By Askia Muhammad
Updated Apr 18, 2009
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 writeryours trulywill 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
influenceparticularly the Nation of Islamon 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 N.O.I. 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 Nationand 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 1970sthe 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
manuscriptsent by Western Union Telegramof 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 Blackjust like the Whiteintellectual
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 movementa completely unstudied change agent, I would
complainwhich 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 usthat 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 SNCCas important as their contributions were. "Nation Time"
is the thinking which the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s reflects.
That is the 800 pound 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.