Musings on Black Suffering

This article, Two State Supreme Court Justices stun listeners with race comments,” got me thinking. How do we explain the continual cycle of poverty and crime without essentializing an entire group? It reminds me of an opinion piece by Orlando Patterson, “Black Culture to Blame? Poverty of the Mind”, we avoid cultural explanations, even though anthropologists march off to other countries to study exotic culture. I find that many activists often refer to racial inequality to explain poverty, incarceration, low literacy, and teen pregnancy rates. Very rarely do they address the effects of the moral decline in the Black community. Often radical groups differ in their approach from say the black nationalism of proto-Islamic movements, which were conservative in nature. Many Black uplift movements were critical of the moral state of Black people, but still infused with love for the community. We have to ask ourselves difficult questions. How do our own personal choices shape our lives? Going further, one might ask why is it that certain things are now acceptable in our community? What cultural, social, and economic factors shape our proclivities?

The problem is, that many Black folks, Muslim included, are very comfortable in their bad habits and even worse choices. During the Jim Crow era, it was a bit harder for Black Americans to abide by Middle Class morals and values. There are many reasons, such as the exploitation of Black women’s sexuality, but most are outside the scope of this short piece. While the cultural revolution of the 60s may have “liberated” many Americans from the cultural mores and standards of their forebearers, the Black community is more vulnerable to the negative outcomes of these social changes. Women entered the workforce, but Black women were always in the workforce, as domestics and low wage earners. Women could leave unhappy marriages. The car allowed for greater mobility. Nuclear families relocated to urban areas far outside the reach of extended family networks. The Pill allowed for sex without risk of pregnancy. Even with the morning after pill still women and girls have unplanned pregnancies and abortions. While there is more candid talk about drug abuse and alcoholism, but little prevention. Black Americans have fewer resources, and therefore it is harder to recover from the break-up of the family, separation from extended family, substance abuse, teen delinquency, and college recidivism. Often, our Black youth have one shot to get it right, whereas somebody from a privileged family with financial resources can rebound from their mistakes.

I don’t want to sound self-righteous. But the reality is, we can’t change “the system,” but we can reform ourselves. We can acknowledge the institutional racism and its legacy on the psyche of Black Americans. That legacy still affects Black American Muslims as they struggle for their identity and place in the Ummah and American society. And while Islam has reformed many Black Americans, I have seen too much ghetto Islam where the same problems that plague the Black community are in the masjid: Sisters discovering their husbands were crackheads, serial marriages where women are exchanged, brawls in masajid, drug dealers, turf wars in masajid, etc. The imams from abroad don’t even know what to do with us Black Americans.

Teaching at a Muslim school with a large Black student population, I am worried about Black American Muslim youth. Honestly, I don’t worry about the Arab students because they have family and social networks that help mediate the problems. The boys will eventually find jobs or work at the family business. Families can easily find a spouse for the girls, as long as they sweep past scandals under the rug. But for the Black American Muslims, there is less of an extended family network to serve as a safety net following a crisis. I worry about my Black American boys and their futures. For a number of reasons, many have chosen other options rather than attending a Muslim school. So, there are only a few left by the time they hit 10th grade. Those that are left, I see how many of my Black male students don’t take anything seriously. They have that non-chalant attitude about their work. And the reality is, they have full knowledge of the consequences of their choices. Everybody tells them, their parents, their relatives, their teachers, and friends. But there is something enticing about rebelling and not caring. I hear the stories of our youth all around this city. They trickle down. How this graduate ended up an un-wed mother. How this one ended up locked up. I pray at that one’s janazah. I’ve been to too many janazahs. You don’t want to ask anymore, “How did they pass?” We will protest unjust cops killing one of our own. When is Philly going to take to the streets and speak out against the gangs saying, “We had enough!”

Just like the problems in the Muslim world: where Muslims blow each other up at mosques, at checkpoints, at wedding parties, on roads, in hotels. Just like the rampant corruption that eats away at the very foundation of social and political stability. Just like the nepotism that breed incompetence and economic stagnancy. Racism and neocolonialism are big problems in the world. But we are 10 times more destructive to ourselves. We are doing the job for those that hate us and see us as sub-human. We suffer because we are self deluded and arrogant. We will have to keep learning our lesson until we get it right. We suffer because we don’t try to change what is within us and pray that Allah will change our condition.

I try my best to stay optimistic…but we have many trials ahead of us.

2 thoughts on “Musings on Black Suffering

  1. Pingback: A Letter To My People

  2. As Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatu Dear

    Well said, my friend.

    Did you see CNN’s special on debt and financial literacy among Blacks in America?


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