Thursday, March 19, 2009

‘Black Power’ and shallow scholarship at the Smithsonian

If I may be so bold, I would like to put all the shucking and jiving so-called “Public Intellectuals” who pimp their snake-oil brand of Black history around the country, which excludes the heroic role of the Nation of Islam in their accounts, I would like to put them on notice that at least one writer—yours truly—will not countenance their shallow scholarship and faux intellectualism. Not without a complaint. Not without a scream!
To put it mildly, I am sick and tired of the cheap prevailing Black intellectual view of the Nation of Islam. It’s not just the Neo-Cons and the White Evangelicals of the World who have problems with Muslims, our own Black intelligentsia have issues with the Islamic influence–particularly the Nation of Islam–on Black literature and culture in the United States and they refuse to admit it.
To be fair, there are a few young, curious scholars who (as one told me) “make a living by reading and telling people what I’ve read,” who decry the pernicious exclusion of all positive references to the Nation of Islam’s contribution to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s and who exclude NOI scholars from their discussions of it. These scholars describe the omission as “anti-historical.” They’re correct. And the Muslim haters are fake, bogus, scholars in my opinion!
Three years ago, I was the skunk at a garden party organized by English professor and English department “legend,” Eleanor Traylor at Howard University. I was rudely escorted from the room when I respectfully demanded to know during the public comment session of a panel, why the Nation’s contribution had been omitted.
Now, here comes the vaunted Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture with a two day colloquium March 30-31 it calls: “1968 and Beyond: A Symposium on the Impact of the Black Power Movement in America.”
I predict there will be many devout references and libations over the name of Malcolm X, but only scorn and derision (if his name is mentioned at all) of Brother Malcolm’s mentor and teacher, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Shallow Black intellectuals and academics love to lionize Brother Malcolm, highlighting only the 14 months or so of his life after he broke with the Nation of Islam, while trying to wipe out his 12 years of steadfast service and leadership within the Nation—and to the Black Liberation Movement inside and outside the U.S.—which was his platform for earning national attention in the first place. They do the same with Muhammad Ali.
When I saw the Smithsonian’s 2009 announcement, just as I had done when I saw Howard University’s program in March 2006, I went bonkers! “They’ve done it again. They’ve kicked the Nation of Islam’s contribution to Black intellectual development to the curb.”
At these events they always get a truckload of fake Ph.D. candidates chaperoned by real professors, presenting papers and performances for days on end, talking about the Black intellectual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s–the Black Arts Movement, Black Power and such.
The topics sometimes even reflect the prevailing mood of that period: “It’s Nation Time.”
“Nation Time” that is, without “The Nation.”
As unseemly as it is for me to do so, I take personal umbrage at the insinuation when Muslims are excluded, that all these well educated organizers can’t find any “smart people” from within the circle of the Nation of Islam to talk about its role. Well, call me “ill mannered” then.
I’m not angry at the panelists themselves, they do not organize these shallow intellectual events and call them academic exercises. But at some point some of them (especially those who had personal experiences with the Nation of Islam in the 1960s and 1970s) ought to be curious enough when they go to seminar after seminar and only see the Nation’s contribution referred to anecdotally to at least ask once in a while if the Nation’s larger role shouldn’t be considered.
There are many living, breathing, members of the Nation who are much better speakers and presenters than me, who I will not embarrass by including their names in this personal rant, but I can say that for 40 years I’ve personally known of this Black “militant” intellectual bias against the Nation.
In 1970, after I had seen two of my poems published in subsequent Annual Poetry Editions, and a short story of mine featured in the Annual Fiction Edition with my portrait on the cover of Johnson Publishing Company’s Negro Digest and Black World magazines, I wrote Editor Hoyt Fuller over my joy at receiving my “X.” I had an X, “just like Brother Malcolm” I wrote. I never had another mumbling word published in any publication edited by Mr. Fuller.
But I went on with my career as a journalist who was involved in the Black Power movement, published in the pages of the Nation of Islam’s newspaper Muhammad Speaks. I can still put my hands on my original manuscript–sent by Western Union Telegram–of the article I wrote when Angela Davis was acquitted in San Jose California, June 4, 1972. I still have my manuscripts and photos from the funeral of Jonathan Jackson in 1970 and the murder of George Jackson in 1971.
Been there! Done that!
By the time I had reminded myself of my own role in the struggle and of my own fitness to recount it for a new generation of thinkers and writers, I was not just intellectually perturbed, I was personally offended all over again. Like I said: call me ill mannered.
Granted I wrote using the names Charles K. Moreland Jr. in poetry anthologies and magazines, and Charles 20X and Charles 67X in Muhammad Speaks before I was named Askia Muhammad. But we translated LeRoi Jones into Amiri Baraka, didn’t we? We know that Haki Madhubuti was Don L. Lee, don’t we? We know that Askia Muhammad Toure was Roland Snellings, don’t we? Of course we do, and the irony is that were it not for the influence of the Nation of Islam and the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, those giants of our struggle would still probably be known by their dreaded “slave names.”
The contradiction is, that the Black–just like the White–intellectual establishment does not want to know about Muslim writers, accept when they go against the Nation of Islam.
Maybe I should recognize that the Nation of Islam was simply a “change agent,” a catalyst like the War in Vietnam, like the Civil Rights movement–a completely unstudied change agent, I would complain–which helped make the climate in the Black community receptive to the Black Arts Movement and its new way of thinking. Maybe, I should concede that the Nation of Islam was a change agent and not the object of the change.
No. Heck no! The object remains the same, and in some vital ways it is independent of a religious label. It is to change the minds of Black people to realize what Mr. Muhammad taught us: that the six most important words for us in the English language today are: “Accept your own and be yourself.”
That is intellectually and artistically distinct. Name. Culture. Religion. Language. Diet. That is the new paradigm injected into our culture by the Nation of Islam, not by the NAACP, not by the SCLC, not by SNCC—as important as their contributions were. “Nation Time” is the thinking which the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s reflects. That is the 800 lb gorilla in the Black intellectual meeting room, which most scholars, even Black scholars and most recently those shallow thinkers at the Smithsonian apparently want to overlook, and try mightily to ignore.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What if Obama’s grandfather was Palestinian?

