Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets

The following is a short paper/project that I did for a GIS course I took in the City & Regional Planning Department at the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania ,in 2011. I wanted to do a quick study to show the lack of presence of Blackamericans at farmers markets (predominantly white spaces).

Map A-1: Farmers Market Density
Map A-1: Philadelphia Farmers Market Density

It has been some measure of consternation as to why Blackamericans appear to have a much smaller degree of participation in farmers markets (and some would charge the whole localvore1 phenomenon as a whole) as compared to non-blacks in general and in particular to whites.  Several oft-quotes deductions point to lack of education on the part of Blackamericans regarding food:

“If people only knew where their food came from”.2

Continue reading “Problematizing Statistical Analysis of Blackamerican Participation in Farmers Markets”

Is Religion Fighting For Its Life?

Neil Postman posits in his book, Technopoly:

“It is still both possible and useful to distinguish a tool-using culture from a technocracy. In a technocracy, tools play a central role in the thought-world of the culture. Everything must give way, in some degree, to their development. The social and symbolic worlds become increasingly subject to the requirements of that development. Tools are not integrated into the culture; they attack the culture. They bid to become the culture. As a consequence, tradition, social mores, myth, politics, ritual, and religion have to fight for their lives.”

Along with this I talk about the role of theology in society, do women obey Islam and men follow the Sunnah?, tradition, hermeneutics and hijab amongst other things in this podcast.

Extra Reads

Hijab and Havaianas from altmuslimah. This is what I refer to in the podcast.

Tackling Religious Literacy: Lexical Empiricism – a deeper look at the ritual of wudu’ and hermeneutics.

Beyond Halal – Whiteness and Alternative Food

Some thoughts on a new book I’m reading entitled, Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability from MIT Press. The volume is edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman. I have enjoyed it thus far as it articulates some concerns I’ve had from the slow food and alternative food movements: they are universalisms of white proclivities in regards to food and health.

Extra Links

Tapped – examines the role of the bottled water industry and its’ effects on our health.

Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability – edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.

Short video by Breeze Harper on a similar tip.

Cultivating Food Justice is part of the Summer Reading List 2012.

Chaplain Chats – Islam and Blackamerica

The following are notes from a talk I gave as part of the Chaplain Chats series on February 21st, 2012, at the University of Pennsylvania. You may listen to the audio here:

Why the apparent connection between Blacks and Islam? What does Islam deal with in terms of Black America?

  • The continued struggle of Blackamericans to “settle upon a self-definition that is functionally enabling and sufficiently “authentic”;
  • The power and influence of white supremacy and its value system as a “seminal force of the contemporary global cum American sociopolitical order;
  • The hegemony of modern, Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims.
  • Blacks relate to Islam as blacks [i.e., “oppressed people”] and there is nothing unique or interesting about the link between BAM’s and Islam.
  • Blackamericans often saw a liberating agent in Islam that was not there for them in Christianity. Ironically, it was not present for Muslims living in the Muslim world either. The following is from the South African Muslim Judicial Council during the reign of apartheid:

“Has the [apartheid] government forbidden the worship of Allah? Has the government closed down or ordered the demolition of any mosque in a declared white area? If our government has ordered our Muslims to desert the faith of our forefathers, then our ulema would have been the first to urge us to resist, even to the death.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

What is Black Religion? Def: “a pragmatic, folk-oriented, holy protest against anti-black racism, an orientation shared with many, though not all, Blackamerican Christians and Jews.

Challenges of Islam & Black Religion

  • Post-immigration, many Blackamerican Muslims founded it difficult [and still do!] if unable to address their cultural, political and social realities in ways that were effective in an American context and simultaneously recognized as validly “Islamic” on the other.
  • The proclivities of immigrant Muslims who were assumed to be the inheritors of a “super-tradition of historical Islam”, rendering all of their cultural practices as normative if not desirable.
  • Such norms as the thawb have been subsumed under the “Sunnah”: والقوعد من النساء التى لا يرجون نكاحا فليس عليهن جناح أن يضعن ثيبهن غير متبرجت بزينة “As for women who are past child-bearing age and no longer have any hope of getting married, there is nothing wrong in their removing their outer clothes, provided they do not flaunt their adornments” Qur’an, 24: 60.
  • “America … produced the distinctly racial understanding of difference.” “American whiteness has always reigned as the most prized public asset a citizen could own.”
  • 1965: U.S. immigration law renders Muslim immigrants [Middle East/SEA] as legally “white”.

