By Shahid A. Abdus-Salaam
"AMERICA" IS TECHNICALLY not a place on a map. Two continents and an isthmus, comprised of twenty-three countries, make up this vast land of North, Central, and South America. But rather than three geographic regions, the United States’ elite saw "America" as a three-tier caste system: masters, poor whites, and blacks or people of color. It was a system of rules, written and otherwise.
Black progression was and is a real struggle in these so-called United States thanks to these rules. Redlining to keep real estate and community development dollars out of certain areas is just one tactic the racist American system used (uses) to keep a certain classification of people in their place. Black Wall Street (Greenwood in Tulsa, OK) faced total devastation during the white riot of 1921. Efforts to rebuild were met with racial and political resistance. Almost a century later, Greenwood has yet to regain a fraction of its former bustle and vibrancy.
1966 ushered in the Black Panther Party, inspired by a black Muslim named Malcolm X. Its agenda was to establish economic and social equality for black people and protect them from Oakland's corrupt and brutal police department. The Black Panther Party didn’t fear local police, politicians, or federal law enforcement. This violated an unwritten rule. As a result they were feared, hated, and vilified by J. Edgar Hoover. Dismantling the Party became Hoover’s obsession. Hoover said, "The unification of black people in this country is the greatest threat to our national security." Just one example of white men fearing black freedom.
Today, efforts are made to nullify the Black Lives Matter movement. If all lives mattered there would be no need for Black Lives Matter. This movement is the result of black people being murdered in cold blood. In 2016, police killed no less than 250 black people without retribution. The perpetrators investigate themselves and always find no wrongdoing. Yet when Colin Kaepernick peacefully exercises his right to free speech, he's deemed a menace to society. He broke the rules. This reaction mirrors white extremist reaction to Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X in the sixties. The racist never wants his vile behavior brought to light. Any mention or protest of his crimes are met with retaliation, no matter what the constitution says (that document and the unwritten rules of America are not one and the same today). Is this equality?
During the 60s and 70s when I was growing up, we were taught to enjoy our prosperity. Eating at Woolworths, a seat anywhere on the bus, and the right to vote was the high life. As an adult, my perspective completely changed, as I realized the economic and social challenges black people still faced. Then I found Islam.
Converting to Islam raised the stakes exponentially for me. My conversion didn’t come with any delusions society would be more gracious. America has always seen Muslims as "the Other" as well, also subjected to oppressive unwritten rules, and thus my burden was doubled. Yet studying the Qur'an and the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) reminded me of something vital to race relations, a Hadith (saying of the Prophet) reading:
Those words, coupled with reading Malcolm X's Hajj (journey to Mecca) experience in his autobiography, reinforced in my mind that there is no superior race. Islam makes this clear. Many religions call for love and equality between races. The fact that some religious Americans needed national laws to tell them how to conduct themselves with those of different races and faiths doesn't speak highly of their interpretation of their religion. Where they failed in their challenge, can we succeed in ours? Can we now use the wisdom of Islam and other faiths to address America's unwritten rules?
Shahid A. Abdus-Salaam is the senior advisor for a commercial lending group in greater Kansas City and is involved with One Struggle KC and other social justice groups.