January 16, 2015
Introducing myself to the community of Madison is a little difficult for me since I’m not a journalist or professional writer. So let me apologize now for not writing using the appropriate grammar or if my statements aren’t politically correct. I’m not trying to shock anyone nor am I trying to invoke controversy. I am trying to invoke meaningful dialogue amongst both Black and white people who are not drunk by one philosophy or another and have room within their minds to ask questions about the status quo. What I do say and write comes from my heart with true appreciation for American history. I describe myself as a student of the struggle for the self-determination of Black people throughout the world and specifically the United States of America and when this is done, America will truly be the greatest nation in modern history.
Today, there is a legacy of the American institution of slavery that continues to haunt, while differently, both Blacks and whites today – its ignorance.
There are several basic and fundamental positions that I stand upon. While not a content expert, I still stand on the position that America has a severe and intent case of amnesia and operates today on very little factual information. Little is known of American history and the foundation of this idea, including the role of our Black ancestors. This ignorance is the basis for many of the arguments that I make in both my writings and speeches. It’s very easy for both white and Black America to only see Black people and their current social and economic conditions as a true reflection and narrative of Black people and their contributions to America and the world. This, however, is wrong on many levels.
While the Black community today nearly dominates every negative demographic and is nearly invisible in every positive demographic, these disparities didn’t happen yesterday. These disparities are alarming and extremely damaging for both now and future generations of Black people if not corrected. I speak about the American institution of slavery and I describe it as an institution because that’s what it was and it was one of America’s most lucrative. When you examine America’s economic dominance in the world today there is no mention of the tremendous and remarkable contribution that our ancestors made to make America what it is today.
Legally owned throughout their lives, enslaved Blacks created wealth that made economic growth possible in the US and helped to further America’s economic advantage. The enslaved went unrewarded for the work they were forced to perform daily for their entire lives. The product of their labor was not owned by them but by slave-owners. This surplus of unpaid labor was a source of wealth for both the slave owning South and the industrializing North. One historian quoted a South Carolina congressman as saying “without [n-word] , this state would degenerate into one of the most contemptible in the Union… [n-word] are our wealth, our only natural resource.”
Today, there is a legacy of the American institution of slavery that continues to haunt, while differently, both Blacks and whites today – its ignorance. The legacy lives with whites through white superiority and white privilege and for Blacks it lives through black inferiority. Black Americans are the subject of ideas and behaviors that do little to describe their vast diversity and merely casts them in neatly fitted caricatures for mass consumption (one size fits all). It is also easy for white America to only see the Black family and the troubles being promoted devoid of our history in this country and the damage that has been done. This makes their argument of inferiority more believable. I contend that, when things are put into context, our ills are understandable and our achievements are nothing short of remarkable. In fact most Americans (Black and white) are little informed as to American history and operate at the tyranny of racial ignorance, mythology, and propaganda. I ask you, how much American history do you really know? When was the last time you independently studied American history — the good, bad and the ugly?
Racial ignorance continues and even though not mentioned, is the most complex issue facing all Americans today. In my humble opinion, the legacy of slavery has crippled our ability to address the issue of race head-on. Both groups have work to do: 1) The descendants of the slave owners must come to understand the pain, hurt, and damage inflicted on a whole group of Black people and how the structural deficiencies currently entrap millions of Black children and their families and 2) The descendants of the enslaved must equally come to understand their responsibility to do for self and not be divided internally and to view the Black struggle as a group struggle not an individual struggle. In spite of the overwhelming challenges that Black people face in this country and abroad, at the core of the Black struggle in America is nearly a total removal of knowledge of himself, his culture and his achievement, greatness, and excellence.
I wholeheartedly believe that the American concept of democracy is the greatest experiment in the history of man; however, America will never achieve its full greatness until it addresses the big elephant in the room – the Black American issue. While America is recovering economically and all statistics point to positive and encouraging national numbers, far too many of our big cities are dying at the core. Most of these cities have one single characteristic in common; they have very large or Black majority populations. These cities are experiencing failed public school systems; ballooning prison populations; massive social problems caused by a daily life of trauma; economic disinvestment and shrinking real estate values specifically within neighborhoods populated by poor Black and brown people; and significant gentrification where the influx of well-to-do whites is changing the demographics while creating a greater economic contrast between the haves and the have-nots, whites and Blacks is more pronounced now than ever before “the tale of two cities”.
As Carter G. Woodson once said about Black history and Black culture: “The celebration tends not to promote propaganda, but to counteract it by popularizing the truth. It is not interested so much in Negro history as it is in history influenced by the Negro; for what the world needs is not a history of selected races or nations but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate, and religious prejudice. There has been, therefore, no tendency to neither eulogize the Negro nor abuse his enemies. The aim has been to emphasize the facts in the belief that facts properly set forth will speak for themselves….” Black culture and Black achievement are interwoven– you don’t get one without the other. What you will find when you study Black culture and Black achievement is the numerous “first” achievements that not only influenced the way things had been done previously but when measured under the context of everyday life for Blacks, these accomplishments become even greater and more remarkable.
Again, I profess to be a student of American history and not the history that is one-sided and removes the Black experience. What is a “true” American? How did we get here and what happened along the way – the truth? Do you know your history? Let’s explore this issue together so that we can replicate the leadership, let’s do what America has failed to do – address the legacy of the American institution of slavery.
Rahim Islam is President/CEO of Universal Companies, one of the largest African-American led businesses in Philadelphia, employing nearly 650 professionals across disciplines such as education, real estate, community development, social work, technology, finance, and preventive health. He has been at the forefront of resolving many of the community and social issues facing Philadelphians and currently works directly with a number of organizations in the areas of childcare, youth and recreation programs, drug and alcohol prevention, faith based efforts, block associations, political activity, and k-12 education. He can be reached through his website, www.universalcompanies.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rahimislamuc and Rahim Islam on Facebook.