Could President Barack Hussein Obama’s “historical memory”—inherited from his paternal grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama—of the brutal British suppression of the Kenyan independence movement in the 1950s affect the “special relationship” between the United States and America’s long time ally, the United Kingdom?
But what if his grandfather had been Palestinian? Would Mr. Obama ever have been able to become President in the first place? I doubt it very seriously.
After reporting on the barbaric torture inflicted on Hussein Onyango Obama in a Dec. 3, 2008 article published online by The Times of London, writer Ben Macintyre says that the first African American President’s views towards the United Kingdom just might be different from those of the previous 43 White U.S. presidents.
“Barack Obama’s grandfather was imprisoned and brutally tortured by the British during the violent struggle for Kenyan independence,” Mr. Macintyre and co-author Paul Orengoh reported. “He was arrested in 1949 and jailed for two years in a high-security prison where, according to his family, he was subjected to horrific violence to extract information about the growing insurgency,” they wrote.
“The African warders were instructed by the White soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” said Sarah Onyango, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman the President refers to as “Granny Sarah,” the article states.
Hussein Onyango Obama, a Kenyan Muslim, served with the British Army in Burma during World War II, yet just four years after the war, his employer, a British Army officer for whom he served as a cook, rewarded his loyal manservant by firing him, then denouncing him to the authorities on suspicion of “consorting with troublemakers.”
The irony is that Mr. Obama was a member of the Luo people from Western Kenya, not the dominant Kikuyu people. Some Kikuyu persons took secret oaths and formed the dreaded Mau Mau, which conducted a bloody rebellion against British colonial rule. The country’s first President Jomo Kenyatta was accused and put on trial for being a Mau Mau. Jamaican attorney Dudley Thompson successfully represented Mr. Kenyatta at trial.
The British soldiers “would sometimes squeeze his testicles with parallel metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,” Granny Sarah told The Times of London. “The alleged torture was said to have left Mr. Onyango permanently scarred, and bitterly anti-British,” the authors wrote. “That was the time we realized that the British were actually not friends but, instead, enemies,” Mrs. Onyango said. “My husband had worked so diligently for them, only to be arrested and detained.”
The President writes of his Black Muslim grandfather in his best-selling memoir Dreams From My Father. He says only that his grandfather was “found innocent” and held for “more than six months.”
While a total of only 32 Europeans were killed by the Mau Mau, the British slaughtered as many as 50,000 Africans during the seven year state of emergency which they imposed, trying to maintain their unjust, racist, colonial rule. But the American body politic did not hold the President accountable for any potential anti-Anglo-ism.
Now. Just suppose that Barack Hussein Obama’s grandfather had been a Palestinian Muslim, arrested in Palestine in 1949, or expelled from Jerusalem in 1948 by Zionist authorities in that colonial settler territory which was annexed in defiance of the British Palestinian mandate and which declared itself to be the state of Israel—the Jewish state. Would that simple difference in paternal geography have made any difference at all in United States history?
You bet it would have! This article would never have been written, because Barack Hussein Obama Jr. would never, never, never have been elected President of the United States had his grandfather been Palestinian, a people who suffered an almost identical or worse oppression at the hands of the Israelis (which continues until this very day) than that which was inflicted on the Kenyans by the British.
Never mind Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, his kindly, Kansas-born, Caucasian maternal grandparents. If Mr. Obama had an Arab-Muslim (even an Arab Christian) paternal grandfather, that would have made him categorically ineligible for the presidency, by definition.
Talk about “historical memory!”
We’d probably be talking about history-making President Hillary Clinton now, because Barack Obama might have graduated Magna Cum Laude and been President of the Harvard Law Review, but he would never have even been elected dogcatcher in this country, let alone to the U.S. Senate, or to the U.S. presidency had his grandfather been a Palestinian Arab, instead of a Black African.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saviouors' Day 2009 photos and thoughts

