Building Human Dignity For The African-American
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
Some people wonder why I want to write about faith in God and human dignity.
They wonder why I don’t address doing something about the physical conditions that surround the African-Americans. We need faith in something, and it must be in something bigger than ourselves.
History tells us that man has grown because he has had faith in something bigger than himself, but once he began measuring his own deity within the limit of his own dimensions he began to fall.
As long as his deity was greater than his own limitations, he was constantly rising and moving forward. Once we turn away from respect for God, we can expect nothing but downhill movement.
We cannot make any progress before we establish once again the cornerstone of society, that building block that set the pattern for the structuring of the whole life. And that cornerstone is human dignity or respect for the human being.
We cannot wait for people in the academic field to do something about our conditions. They are trying to find a way to serve God and somebody else at the same time. But those of us who don't have billions in the reserves to worry about can go about the business of putting human dignity in the center of society so that it can again become the sacred shrine for our respect. Today there is little or no respect for human life because people have lost the concept of human life. If we are to bring back respect for human dignity, we will have to start all over again, and once we do this, I think we can make changes in the physical environment that we have never seen before.
I believe that the force for change is still within us, and it has yet to be freed. Too many of us are still prisoners inside of ourselves. But once we wake up to what the inner self requires, let the whole soul blossom within ourselves and begin to listen to what nature (the inner-conscience) is asking for, then get the will-power and strength to act, we can make this country turn over like we have never seen it turn over before. And I say this, because the power within is the power for change.
We can do more in the name of God than China has done in the name of Communism or Marxism, China has closed up the undesirable prostitute dens, driven out the dope peddler, and put an end to alcoholism. This was done because the human being was valued and respected. We could muster up much more strength in this country than the Chinese people have been able to do. God is a greater force for change than Marxism. I have never read in any writings by Marx as great and beautiful a description of power of the human being as that found in the contents of the Qur'an or the Bible.
Scripture teaches us a concept that makes us know that we can overcome anything that is in our way except God Almighty. Scripture also tells us that the human being is made with a special dynamism inside. That inner dynamism enables him to move all obstacles so that nothing can hold him down. With this understanding of the capacity that God has created in the human being, we will never be satisfied with the peace of a graveyard. Today, we have the crushing weight of these material cities on us, and they make us feel as though we are living in a graveyard. Our homes and neighborhoods have become graveyards, and many of us are just too complacent and satisfied with these terrible deathly conditions. But, the will of the people seems to be growing stronger and stronger to break from confusion in daily living, or should I say, daily misliving. People really want to do something constructive about changing their lives.
Once you know yourself, and then understand those things you are giving yourself to, you can no longer be satisfied with that graveyard. You will rise up, teach and preach to get people to join you. You will work with those who are walking in the right direction. You will do whatever you can to bring about a moral army for social change in this society, and you will not stop until you succeed. Sometimes a war starts because of economic difficulties or a political impasse, and men go out and fight to defend their homeland, willing to give their lives to save their country, but when men understand that they cannot survive as human beings without moral life, they will fight just as bravely and courageously for moral, social, economic, and political dignity. Men will be more dutiful in the name of God when they know what they are fighting for. God has not missioned us to fight for no reason. He has missioned us to fight for something more precious than the land we live on. He has missioned us to fight for the human being for which the land itself was made.
Economic Conditions Have Changed
We have to face the realities of this present time. The economic situation in the world has changed. This is not the America in which we used to lie down in our beds at night, close our eyes and when we awoke in the morning, we knew that everything was going to be alright. That America is gone! If those who are receiving welfare knew the reality, they would not be sitting so comfortably at their dinner table eating food bought with food stamps. They would be more concerned, beating their brains out trying to come up with better solutions and trying to map out a different lifestyle for themselves.
The only way out for us is to take command of our lives. And I am talking about the great masses of the poor in these dying cities. We cannot listen to the kind of leadership we hear and see on television, in fashion magazines, or what we see in the movies. We have to stop letting such things as television and other forms of media influence our minds and direct our lives. We need a revolution in this country that is voluntary. We have to chase out corruption from our communities, and ask our people to make the necessary sacrifices if we are to survive as a people with dignity.
