Address At The University Of Wisconsin At
Milwaukee: Part 1
Imam W. Deen Mohammed
(Editor's Note: This is the beginning of Imam W. Deen Muhammad's lecture in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Feb. 25, 1988, at the Univ. of Wisconsin. )
As-Salaam-Alaikum, which is peace be unto you. We give praise to God, and we trust Him with our life and with our interest. We pray that He blesses everything that we set out to do and that the outcome he acceptable to Him. We ask and pray the peace and blessings of Allah, that is God, be upon the last and universal messenger, Muhammad.
First of all, let me say that I am very happy and honored to be on this campus and speaking before this gathering here as an invited speaker. It is a very excellent program. Although I have not heard any of its speakers or lecturers, I have seen the program. And I would like to say that I appreciate the university for having such a program, and I appreciate the persons here on the campus that are responsible for putting the program together; that is Imam Majeed and the Black Student Union and all who have cooperated in making it possible for myself to be here, we thank you.
I will begin by first explaining what we mean by "African-American Genesis." Many of us have been called by many different names. And the name that seems to be catching on now is "African-American." I believe it was Marcus Garvey who introduced the name of "African-American" and got many of us to identify as African-Americans. Then later we started calling ourselves "Afro-Americans," in a way of shortening it.
As a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, our late leader and as some of you' know him to be the leader of the "Black Muslims" or of the Nation of Islam, I was following something of blackness or of the black man. But I was more aware of myself as a Muslim, than I was of myself as a black man. Maybe if I had been in the South where the conditions were much worse, when I was a young man and growing up, then I would have been more aware of myself as a black man. That is possible, but again I will have to say that I was more aware of myself as a Muslim.
Even though the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught us that we were black people and a better people than the white people or white race, he seemed to be working more to get us to learn the Muslim life and to live the Muslim life. There was no such life for us as the "black life." The life was the "Muslim life." I also wonder is there a "white life," or a "yellow life," or a "red life." I believe it is the ideology. It is the religion or the ideology that makes a "black."
If you are Muslim, then the life is Muslim. If you are Christian, then your life is Christian. That is if you are true to those labels. If you are a Communist, then your life is Communism. If you are a Capitalist, then your life is Capitalism. It is always some religion or some ideology that accounts for the life of the people, and it is not their color. However, still we have to admit that we do have a black life. But that black life is not as established, it is not as real for us as the life that we get because of choosing a certain religion or a certain ideology.
Now, I am not really coming from the idea of Genesis in the Bible. But just from the simple meaning of the word, "genesis" means a new start, a new beginning. We have attempted to get ourselves and our life together as a people following our leaders and our heroes of black nationalism, our civil rights heroes, the fighters during the days of slavery.
We are influenced by all of them, at least by all of the great ones. I know I have been, because I have made it my business to read about those that I wasn't fortunate enough to meet in my lifetime. I was interested enough to read about them, and all of them have had some influence in my life.
There was a slave that is little known by us named "Julia." And just a small paragraph is given to her in a book by what I believe was a German author. He wrote a book about a people who walked in darkness and had seen a great light. That is what the title said about his book; the book was all about suffering in slavery and about suffering in one hundred years of lynching that followed slavery. In this book he writes of "Julia" and documents these words coming from "Julia." For "Julia" in thinking on the treatment of blacks in the country said of the whites, "They look like God in the face, but act like the devil." I am telling you, I fell in love with Julia! She was a slave, but she was a thinking slave. Again she said, "They look like God in the face, but act like the devil." So I said, "Julia" was much ahead of my father, but he she did not leave her work undone. That was his message; that the white man was the devil. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you about that, for I am sure you know what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught.
So the idea of "genesis" for me is simply a new beginning. What did the Honorable Muhammad attempt to do? He attempted to give us a new beginning. He attempted to give us a new sense of place in the world and a new sense of identity in the world. It was a new sense of purpose and destiny in the world. That is all he was trying to do. And he did it in his own way, using the tools that he was given by his teacher called Wali Fard and Wallace D. Fard Muhammad.
So what I am trying to do is to excite the minds of the striving poor, the African-American who is the striving poor to think again on a new beginning. For I believe that we need a new beginning. The works of Garvey and the works of men of the black nationalist movement and the works of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the works of these black nationalist movements and religious movements carried us so far. But their works were formed under circumstances that are not anymore existing as such.
