To Be Or Not To Bop

An excerpt from To Be or Not to Bop, Beboppers… The Cult [pp. 291-3]

To Be or Not To Bop Number seven: that “beboppers” expressed a preference for religions other than Christianity may be considered only a half-truth, because most black musicians, including those from the bebop era, received their initial exposure and influence in music through the black church. And it remained with them throughout their lives. For social and religious reasons, a large number of modern jazz musicians did begin to turn toward Islam during the forties, a movement completely in line with the idea of freedom of religion.

Rudy Powell, from Edgar Hayes’s band, became one of the first jazz musicians I knew to accept Islam; he became an Ahmidyah Muslim. Other musicians followed, it seemed to me, for social rather than religious reasons, if you can separate the two.

“Man, if you join the Muslim faith, you ain’t colored no more, you’ll be white,” they’d say. “You get a new name and you don’t have to be a nigger no more.” So everybody started joining because they considered it a big advantage not to be black during the time of segregation. I thought of joining, but it occurred to me that a lot of them spooks were simply trying to be anything other than a spook at that time. They had no idea of black consciousness; all they were trying to do was escape the stigma of being “colored.” When these cats found out that Idrees Sulieman, who joined the Muslim faith about that time, could go into these white restaurants and bring out sandwiches to the other guys because he wasn’t colored — and he looked like the inside of the chimney — they started enrolling in droves. Continue reading “To Be Or Not To Bop”

More Thoughts On the Exclusivity of Whiteness

A few posts back I wrote on the barrier presented to immigrant Muslims (all non-whites for that matter) – the barrier to whiteness. Here are some interesting words by one of our founding fathers, Mr. Benjamin Franklin:

In 1751, Ben Franklin wanted to know why Pennsylvania, “founded by English, (should) become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs anymore than they can aquire our complexion? The number of purley white people in the world is proportionably very small,” he lamented in this essay on human population.

Franklin continued stating,

“All Africa is black or tawny; Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the newcomers (that is, the English) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased.” [Frye 40].

Some of you may indeed be surprised to see Franklin’s expulsion of almost every other group of Europeans from the fold of “Whiteness”. So with this as a proto-concept of the Whiteamerican, how could this shape or influence the debate on the racialization of immigrants into the greater American society? Personally, I found it easy for myself to substitute German for Muslim or even Mexican in his statement above. Food for thought. And God knows best.

Source: Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color : European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998. Print.

Blackamerican Islam and the Squandering of a Legacy

American social mores can be quite peculiar. To gain social acceptance in America usually requires some type of struggle to “get in”. Once you do get in, while you might be razzed from time to time, it no longer becomes socially or legally acceptable by the vast majority of the populous to make degrading remarks or actions towards those who’ve “gotten in”. Parties or individuals who seek to do so risk moral condemnation and can be banished to the periphery as ignorant, barbaric and rude. These aforementioned protections are precisely what Blackamericans have earned and it is these rights that are being squandered, more specifically here for the sake of this post by Blackamerican Muslims. And while there are still many of us who are waiting to till their land with that ever elusive mule as well as that reparations check that just never seems to show up in the mail, four hundred years of mournful mistreatment on a part of American society and its government have afforded Blackamericans many civil liberties and protections that, if continued to ignore, may slip away. And if you think your immigrant brothers aren’t jealous, you’ve got another thing coming.

Since the attacks of September 11th, the United States has cracked down on groups or people it believes as being responsible, actively or tacitly, for those attacks. High profile cases in the news covering Muslims [and here we should point out immigrant Muslims], who while flying have experienced increased scrutiny or down-right racist treatment simply because of their religious/ethnic backgrounds and perceived terrorist affiliations. While blacks may be woefully guilty of DWB [Driving While Black], Arabs, Pakistanis and even Sikhs [who aren’t even Muslim] are guilty of FWM [Flying While Muslim].

And in light of these civil infractions, Arab-American and other ethnic Muslims groups have taken up the torch and rhetoric of Civil Rights – we see CAIR leaders and other interest groups using nomenclature right out of Martin Luther King’s play book. Why? Because Civil Rights are two big key words when fighting against those in American society or government who would seek to infringe upon those rights. In contrast, Blackamerican Muslims, at least to date, have not been subject to the same form of scrutiny. Why? Simple. Because they are Blackamericans. In other words, due to the legacy of state-sponsored racism against peoples of African descent in this country and the reformation of those laws, blacks can no longer be perused by such means without hostile legal and social reactions. Our immigrant brothers and sisters do not share these luxuries. And they are most certainly that – a luxury. Just ask an older Blackamerican man or woman who lived through pre-Civil Rights reformations and they can easily tell you how different the social climate was. Yet despite those victories won, Blackamericans continue to ignore the bounty that has been cast upon them. Am I saying that American society has been rid of racism or even de facto racist policies? No. Of course not. I myself have witnessed those ideologies at the end of a policeman’s gun pointed in my face for doing nothing wrong. What is different though is that there are consequences for those actions. It is this lesson we must learn or else we are apt to loose this luxury precisely because society isn’t fixed or perfect.

A recent case that reminded me of this situation is the Don Imus incident, where the radio host made some flagrant remarks to a number of Blackamerican female basketball players. When the DJ made those remarks he was swiftly condemned and the results of his words has cost him his position. Is racism a thing of the past? No. Can white people still make inflammatory remarks about blacks? You bet’cha. Is there a price to be had? Currently, yes, there is. You cannot publicly attack blacks in America without facing social or even legal action against those words. Simply put, anti-black rhetoric is no longer tolerated, at least not publicly, socially. This public shield extends to all blacks, regardless of economic position or religious affiliation. It is here that I bring this to my point. Blackamerican Muslims are in a unique position in this country where we have the God-given-right as well as the sanction of the United States government to openly and freely practice our religion. Even outside of black social circles, Islam is accepted as a viable religious form to be practiced amongst Blackamericans versus the type of cultural apostasy that white American Muslims risk if they choose to convert. No one, neither white nor black would look askance at a Blackamerican Muslim woman who covers or a Blackamerican Muslim male who prays while he’s on the job. It has been successfully assimilated into American blackness. Again, many of our immigrant brothers and sisters do not have such an easy path to tread.

In addition to this cultural normalcy comes that fact that while many of us who do come from black backgrounds in America and all that entails [reconciling our “Americaness” and how that can prove to create a difficult psychology because of how closely that equals “white” for many of us], we are in a very unique position as Blackamerican Muslim to dictate to a great extent not only how Islam will be practiced in America [incorporating pluralism and so forth] but its success or failure as an enterprise in America as a whole. If Islam is to be “normalized” in the greater American psyche [and yes, we are talking about white Americans here] then that normalizing process will depend on the success of Blackamerican Muslims to create a conduit for Islam to not just abide [Islam has been in America for some time now whether you count the first slaves or the first wave of Middle Eastern immigrants] but to grow and attach itself successfully to the root of the American cultural experience. No other group in America has as much potential to accomplish this as do Blackamericans. We have the time invested, have made the sacrifices to be a part of the country and for better or worse, Black Folks are here to stay – and so is Islam. So the question remains? How are we going to do this? And when? And while I can only speak for myself, I feel a sense of urgency. What we do now and for the next twenty to thirty years will greatly dictate how Islam is practiced in America and the level and extent of its success or failure. And God knows best…