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.


  1. Thank you, Brother. Just, Thank you.

  2. Truth crushed to earth shall rise once again African Americans development has been unnatural therefore ther response to natural developments in their own community will be off kelter. Most of the so called intellectuals have taken pot shots at Al Islam including Haki Madabuti whom I have admired siince Don't Cry Scream. The lack of response to your post should be telling . Didn't Sterling Brown say Harvard has destroyed more negroes than bad whiskey .

    "This{ Al Islam) is not for sometime but for always." Imam WDM ( son of Elijah Muhammad)

  3. I believe that quote about Harvard is attributed to Dr. Carter G. Woodson, author of "The Mis-education of the Negro," the founder of Black History Month, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), and the second Black man to earn a Ph.D from Harvard.

  4. ASA,

    Awesome!!! What you wrote needs to be said. Continue to expose it. We know why whites exlcude the Nation, but why do so-called "in the know" Blacks do it??? Could it be out of envy?

  5. Maybe too many of Us, who are registered in the Nation, " dress to impress ". It might be that We should be more willing to " Express" as you have Bro. Askia, a desire for our own.

  6. Brother I feel your pain, but coming from both the academy and the first resurrection, I understand the contradictions. A great part of the problem rest on the Nation's shoulders. If you speak to any laymen from the first and engage many in a conversation about Bro. Malcolm, they are quick to speak about him as a "traitor," to Elijah, and some will go as far as to justify his murder if it were indeed at the hands of other muslims. So what Im saying is that the Nation can't have it both ways, you can't refer to Malcolm as a "judas" when it suits the argument, and then hope to claim him as your own in the historical cannons of the academy, and expect that the intelligentsia will follow suit.

  7. Dear Brother Annonymous. There is no contradiction. Those familiar with the "First Resurrection," will recall that Brother Malcolm never said he was the "author" of the teaching. He always credited the Honorbale Elijah Muhammad as the source of what he taught. Truth be told, Mr. Muhammad was not the "author" of the teaching himself. Mr. Muhammad was himself a convert to the faith, and always gave credit to his Teacher. The point of my condemnation of the academy and the intellectuals who would deny Mr. Muhammad's influence on their development is that they try to make out like they are some kind of "self discovered" Black Nationalists or Militants, when in fact the root of the change in the Black Power movement came from the Nation of Islam! "What time is it?" was the chant. "It's Nation Time!" was the correct response. This has nothing to do with Brother Malcolm who because of his defection from the Nation, and in his absence from the scene to speak for himself, became a convenient symbol on which folks could hitch their own stars, without having to acknowledge The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his dedicated followers who were the lightning rods of the Black Power movement.