It was 28 years ago in late February 1981 when, at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago, Minister Louis Farrakhan announced the “Rebirth of the Nation of Islam.”
Thousands of members and supporters of the Nation of Islam—some traveling they said on their “lean camels”—flocked to Rosemont, a suburban town north of Chicago to participate in the Nation of Islam’s four-day annual Saviours’ Day 2009 convention.
As in years past, elders and children alike attended dozens of workshops, seminars, a town-hall meeting, fairs, and righteous entertainment events, culminating with a stirring three-hour address by the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan, to commemorate the 132nd birth anniversary of Master W. Fard Muhammad—the founder of the Nation of Islam in North America—on Feb. 26, 1877.
Several activists, intellectuals and entertainers were in attendance. Calvin Broadus, known popularly as Snoop Dogg, credited Min. Farrakhan with helping bring peace to the Hip-Hop community after rapper Notorious B.I.G. was killed in 1997.
“That's why I'm here today: to show my support,” Mr. Broadus said. He also showed his support by making a $1,000 contribution to the Nation.
Hip-Hop artist Clifford Harris—known as T.I.—who was unable to make a scheduled travel connection to be at the meeting in person, showed his support by speaking via recorded video, telling attendees and his fans that education is the key to success in all of life’s ventures.
Min. Farrakhan’s message has continually evolved during this past 28 years. Even before Pres. Barack Obama’s election created a national obsession to proclaim a “post racial” America because a Black man was elected president, the Minister’s message has been one that appeals to Blacks of course, as well as to many, many Latinos, Asians, and even Caucasians who were in attendance.
“I think it was one of the Minister’s most enlightening” speeches, the Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina’s Faith Community told me.
“The courage in it, facing us and calling us to deal with the truth, and America to deal with the truth, as well as the charge that we have to come together, that we need to be the stimulus for this country, but it has to be based on truth, and it has to be based on facing what is destroying America,” said Father Pfleger, a White Catholic priest.
It is the new-old Nation of Islam in a new day and time, celebrating the 28th anniversary of the rebirth of a something with no birth record, a movement which never really died.
Pictured at top, Calvin Broadus (a.k.a. Snoop Dogg) with renowned Black Nationalist scholars: 92-year-old Ambassador Dudley Thompson of Jamaica who defended Kenyan President Jomo Kenyata when he was accused of being a Mau Mau during Kenya's independence struggle; and Dr. Conrad Worrill, of Chicago's Center for Inner City Studies. Below, attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz, leader of the New Black Panther Party greets Palestinian writer Ali Baghdadi.