Therefore it is a burden on us now to try to live and act like they did. The circumstances are so changed. I agree with our Brother in the religion, Dr. Ahmed, in this being what I gathered to be what he was saying, that we came from such conditions of the past that were so serious and so painful, that it left such deep scars on us, that we just cannot turn around. We have been trying to get free, and we cannot turn around. We have to keep going for freedom. I don't think there is any of us that would agree that the conditions that we find today, as a people on the whole is a condition that we are satisfied with. I don't believe that most of us are willing to accept that.
It is a condition that we are not satisfied with. I want to give a little poem that is a saying of a caged bird. The caged bird says, "The cage is not my habitat. And I don't find livelihood here. The natural jungle, the woods is the place that my Lord created for me. It is the place for me. There I find the fulfillment of my pleasures; my pleasures are realized there. And I will never accept the cage, though it be made of gold."
I think of that often, for I see at certain times in our history or in our life that we have been put in a better cage. But still it is a cage. And I think, "where is the oppressor?" I will speak of Dr. Mandela, who brought to our attention that we are facing now something more serious as it registered on me — something more serious than discrimination of man and something more serious maybe even than slavery. That is "ideological warfare," where the influence of words in the atmosphere of the common man, of the man of academia are coming at him and are intending to take over him. It is intending to take his life out of his hands and to rob him of a sense of direction. And that is some pretty bad circumstances.
I also see something else. Where is the oppressor? Is the oppressor this world environment, whether on the campuses of the universities or in the streets? Then I think about the good times, themselves. For some of the entertainment artists have pointed to the good times as being trouble for us. And long before the artists of deliberation like Steve Wonder — I think he is an artist of deliberation — there were the sin-1 gers of the blues. They sang the blues, and many of us could not hear the message of truth and guidance in their blues songs. But by me being a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, we were taught to look at everything and try to hear what is not ordinarily heard in everything that is audible. I would listen to the blues and would be looking for something special.
I have listened to blues singers, as they were talking about a woman and would say, "He is not talking about a woman, that is us he is talking about. He is calling us a woman." And I gathered from his words that he was trying to tell us, that this life we are living is an oppressor. The very life we live, the lifestyle, the mannerisms, the sensitivities that go along with the life we live, the affections, the misplaced affections that go along with the life we live is an oppressor. Then I think of just the spirit to have a good time is the oppressor.
So I don't know where the oppressor is, and I don't know who to charge with the existence of these oppressors. But I do know that for us, this environment is oppressive. If I am able to make $20,000 a year, $50,000 a year, and I still live as a poor person, then something is wrong. And I know myself, as an individual, you are black and maybe white, too — but I am not talking about the whites tonight, you individuals who are black; for if they are white they can afford to squander and throw away more money than we can. That is because their race is established, and ours is not. So we can't make any comparisons there. But if we have people making $50,000 a year and are still living as poor people, then something is terribly wrong. It is because we should have the mind of survival; we should have the mind of a survivor! If I am making $100,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year, given the circumstances for the race, yesterday and today, I should think of myself as a survivor.
Then I should not live as a person who can afford luxuries. I believe that our financial state is so serious with us as a race and not having hardly any representation at all when it comes to ownership of resources, and when it comes to ownership of power — how much power do I control as a race? So we as a race are poor, and we have to accept that.
Look at the control that the newcomers have in America. The Koreans — look at the influence they have, and look at the resources they have gained so quickly. Look at the Cubans in Florida, or the Chinese or the Japanese in America. Look at these minorities and how they come here and right away get substance and wealth and power. And we are still here and can point out one or two. Did you read the article on the comedian, Bill Cosby? Did you read of the millions he makes in one year? That is great, but he is one. That is one black man that has gone far and has really set records. He set records as a black man, and if he was white, he would still set records. They are saying that no one in the entertainment world has gone that far that quick and has made that much money. They are predicting that he is going to go even further than that and will be setting records that they will be trying to reach, for a long, long time. But that is just one.
Then we can pick one white man from America or from Europe who can buy up one hundred Bill Cosby's right' now with cash! Then if we get to saying, "hey, let me look at the whole lot of African-American people and see what picture comes to mind." The picture is dependency. But when we look at the lot of the Japanese, dependency does not come to mind. When we look at the lot of the Koreans, we don't see dependency. We see a people who are making it. But when we look at ourselves, we see a people who are dependent; we are dependent upon the goodness of the people of America. Now somewhere we have to end that, because that burdens all of us. That even burdens Bill Cosby. So somehow we have to overcome that.
If we ever expect to realize a sense of well being in America as citizens of America, we have to overcome that. A select few of us have to work hard at preaching and making a greater awareness in our people of this condition that has stayed with us since slavery. To get rid of it and to fire the hearts and spirits of the college people to think more of themselves, to think bigger, to not be intimidated by America's life and by America's civilization.
(To be continued)