Liberty or Death
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from An African-American Genesis by W.D. Muhammad.
I say to the white-man, "don't love us too much. Your love is cruel. When you love us to the extent that you don't want us to come into our own, that love is cruel, and that love is jealousy." The white-man wants to be the great savior, the great redeemer of fallen civilization. He wants to be the civilizer of backward nations; therefore his subjects must follow him. His attitude has been, "They must take the dress of a different culture, the dress of a different religion, because they are my boys, and I'm their daddy. My fathers and I raised them, and they had better stick to the life that we choose for them. They had better imitate daddy or they will have no life at all."
I say to them, "Give me liberty or give me death;" that came from one of their fathers. I mean what I am saying. Do not think that I am joking. I am very serious. If we want to normalize the spirit and behavior of the African-American people, we must have the courage to follow the call of those leaders who address the whole need in the life of our people. Today there aren't many of them around. Once we had quite a few, but most of them are gone.
A purpose in life
God has given us a purpose. And the highest purpose is to fulfill community, not personal life. The highest purpose for man is to fulfill community life under God as He intended. You might ask, "How can I know how God intended my life to be?" You have to trust Revelation, trust what God has revealed. If you don't have any trust in that, then use your good senses: study what God has created and made possible for you as a created being, or study your own creation. If you don't believe there is a Creator, then study your own creation and see what your own creation holds for you as a possibility for excellence, progress, social and community responsibility. By just studying that, you will come to excellence because God has not created you inferior. God has created the human being as creatures of great excellence.
The difference between our spirit and the spirit of an achieving society like the Jews, the Asians and many of the European races, is that we have been cut-off from natural social progression. We were taken out of the social mold of life by slavery. Slavery broke up the social pattern of the lives of those who were enslaved and made them conscious of themselves as properties and dependents of their masters. This was often expressed: "Master will do this for me. Master will take care of_ me. Master will defend us. Master will save us. Master will sell us. Master will keep us. Master will make things better for us."
Why are we different
Our condition demands that we ask ourselves the question "Why are we so different from everybody else?" The answer is that we were cut off too abruptly, too thoroughly to have the kind of sensitivity we find in other ethnic groups. We were suddenly cast upon a new part of the planet with no recollection of how we got there or whether we should stay or not. We have taken all of our signals from the new environment that offered us little or nothing from the past except negative things.
We're shown pictures of an uncivilized white-man called "Tarzan, Lord of the jungle." He is a half naked savaged white-man who is incoherent, and an illiterate who had to holler. Yet, they show him as being the lord over the black people of Africa. That is the kind of pictures or movies they showed to our children two, three and four generations ago. These pictures were to condition our minds to believe that even the cheapest white-man is lord among our ancestors.
When there came the opportunity for Muhammad Ali to be made a mythological hero for our people, many fought against it and didn't even give it a break. It was given a little exposure and then withdrawn because those who want us as their field animals, their domestic pets and their foster-home children, do not want to separate from us. If they see a trend that will take us out on our own and establish us in our own manhood and in our own dignity as a people, they fight it even though they know it is against their better principles of civilization. They fight it because they're too weak in their sentiments, and too much attached to their old property called Uncle Tom, Black-boy, etc.
Those who study, psychology and sociology, know that a person can become too attached to their own children. They can become so attached, that eventually they become a cruel taskmaster. They become a domineering restraint on the potential of their own children, holding them back from dignity and progress because they love them too much. Their love is coming from a dependency and a weakness within. It is coming from an insecurity within, and in coming from that weak situation, they send their children to inferiority behind inferiority. That is the same kind of thing the white-man's supervision is doing for us. We should not want his supervision anymore. We should walk together as men just like he does. We should decide our own destiny and future. We should not want him doing for us anymore, the things that all others do for themselves.
The problem child
Whether we live in the Old World or the New World, the Third World or the World of the Superpowers, we are going to find ourselves in environmental situations that challenge the very nature of man. The dynamism of man challenges him. In all worlds you are going to find bright children and slow children. Undoubtedly you are going to find children that will become unruly, and because of your shortsightedness, you will judge their unruliness wrongly.