False Universals

  • Universalisms are ultimately neither as transcendent nor as enabling as they might like to be imagined. Such universals only serve the psychological and or material interests
  • Human rights, freedom, beauty, good, “Islamic”.
  • FU: to speak in universal terms but from a particular cultural, ideological or historical point of view. “’Human,’, ‘Islam,’ ‘justice,’ and the like are all taken, thus, to represent not particular understandings but ontological realities that are equally esteemed and apprehended by everyone, save the stupid, the primitive, or the morally depraved.”
  • To give obeisance or risk castigation.
  • Immigrant Islam “universalizes the particular”.

In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Taking Ownership: the function of the heterodox groups

  • They transformed—if not the creed certainly the “idea” of—Islam for Blackamericans and allowed them to lay claim to it in a way that historical/Traditional Islam had/has as of yet to do.
  • This, more than anything else, I believe what has grafted Islam onto the broader psyche of Blackamericans, rendering Islam a valid religious choice amongst the possibilities of Blackamericans.
  • In the collapse of these heterodox groups in the face of historical Islam, most Blackamerican Muslims were forced into retreat, having no option other than to concede the authority immigrant Muslims possessed because of their lack of mastery over the Sunni Classical Tradition.

Blackamerican Muslim History

  • First Resurrection: from slave times to 1975 with the death of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
  • Second Resurrection: from Elijah’s death until the divided leadership of Farrakhan and W.D. Muhammad.
  • Third Resurrection: the mastery of the Sunni discourse. The 3R seeks to “thwart the power and pretense of false universals”. Still waiting.

Lessons & Take Aways

Why/how did Islam fail to convey itself to modern Blacks unhampered/unmolested?

“The argument goes that Africans, unable to speak one another’s languages or being of rival cultures and living together on disparate, isolated farms, could neither fully maintain nor successfully pass on their traditional cultures to future generation.  Therefore, with each passing generation, more and more of the slaves’ African heritage disappeared or became incomprehensible to their American-born children.  Whites, seeing African cultures as uncivilized or the breeding ground for rebellion, accelerated this process of cultural disintegration by prohibiting most public displays of the slaves’ ancestral customs.” Slavery, Civil War and Salvation by Daniel L. Fountain.

Scarcity of resources available to Blacks led to the decline of African religions [Islam included].

In regards to assimilation [versus indigenization]:

“Given the increased vulnerability of Muslims in the aftermath of 9/11, there is a perduring temptation among many immigrant Muslims to seek acceptance by mainstream America in exchange for a domesticated Islam that can only support the state and the dominant culture and never challenge these. This entails an attempt to identify Islam with the proclivities and sensibilities of the dominant group. On such a reconciliation, however, Blackamerican Muslims who feel penalized, threatened, or devalued by the dominant culture are effectively called upon, now in the name of Islam, to abandon protest and the legitimate aspects of Black Religion and acquiesce to the indignities implied by white supremacy.”

Clash of Globalizations: Western and Islamic Utopianists

It seems that Islam and more specifically Muslims just can’t stay out of popular discourse these days. The so-called rise of Islam in our Modern Time has scribed such sloganistic terms as Clash of Civilizations. Additionally, Islam has fostered a entire profession of self-loathing, self-serving arm chair apostates, who, having left Islam, crown themselves as self-proclaimed ex-Muslims, make a living off of an odd mixture of bashing and faux-reformation, supposedly aimed at rectifying the masses of Muslims, who they have deemed as having succumbed to the innate barbarity that is at the very heart of Islam.

What is often left out of this elitist discourse is that many of these pundits are not part of any community of Muslims [how could they – they’ve left the religion]. Nor do they have any vested interest in these communities successes or failures. To the contrary, they have an interest in the “failures” of these Muslim communities, without which they would have to procure honest employment. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji are two such critics and reforms that come to mind. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Ali sited Manji as a, “genuine Muslim reformer”. I would have to ask Ms. Ali how she came to such a decision, being that in Manji’s book, The Trouble With Islam Today, is mainly a self-aggrandizing rant of one person’s experience growing up in an ethnic Muslim family. As woeful as Manji’s childhood tale may be, it is precisely just that. I am constantly awestruck by the arrogant and lapdog mentality of these “experts” in how they make their personal experiences an ontological criterion from which all Muslims and all of Islam, outside of time and space, can and will be judged. Manji’s book is as transparent as it is of value: she extols all that is white, Christian and Western [any such faults, as she fails to mention, would be presumably by accident] and defames all of Islam by the actions of her father or of her surroundings. In a sense, Islam is in need of reformation not because of any real issues, but because Manji was personally treated badly at the hands of some Muslims. A self-proclaimed homosexual, Manji objects to her exclusion from the Muslim community because of this stance. It is here that the arguments of these pundits fall apart. They will only see value in Islam as in how it fits neatly into a pre-packaged Western and yes, white ideal. Human rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech, are all sifted through the white, Christian sieve of upper middle-class white women. That which passes through is deemed admirable. That which does not – backwards and worthy of critique. In the following paragraphs I will share some sentiments on how the philosophy of globalization has infected the discourse on everything from economics to cultural dialog to how we go to war. But first, a few words about modern Muslim ideologies as well.