Monday, March 2, 2009

If this ain’t treason…

If I had ever uttered some of the epithets against Presidents Ronald Reagan or George W. (for worst in history) Bush, which are being sworn loudly, by the hour by some of these right-wing radio talk show hosts against Pres. Barack Obama, then I would have surely ended up in a stockade somewhere.
The well known, corpulent talker with the drug addiction problem famously proclaimed that he did not need a 400-word essay to say what he felt about the President of the United States, less than a week after Mr. Obama took office. “I can say it in four words,” he brayed from his stable. “I hope he fails!”
The way I see it, to announce one’s desire that the leader of his or her country “fail,” in any dangerous endeavor is tantamount to wishing for the victory of the enemy of that person’s country.
That’s not like declaring that you think the President is wrong. That’s also different from observing, after the fact, what the effect of a dismal policy may be. That is a wish for the defeat of one’s own country’s leader, and all the patriots who follow that leader. Now, if that ain’t treason, then I don’t know what is.
Recall that Cindy Sheehan and all the Gold Star Mothers for Peace were unforgiving critics of former Pres. Bush. But Ms. Sheehan earned her Gold Star after her son was killed in the reckless, needless, immoral, and illegal war and occupation of Iraq, declared by Mr. Bush. Many other critics still hope to see him, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and other members of that administration investigated and brought up on war crimes charges, either in this country or in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
But not even the Iraq war’s harshest critics publicly hoped for Mr. Bush’s defeat in Baghdad, or Fallujah, or Ballad, or Anbar. Not even when they declared the war hopeless, and victory unattainable, none of the critics publicly wished for the death of another U.S. soldier, as hopeless as each lost life was seen by them to be.
Back in 1765, Virginia Delegate Patrick Henry railed against a Stamp Act proposed against the American colonies by Britain’s King George III. In his first speech before the House of Burgess, Mr. Henry offered King George a bit of advice. “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell and George the Third...may profit by their example,” Mr. Henry said after being interrupted by shouts of “Treason.” He had been making reference to two of Western history’s most famous victims of assassination.
“If this be treason, make the most of it,” Mr. Henry said calmly, in response to the taunts. Patrick Henry later apologized to the assembly and expressed his loyalty to the king.
But today, even as the Neo-con posse which led the country into that un-winnable war, fade off into the sunset—for a while even holding up the confirmation of Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder because some were concerned he might prosecute CIA agents for illegally torturing Iraqi prisoners and other atrocities against captured war prisoners—their acolytes in the Fourth Estate and the Talk Radio chattering class, continue to repeat their discredited policies.
The U.S. economy is in the worst shape it’s been in since The Great Depression. The official unemployment rate is hovering just below double digits. Tens of thousands of new layoffs are announce every week. The number of first-time unemployment claims is at a 26-year high. The wave of home foreclosures has become a flood and the robber bankers have pocketed hundreds of billions of dollars thrown to them to fix the problem, and have done nothing to make loans and credit available for destitute homeowners and business persons.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are still singing their same old tired, worn-out mantra: Yes! More tax cuts for the rich. No! Spending to repair the country’s dilapidated infrastructure, putting needy people back to work!
And some fat-mouthed prognosticators even have the nerve to publicly wish that Pres. Obama, elected with the widest electoral mandate for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, they publicly wish that the new President fails.
If that ain’t treason…then make the most of it.