We must establish our own independent leadership. We need people from among us to sit down and study our economic conditions and economic development. We need them to study our past destructive spending habits. They must study future opportunities in making decisions for us. We should not have to call and ask the Mayor's office, the Governor's office, the U.S. Commerce Department or some other department to tell us what steps to take tomorrow. We want to feel that we can make a step tomorrow in the light of what we have found from the study of our situation.
As a people, we must learn to share. We cannot rise separately, we have to rise together. We must make sacrifices and save some of our money. We should take the money we spend on expensive cars, and put it in bank accounts or in a treasury that we can trust for the upliftment of the African-American people. We need to establish some charitable and human institutions to serve our human needs. We don't have to wait for money from the outside; we can finance our own needs. If we make such an effort, we will get help, and if we maintain our own self respect, we will continue to get help. Nobody will continually help those who are satisfied with begging all the time.
We find African-American people in the worst of all conditions. I am not talking about their material condition, because some of them live like they own a nation. I have been to parts of what we call the developing countries, and met leaders who didn't come out with a show of wealth to match what I see among African-Americans who have nothing but an ordinary job. You find among the African-American people those who know nothing but welding or pouring molds, yet you see them driving brand new Mercedes. You would think that they are president or officers of First National Bank, but if you follow them to work, these people go to the same kind of job you go to, that is, a common ordinary job. We have to change these kinds of things if we expect to rise as a people. We must be prepared to make the sacrifices that our conditions demand. We have to sacrifice those expensive and excessive wardrobes, excessive amounts of food, sacrifice living standards and lifestyles that are above our needs. These are the first sacrifices we need to make. We can take the money we save and put it to better use.
Look at how many African-Americans let great wealth pass through their hands, wealth that could have been saved for the future, but instead it goes into cars and other expensive things. If we put that money to good use, we can die with dignity. Many African-Americans die and their whole life was nothing but a waste because they left nothing as an inspiration for their children. They leave their children with nothing but a great burden. If the child sees his Daddy with his care-free spending habit, living like a rich man, and his Momma on welfare, that child wants to live the same way his Daddy lives. He will think, "Oh, I must have sixty dollar shoes like Dad. I need a leather coat like Dad sports around. I need a car like Dad's." The child grows up expecting to inherit what Dad has, but Dad leaves him nothing. If he leaves him a car, he leaves him a debt, and the child has to run from debt collectors to keep the car. The child feels he must have the same things Dad had, but in many cases he can't get them honestly, so he follows his dad. Many times he sells dope or innocent women or something else, perhaps even worse. Many of our younger generation give themselves to a life of crime and corruption because their parents are dangling before their eyes an unreasonable lifestyle.
We need to take off this image of wealth and live the kind of lifestyle that really represents our situation. We are not wealthy; we are poor. Look at how much money we spend unnecessarily as a people. Some of our poor folks have ten suits. Some of their children have ten different changes of clothing, twenty pairs of socks. Ten pairs might have holes in them, but they have twenty pairs of socks. They have all kinds of costume jewelry, and some real jewelry. Some people even go out and rob others in order to put their clothes in the cleaners. If we reduced the wardrobe down to our size, putting two suits in the cleaners when they need cleaning, it would be much cheaper. But for our ordinary need, we should be wearing clothes that can be washed by hand, or in the washer. When I When I was a child, we didn't wear a suit all of the time. We didn't put on a suit unless there was a special meeting or gathering, such as when going to church or some business meeting.
To some extent, the Nation of Islam is responsible for making many of us go crazy. We had men out on the street looking as though they were bankers. There were many poor brothers who did not know how they were going to get $40.00 for their next quota of 300 Muhammad Speaks Newspapers, yet they were dressed like a banker, in a suit, white shirt and tie. That may have been good in those days to attract people who had a need to stand up in dignity, but let me tell you something; this is a new day and that superficial thing is over. That psychology is no longer needed. Today we need to avoid excesses and put on the kind of clothes that fit our situation.