If Ali, Manji, and their contemporaries are guilty of what Dr. Sherman Jackson has dubbed, the “false universal” [or what I will refer to here in this post as globalization] then many modern Muslim ideologies also stand charged of the same crime. Much of the efforts of many modern Muslim religious thinkers has been to try and reduce, dilute or unify Islam into a single entity. That which does not fit this mold is tarnished as bid’ah [innovation] and is only a stone’s throw from being tossed in the refuse basked of kufr [disbelief]. Indeed, in my fifteen years years as a Muslim, I have often heard from various imams and preachers that Islam is a universal religion that neither sees nor quantifies race. And yet I can say with certainty that the common experience, especially on behalf of many indigenous American Muslims [convert or otherwise, who’s families do not hail from the “Muslim world”] would give stiff contradiction to the latter. In a recent post on the blog, Black American Muslim Political Scientists, Charles Catchings points out in this piece, I Am Not Alone:

“…the fundamentalist pretends that no issues of racial prejudice exist while advocating a very race and culture-based interpretation of Islam.”

Here, I would change fundamentalist part and parcel for the ethnic Muslim preachers [fundamentalist to me is a carpet bombing word that has no real meaning. It can be used to defame or slander anyone that at once practices the basic tenements of the religion that others may object to, assassinating his or her character simply because they disagree with them] I and many other fellow indigenous American Muslims have encountered. Here I wish to place special emphasis on the negation of the Blackamerican experience by ethnic Muslim preachers. Often it has been that myself or many other fellow Muslims have heard the kumbaya’ism, “there is no racism in Islam”, or that “Islam does not see race; it sees the individual”. Any yet, God speaks in the Qur’an often of variance and diversity that God has created, “in the Day and Night”. Indeed, as Dr. Khalid Blankenship pointed out in a lecture he gave last year here in Philadelphia, diversity is something that should not be removed but, in truth, celebrated. The irony to this is that many of these same preachers themselves use their own racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds in interpreting Islam. This is not the issue, however. The issue is when one thinks one’s culture is Islam itself, and seeks to unify other histories [or in reality, obliterate them] under the unifying banner of “true Islam”.

Islam is not alone in that many of its teaching and concepts have the potential for universal appeal or interpretation. History has shown this to be the case as Islam can be found, in an indigenous state, on every continent and by almost all peoples. In Malaysia, Islam is a bone fide Malay religion. In Ghana, the same. It is a bona fide African religion. What works to make this process of assimilation by the indigenous peoples is their method of appropriating the religion, such that it speaks to them and to their history. This continues to be the primary limiting factor of Islam’s success in America, specifically amongst Blackamerican Muslims. Instead of appropriating Islam to address and speak to Blackamerican history, proclivities and social conditions, many Blackamericans have lost sight of the forest ‘fore the trees. In the words of one Blackamerican critic of Islam, other fellow Blackamerican Muslims are perceived as going from the back of the bus to the back of the camel. That blacks have, “out Arabed the Arabs”. Indeed, there is a certain amount of truth to this critique. The manner in which many Blackamericans encountered and entered Islam was through the prism of a foreign, ethnic understanding and agenda. Hence, to this day, large populations of Blackamerican Muslims are content to live in abject crime and poverty, even though, from a religious viewpoint, they have an obligation to fight it! While this subject is worthy of another post in itself, I will not go further into other than to illustrate how the version of Islam that is being practiced by Blackamerican Muslims is out of touch with their reality. A version that was propagated to them from universalist, Utopian Muslims.

With the tone set for both sides of the firing line, I will attempt to illustrate some points on the impact of globalization, or more specifically, the ideology of globalization on modern thought processes.

