought by the founding fathers of our country and each generation of Americans who came after them. The desire to be free that would cause a man to cry from his heart, "give me liberty or give me death" could not result merely from the inconvenience of an unfair tax. The freedom that those noble men sought was a freedom to live according to the teachings of the Christian Bible, from which they had learned that tyranny is immoral. The sought after liberties were to facilitate not a quest for power, individual or national, but rather to allow a man the intellectual and physical freedoms required to not only sustain the fruits of revolution, but to advance the revolution into all time. George Washington, in his inaugural address in New York, April 30, 1789, said the following:

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. In the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage."


In his farewell address on September 17, 1796, Washington again refers to the American Revolution as a moral, religious and political undertaking, and cautions the nation to remain committed to morality and religion as guides in our quest for what he called "political prosperity."

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness-these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Armed with the teachings of the Church and the mosques, African Americans have the opportunity to play that role envisioned by our grandparents as they mopped floors and emptied trash cans for pennies so we could achieve the intellectual vigor that would be required to participate in the great race debate and to hold our own in the great conversation. Their hope, as I remember, was that our conversation would set a precedent and introduce a moral foundation upon which others in the world who are also seeking their freedom from the same false ideals would mount their movements. Fate, or perhaps our own choice prevented us from initiating this discourse. Yet we are presented now with an opportunity to convene with others, and to contribute the unique experience of the African American as an experience that is wrought with disappointment, but not void of hope.

It may not be a coincidence that the great conversation will be initiated in South Africa at the end of August 2001. It may not be a coincidence that the United States and others have sought to limit the depth of that conversation by preventing any discussion of Zionism, or reparations for African Americans who descended from American slaves. The world has come full circle, and the principles which were obscured in the 1960's in America will be reawakened, and the world, not only America, will be ushered into this conversation in an international forum that is free from the constraints of national cultures and religious bigotry.

Perhaps it is not too late for us, the people of color, to challenge the intellectual and moral paradigm of racial superiority. Suggesting that if mankind must judge, let us judge according to the criteria of God, who taught through his prophets that virtue is what distinguishes a human being, and not the color of one's skin.

Why America has chosen the path of diversion rather than enlightenment in this instance is not clear. Most, I think, will agree that it is unfortunate and unbecoming for America to insist that reparations and Zionism be placed off limits for discussion. America as the leader of the "free" world has a moral obligation to expand its commitment to freedom of speech beyond its own borders. It is the worst type of hypocrisy that allows one to say that we are a nation built upon the freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry, and then move to prevent others from benefiting from, the power of this freedom. Perhaps we have come to see freedom of speech as we see freedom from slavery as privilege rather than an inalienable God given right. Of course freedom has its limitations, but these limits should only be imposed when there is an identifiable and serious harm that might result from such speech, and not because we fear or might be admonished by what others might say.

The fear that feelings of hate might be created or perpetuated by this discourse are real, but no equal consideration has been given to the fact that the feared hatred does not originate from the testimony, it originated from the crimes. If we are to avoid the mistakes of the past, isn't it important that we review the past, seeking to ascertain what falsehoods and what misperceptions allowed us as human beings to conduct our mutual affairs in such a troublesome fashion? In an essay by former South African president Nelson Mandela, "Clear the Obstacles and Confront the Enemy," Mandela points out the need to look back and to discuss the hardships of the past, seeking to chart a course for the future. Mandela said: "We need to spell out the stumbling blocks on the way forward and offer suggestions for overcoming them."

History, it has been said, is doomed to repeat itself. The only way to avoid historic mistakes of the past is to learn the lessons they teach. Both the Bible and the Qur'an, two of the most powerful books of history, teach us that by choice, mankind brings into being either what is to our good or our destruction. Fate, according to the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, is the consequence of man's actions, which are a reflection of what is in our hearts. Our choices reveal our inclinations towards either good or evil. Our willingness to tolerate evil is as powerful as a willful choice, and so is our reluctance to uphold what is good or right. Without the ability or the will to look back and review the past, we cannot measure the progress of mankind.

It may be true that there are some wrongs that cannot be righted, some injustices that will never be set right. Yet this reality should not discourage us or frighten us from our pasts and should never discourage us from seeking the truth about ourselves. The simple fact that there are atrocities that have been committed that cannot be compensated should not deter us from seeking to understand how and why such things occur. Attempts to prevent us from looking back may be nothing more than an attempt to erase the past. It is an attempt to dissuade us from reminiscing about justice and equality and all of the virtuous notions that advanced some groups, while others were left behind. Hurt feelings, and the perpetuation of discord and strife certainly should be considered by any wise person when embroiled in dialogues to move beyond the past into new directions. We must remember that forgiveness will play as large a part in the formula for peace as will justice. Yet there cannot be forgiveness until there is recognition of transgression. There cannot be reform until we recognize what falsehoods drove our choices and actions. Once we identify these untruths, we must have truths to substitute them, and it is the power of these new truths that are the stimulus for forward motion, change and progression toward greater civility. Once we have transcended the past through this process, we are able to heal.

The attempted or successful imposition of unjust external laws and norms is one example of what prevents us from having inner peace, as well as external peace. This is so because there are certain laws written upon our hearts by our Creator that incline us toward what is good and make evil repulsive to us. Our experiences teach us and reinforce this instinc,tive mechanism, verifying to our intelligence that what our hearts have whispered to us is true.

Tyranny and oppression, lawlessness, and corruption cause us to be without peace, and in our struggle to obtain internal peace, there are times when we must sacrifice external peace in order to rid our societies of evil. This is also a form of purification, and it is a process that has led mankind from beastliness to civility. Whereas no human desires conflict of any kind, when evil persists and refuses to come to terms with what is right, the people must confront evil and seek to abolish it by any means necessary. Never will the world be completely void of evil, yet those who promote evil and seek to establish evil through law and custom must be challenged, since it may be true that the only way mankind can progress and avoid self-extermination, is to reinstall the laws of morality and civility as the paradigms of being in our modern society.

Unless we find other ways to eliminate racism and injustice through dialogue and negotiation, people will utilize the power that is found in resistance rather than conformity. Islam teaches the Muslim that we must continuously reassess, look back, and look forward, and allow history to reveal to us our destiny if there is no change.

If we repeat the mistakes of the past we will have the same outcomes, the possibilities of the future are endless. If we eliminate those systems and institutions, we will have answered history most intelligently. If we choose the natural law, the divine law as a guide in our progress and development, we have fulfilled our purpose in a most honorable way. For like the martyr, we will have sacrificed our egos, personal desires, opportunities, eccentricities, wealth and status to save a world, and deliver unto God a people who are free.


Anisa Abd el Fattah is editor of the Middle East Affairs Journal and director of media and public relations for the United Assoc. for Studies and Research.

  Category: Life & Society
Views: 1031
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