The great prophets lived an example of what their people should do. None of them walked around in luxury. They demonstrated to the people the real struggle that had to be conducted in order to raise the whole community. Prophet Muhammad refused to accept great personal wealth. He lived on the level of the average person in Arabia in those days, He was classified in his material life with the poor. If you look at our people, you will see that the demands are the same for us here in America. We have never had anything and we will never get anything until we begin to live our lives by following the examples of those great prophets. This is what the leaders need to do. They don't have to dress like the rich. Some of them say, "I have to do that to get respect." I say to them, I am the most respected leader in our community, and I don't have to do that. I own a Nissan Sentra, and I hope I will have it when it is ten years old. The only way we are going to get out of our economic predicament is to tighten the reigns on our own wild lives, and make ourselves do what is practical and realistic. How do you think I feel calling our people to human dignity, telling them to embrace the nations of the world, to see themselves in the international leadership of the world, and then walk out of the place where I am speaking and see nothing owned by us. The transportation lines, the big buildings, and even the small ones are practically all owned by people other than ourselves. In fact, most of the homes we live in are owned by people other than ourselves.
Believe me, we have to become more aggressive if we want to dignify the masses of our people economically and politically. We need to form some kind of collective political power and economic base for African-Americans. The big task for us is to bring up our community to the point where we will be no more dependent on Federal assistance than an average American community, such as the Italian, Irish and others. And to do that, we will have to become very aggressive. We have been too complacent, too tolerant. To be aggressive financially or economically, we need a plan for economic productivity. We must have the vision to see where we want to go financially or economically, and then we must adhere to that plan and not let changes in the political or cultural atmosphere take us away from our course. We must be willing to meet the challenges of rogues, thugs, hoodlums and any bad elements as well as government that try to defeat our plan.
I don't want to use terms to make people think that I am a radical or something, but we want to accept that If we are going to compete in America, we must be prepared for war — war with yourself first, because your tendencies will be pulling on you, trying to stop you from progressing. Then you must wage war against the bad elements in the country, and the best way to do that is to be morally right yourself and encourage a healthy environment in your neighborhoods. If you are Christian, then you have to go back to the principles of your higher ideas of Christianity, and if you are Muslim, you have to do the same thing in the context of your religion. I don't mean that we should start a crusade on sinners, or a crusade to wipe out sin in this country because that would be against American democracy. But, we have to contain ourselves, and keep our own lives in order. We must be prepared to do whatever is necessary within the law of the land if we are to protect the good forces in our life.
We know we cannot depend on the masses to do this. There has to be a select group of African-Americans to serve as role models or as leaders for the rest. And until we do that, our people will never have the advantage that other ethnic groups have in this country. We must have our own cultural and business institutions. We must have our own great leaders in-business, culture, and politics. We must make an organized effort to keep our people in touch with their lives. Until we do this, we will always be an inferior people when it comes to competing in the world economically, politically, culturally, and otherwise.
Helping Law Enforcement in the Community
If we become more productive as citizens, we can help put law enforcement in a position to stop a lot of the illegal activities in our communities. But when we have the majority of our people punching clocks on eight hour jobs, on welfare, and hardly owning anything of substance in our own neighborhoods or in the city, then our own neglect and shortcomings are putting law enforcement in a bad situation.
There is not a sufficient tax base in many of our inner cities. These cities are filled with black folks, and many of the white business establishments have moved out or deserted the Black community. If we claim to be equal to the white man, then we must develop a tax base in these cities ourselves. And if we are going to develop a tax base there, it is necessary to establish businesses there that will bring in money. That is our situation all over the United States where we are in large numbers. Our failure is that we need to be more self supporting. Our failure to be self supporting is responsible for a lot of the crime we see in our communities and in our neighborhoods.
The attitude we carry as African-American people of not supporting each other is conditioned behavior. A lot of our so-called black leaders as well as the American society are responsible for that attitude. Any time an African-American leader tells us that we need more jobs, and that we need to get rid of Reagan, but does not tell us we need to get rid of our bad habits and the irresponsible way we are living, then he is contributing to the problem. Some people say, "Well he is a politician, and that is not his responsibility." I don't think the leaders of any other race in a similar situation would make such a silly reply. In other words, our situation is so serious, that every man who gets the opportunity from our community to address us has an obligation to treat all of the serious ills among us.
The world is being run by people other than ourselves, yet we are satisfied to spend more than 130 billion dollars a year and not care as long as we are having fun. Let us build a shrine of human dignity that will bring all people together. Let us bring instruction for the dignity of the human being into education and teach it from the cradle to the grave. If we can do that, I think we can out live these shallow detrimental conditions in our cities.