America and her culture make for a peculiar dance partner. If one were to simply step back, you might see someone’s shoes peeking out the bottom of the Wizard’s curtain. And yet, American culture proclaims mightily that it is indeed, the Great and Powerful Oz. For all of its rhetoric, America falls painfully short of any real manifestation of diversity. Instead, one particular group along with its history, values, proclivities and inclinations, is foisted upon a pedestal as an invisible criteria, circumscribing normalcy and proscribing that which does not fall within the its lines. As Roberto Bissio writes in Diversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature, “in all the corners of this diverse world is a systematic aggression against diversity, both natural and cultural – a destructive and impoverishing trend towards uniformity, which hides its threatening face behind the name “globalization.” [Anton, Danilo J. Diversity, Globalization, and the Ways of Nature. Ottawa, Ontario: International Development Research Centre, 1995. Pg ix.]. This act of circumscribing/proscribing is make even more potent by the increasing global influence of American culture. As the dominant economic and military power in the world, American sensibilities of right and wrong, just and fair, or even what constitutes beauty are carried far beyond its border with incredible efficacy. This allows America, and by American I mean white Americans, to wield tremendous power as both judge and executioner. The cultures that come in contact with this phenomenon are often “shocked and awed” into complacency, and in an attempt to save face and not be left a seat at the table of Modernity, they jettison their own historical proclivities for a chance to appease the master. This cycle of globalization in cross-cultural exchanges only [mistakenly] reinforces America’s belief that it is the pinnacle of social achievement. Dr. Jackson’s erudite assessment that the Twenty First Century is the century of the false universal, whereas its counterpart, the Twentieth Century, was the color line. Modern Muslims have taken the bait, hook, line, and sinker.

The great British historian, Arnold Toynbee, stated, “Civilizations in decline are consistently characterized by a tendency towards standardization and uniformity.” The state of Muslims in this time and age are most certainly in a state of decline. I do not wholly come to this conclusion because Muslims are not just like the West [because, well, in fact, this Muslim is just like the West in that this is where I’m born, raised, and live!]. Aside from the fact that many Muslims are 100% western [whether they choose to admit it or embrace it is another matter], I reject that in order to be morally upright, socially progressive and the like that is can only be done in accordance to white, Western values. This having been stated, Muslims around the world have fallen into the great pit trap of the Twenty First Century: the trap of globalized ideologies. As has been stated above, Islam has many universal ideals. I will not attempt to lay the blame for such ideologies solely at the feet of Western culture but the impact and influence of the West on Muslim thought cannot be discounted in its current manifestation. I will even go so far as to suggest that in many ways, the globalized vision of many Muslims would not be as vehement if there were not a counter ideology coming from the West. But to escape polemics, Muslims are going to have to look critically and intelligently at their respective situations and act accordingly to them. No longer can a cardboard, brand-X, our-size-fits-all mentality be acceptable. This endeavor calls for real soul searching.

History cannot be evaded. And only at one’s detriment can it be ignored. Aside from Native Americans, Blackamericans are suffering the ill effects of doing just that – ignoring the fact that they are black and live in America [I would add that perhaps Native Americans are not ignoring their past but America as a whole, having dealt them a killing blow, has forgotten all about them]. If Islam is to become something other than a foreign culture activity, something to give Blackamericans identity and [false] esteem, then Islam will have to be appropriated and steered both towards our history, addressing our present, so that a trajectory for the future may be charted. A triage will have to be performed on the body of Blackamerican Islam, assessing its health, wealth, and faculty for moving forward. What parts can be kept, what parts can be modified and what parts need be amputated, these are the questions for the surgeons of the future of Blackamerican Islam. And while I have chosen to emphasis Blackamerican Muslims for this example, I believe this is the process that needs to be done by any and all Muslims, both those abroad but most immediately those here in America [black, white or otherwise]. Community independence will need to be established, lead by an energetic youthfulness, tempered by the wisdom of its elders. A word of caution – there are those of the old guard, good intentions or otherwise, that will seek to retain authority and control of these communities. While the advice of the elders should always be sought and taken into consideration it is painfully apparent that current leadership in the American and yes, Blackamerican community, is far out of step with the realities of the times. Muslims are going to have to put aside differences and even learn to celebrate real differences as the strength of their communities and not the false diversity that is presented today [“…you can be whatever you want, as long as you’re just like us…”]. This was a process and a wisdom of the Classical Tradition, that agreed to disagree. If this concept can be grasped, Muslims may be able to carve themselves out a functional, harmonious, and dignified existence both in this part of the world and abroad as well.

And God knows best.