1986-August / September
The African-American Identity Problem
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
I am a member of a race that has an identity problem. When I look at the identity of our people, the African-American, the question is raised, "Who am I?" Others tell me that I am a Negro, but where can you find Negro on the map? Some people tell me that I'm black. If I am black, then where is the culture, the history or the black land? There is no such thing as a black history as some of our people try to assume. There are those who say, "Oh yes there is a Black history." But that is not black history they are referring too. That is Negro history as it relates to the African-American experience.
We must understand that not very much can be accomplished until we get some concept of ourselves that will make us take pride in being a human being. We need a concept that will inspire and motivate us to accept responsibility to be supporters of ourselves.
When I ask myself, "Who am I ?" I can say, "I'm a Muslim." When you are a Muslim, there is no need to worry about skin color. I am an American Muslim, and that is enough. History has bound roe to a people by trial, by adversity, etc., who today call themselves black or black American. But I don't think of my association with people purely in terms of pigmentation. I think of my association with people in terms of our historic background and experiences. And that is how all of us should think.
A young woman said to me recently, "I'm black, but I never could think of myself as black, not as a name for my race because I always wanted to think of myself as an American." Many African-Americans might not admit it, but most of them feel the same way as she does. Even with the ugly image of America in many parts of the world, we still want to be Americans, and we should want to be Americans.
When we were brought to America, we lost our identity with any other people. We cannot identify with any land, nationality, culture, etc. In fact, we are the only people in America who have no identity with any other people. The only identity or history we have is that of America.
With the exception of the African-American, all other ethnic groups came to America on their own, and they are regarded as immigrants, and that includes the English, the polish, the Irish, the Spanish, the Jew and others. History tells us that the native Indian came to America from Asia thousands of years ago, and today they are called the 'native American. But, when you consider our identity with the past, our only identity is with that of America. We were brought here and left with no knowledge of our past.
We are in a bad situation as a people. We speak of ourselves as a people, but what bonds do we have? How are we tied together? We say that we belong to the black race. Can we explain how? The expressions 'ethnic pride' carries more meaning than race pride. What is race pride anyway? When I hear somebody mention race pride, the first thing I want to know is why are they talking about race pride. I want to know what that race has done. But if you say 'ethnic pride,' immediately I begin to think, "That race must have a good social and cultural life. They probably celebrate their culture or something yearly, because they have ethnic pride."
What does the African-American celebrate yearly? Being black! Instead of just celebrating being black, we should ask ourselves, "Where are our ethnic bonds? If we have ethnic pride, let us define it? What is the definition? Where is it located?" These are the questions we must have answers too. In just being black, we have lost the sense of contextural life, the unity of spirit.