Because of the effects of certain environmental influences on them, you may think that your children or your subjects are against you, resent you, don't appreciate you, and are even trying to overthrow you. But have you considered that this situation might be the result of them being out of touch with what you really represent? Have you considered that they may have been separated from what you really represent —from your traditional strength, your traditional life, and your traditional progress. You have left them by the wayside, and you did not bring them along with you, so apparently they may have become a factor for undermining you.
It can happen that in your neglect, you fail to see that among them are some bright ones who have insights and vision that will take your society much farther than you can. You may be in the ruling position, but you do not have the insight nor the genius that has emerged in your subjects. Therefore, because you see an unruliness, and a tendency to undermine, you go against them, and many times destroy your best people. You destroy your own best future in ignorance.
Let us take a look at the African-American in relation to the above. In these big cities we see our teenagers in gangs that have their own code of ethics. They have loyalty to each other and a code they live by. They exercise more respect, commitment and loyalty among each other than do African-Americans in what we refer to as the legitimate society. We don't have that kind of commitment to principle or those kind of loyalties. In our own homes we turn against each other, ignore each other, and walk away from each other. We are killing ourselves, going into drugs, wine, prostitution, theft, being recruited by gang leaders, and most of us just sit back and let these things happen.
Sometimes the terrible destiny that God allows to happen is better than the situation that we have for our children at home. That is pitiful. We can become ignorant and become our own oppressors. We can become the very forces that suppress the seeds in our potential, and suppress the spirit in that potential. We have to understand the complexity of life and the complexity of society, whether it is in 1986 or earlier. We must understand that there are competing forces and competing systems, and that there are always personal needs.
Many times these competing forces and systems can become misguided and warped, and an environment will be created that is insane. When that happens, the urge in human potential will begin to emerge, and with the spirit and energy from that human potential will come personalities who will address the wrongs of the environment. They will begin to recommend remedies for correcting the problems of the environment. If we are too caught up in our own traditional ways, too fascinated, charmed and excited over our own achievements, we will not be prepared for the factor of liberation that is emerging in the new individual.
A price for freedom
I would like to relate something that happened to me recently while shopping near one of the better high schools on Chicago’s Southside. I overheard a young girl say, “In the USSR, basic necessities are free. The Russians don't have to pay for their education or housing." After listening to her, I turned to her and said, "The Libyans don't have to pay for basic necessities either." I went on to say. "You know, there are some things that I like to pay for myself." When I said that, another young male student looked at me and said. "What kind of things would you like to pay for yourself?" I said. "I like to pay for my own freedom."
It is not an everyday, common freedom that Muslims and American citizens share in common; it is a special freedom —one that emerges and dawns in the deepest recesses of man's soul. It is that special freedom in the phenomenal spirit of man that ties us to one and the same personal and environmental human concern. Being stirred by that special freedom, I understood something, and in understanding it. I felt the need to tell those young students of that special freedom we have.
We must stop reacting to the rhetoric, the statistics and other research data we hear and read coming from demagogue preachers, politicians and leaders. When we respond to the urgency deep within, we will then have the sense to move out from under the control and excessive dependency on others. When we refuse to be dependents, we will then take on the personal, racial and community responsibility for our own circumstances and future. Setbacks occurring in the cultural processes of life are sometimes extremely devastating. Sometimes they are so devastating that nothing short of a genesis with which man, nature and social purpose united can move the people out of that devastating situation into a better life and a better future. For the task of successful living, the African-American people must have this kind of genesis.
Many of us forget we were taught the belief that blacks were created inherently inferior. Such teachings received support from the ignorant church people and church leaders who said that we were Ham's children, and that Ham was cursed to be black and servants.56 After having experienced cultural setbacks to the extent of social devastation in the life of the African‑American, we must dwell on concerns that point to the establishment of a philosophy of life, and a group philosophy.