Honoring African Americans
by Fazeel Aziz Chauhan
(as published in Pakistan Link, Los Angeles, 1997)
If we as Muslims want to become aware of our predicament, we must begin by getting an accurate picture of American history. The book "A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn is compulsory reading. It will shock you with the truth from page one. Native Americans were already here for thousands of years before the Europeans like Columbus arrived at the new world. Ironically, Columbus was actually looking for India, to enslave my own ancestors. Zinn's book quotes Columbus' own journal about his intentions of importing slaves and gold to Europe.
Historically, there has always been a small group of people exploiting a much larger group who may be the poor, weak or non-white. We must be aware of the idea that the media defines and divides the world into the categories of "the West and the Rest". In the scheme of American definitions, we are classified as minorities. We are included in the groups of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and immigrants. We should join the ranks of our fellow minorities and do our fair share. If united, this group of "'minorities" can be very powerful. Otherwise we fall prey to being divided and conquered by other people. The people classified as "minorities" in America can teach each other astronomically because we share most common values. We may have different religions, but our culture, morals, behavior and predicament are the same as native or traditional people of the world.
The legacy and teachings of Native Americans also deserves tremendous honor. The first owners of this land are classified as a "minority" who did not "immigrate" to America. The first "non-Europeans" who immigrated here, but against their will, were Africans. It is guaranteed that their words will enlighten you. Their experience will help you progress much faster. We are not the first minority or the first immigrants here. Africans, have been here for hundreds of years before us. We should always enlist their help and cooperation so that we do not have to keep re-inventing the wheel. Thus we need to appreciate and honor them.
If you are facing raci~m, ask an African American about the experience of his ancestors. If you feel that you are among aliens, watch movies like "Amistad." Invite an African American family over for dinner and engage in a dialogue about your common issues. Their heart, hope, persistence, faith, humbleness, pride and power will invigorate and catapult you. In addition to dialogue, read books written by African Americans and other minorities. Get beyond only watching movies such as Malcolm X. Find out who struggled for hundreds of years, bit by bit, to get equal rights for "people of color". As a rule, any dominant culture tries hard to maintain the status quo. It wasn't Anglo-Americans who initiated the ideas of Civil Rights against slavery, apartheid and racism.
Our Muslim parents push their kids to pursue careers which are only financially rewarding such as business or medicine. Why should it take five more decades to realize that we need to encourage kids into the arts, politics and social work? The Jewish people are a great example of a small group of people who became very influential by teaching their kids to go into the powerful areas of media, politics and finance. We should learn from them. Your children can be the next heroes for people around the world, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mohammed Ali. African Americans are usually the best athletes but why are they, prevented from being coaches? The best Cricket, Squash, Kabaddi and Hockey players in the world are in our genes. Why do we keep them dormant?
White supremacists continue to use IQ tests and various studies to prove that other minorities somehow lack certain human elements. But look at how African Americans prove them wrong by their accomplishment in science, as well as arts. Louis Lattimer is a famous scientist and inventor. African American scientists are not well publicized but artists will tell you that even art involves a high level of mathematical and scientific abilities. Notice that often Anglo-Americans are made legendary by the media while minorities are ignored. For example the notion that "Elvis is King". What about Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Miles Davis and Jimmy Hendrix? African Americans are the pioneers of pop music. They sang gospel and the blues from the time of slavery and later invented the highly complex style called jazz. Actors churn up their ancestral emotions and deliver heart wrenching performances in the theater. Dancing is so instinctive for African Americans that their beautiful dance of life leaves us envious. Tony Morrison is a Nobel Laureate for Literature.
Some of our Muslim brethren look down upon other sects. But any human being who claims that he is a Muslim, probably shares at least 70% of your beliefs. So why not joyfully embrace him for that? Us Pakistanis have the common disease of pointing the finger at others and being unable to see that the other three fingers are always pointing at us. The Nation of Islam has done a lot of revolutionary and brave work. Most Anglo-Americans believe the trash on TV and don't even know who is Allah or Muhammed. If a group of people like the Nation of Islam can teach someone the basics of Allah, Muhammed and Quran, then each student receives thousands of benefits. Instead of dividing people based on differences, and judging other groups, we should accept them for being like us. Which Muslim group will organize the next Million Man March?
We also import prejudices from the old country where human supremacy based on skin color and money is rapidly becoming common. We need to be aware of how beautifully these lies are fed around the world through TV and movies. African Americans and Muslims are portrayed as criminals and sub-human.
Caucasians are portrayed as admirable heroes, even if they are shown as killers. Some churches which present Jesus as a White man, subtly give the message that Caucasians are godly and can't do no wrong. Immigrants like us were lucky enough to have experienced life in other environments. We are very perceptive and can also in return be good teachers. These statements are not anti-anglo. They are human beings like the rest of us, but no race or skin is superior. The extreme of unity is Allah. The benefit of human unity is that we can teach each other and together, greatly accelerate our progress.