Black Nationalism: A Different View

Black Nationalism has been harangued as the black person’s equivalent of white supremacy and is akin to the Ku Klux Klan. However, this precept, which was and has been placed upon organisations and individuals like the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, has no basis in actual reality. Rather, what Black Nationalists advocate is self-reliance, organised communities and the ability to develop individual and group identities not influenced or tainted by national governments and corporate capitalism. On the flip side of this debate is what many liberals and early civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King advocated, which is the integration of black people into white communities and society. However, integration has not worked. We’ve seen the ghettoisation and marginalisation of blacks due to historic, institutionalised racism, gentrification of black communities and terrible public education, as well as punitive employment laws that mean unskilled black youths cannot get jobs. However, groups that have supported Black Nationalism, pushing for black people to become independent of such institutions, have shown ways in which black people can move away from the crime and poverty that mire some black neighbourhoods and toward self-reliant communities with good schooling, black-owned businesses and stable local institutions. The Nation of Islam through their economic program have shown that this direction is viable. As a libertarian, I believe that these activities should be encouraged, as they promote stable, prosperous communities that aren’t overly reliant on state welfare or restricted by stringent employment law which in many cases discriminates against black people. Further, it allows for the development of group identities that aren’t influenced by what others think is good for them. By developing this kind of political and economic independence, black people can pull themselves free of the state-enforced poverty that currently holds them down.

The ideas of Black Nationalism can be seen within groups such as a Nation of Islam as well as the ideas supported by Malcolm X. Malcolm X himself talked of developing responsibility and community building without the help of the government, and not relying on white people to force forms of change. He pushed for self-organisation rather than waiting for the slow changes that the government were implementing during the Civil Rights era. Thus the concepts that Black Nationalists were calling for didn’t simply create integrated neighbourhoods where black people are ghettoised and kept in a spiral of poverty and crime, where welfare payments and temporary, low pay employment replace families, full employment and small business-based jobs. These things have been the direct result of expecting black people to develop themselves and their communities while being held out of employment due to employment laws like the minimum wage and making them into welfare dependents, which itself has led to the breakdown of the black family and the ghettoisation of many neighbourhoods in areas such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York in the US, as well as certain areas of London in the UK. It seems then that integration in its current format has failed, creating massive tensions and entrenched poverty.

One of the main elements of the Civil Rights movement during the 50s and 60s was to boycott businesses and force their hand into making them employ or serve black people. However, what is this policy actually achieved. Young black men have extremely high unemployment rates in the United States and their job opportunities are limited due to terrible state education and maintaining black neighbourhoods in a cycle of crime and poverty. It would then seem that this policy hasn’t really worked, and instead it should be the other way round, allowing for black businesses to develop and to serve and hire whomever they want, thus giving black people a conception of private property and responsibility that so far hasn’t won through in many communities. However, where notions of black capitalism have been developed, a real sense of community and solidarity has developed. The Nation of Islam were one of the first to start truly developing such a system, where community and capitalistic independence were at the forefront. The way in which this system was funded already showed signs of a development of true communal values. For example, Elijah Muhammad instituted a three year economic plan, whereby members of the Nation of Islam as well as other black people would give over 5 cents of each day’s pay so as to “be used to purchase arable land where vegetables can be grown and cattle can be raised. He also encouraged blacks to purchase real estate and buy timberland. The timber could be used to build homes for poor blacks. The purchase of clay land could be used to make brick houses, which, upon completion, could be sold at affordable prices to indigent people in black communities”[1]. This encouragement of solidarity independent of government and other white institutions allowed for the creation of sustainable community relations. As Muhammad notes, many of the original Black Nationalists who worked with Elijah Muhammad “perceived Muhammad’s economic program to be empowering because it helped them forge an identity, offered a way out of economic oppression, improved their work ethic, and allowed them to become economically self-sufficient”[2]. Further, Muhammad’s sociological study showed “that teaching practical strategies can help people help themselves. Elijah Muhammad urged black people to be thrifty, save money, and stop spending unnecessarily. By adhering to this rubric, the pioneers were able to see the immediate benefits; hence, they saved money and sustained themselves and their families. They also saw how Muhammad combined theory with praxis. Elijah Muhammad asked people to donate to his Three Year Economic Program. After contributing to this plan, the pioneers visibly saw the businesses opening up, farmland, and members working in the enterprises”[3]. Overall, Muhammad’s study shows us that the Nation of Islam’s economic program of self-sufficiency and separating oneself from the slave-master (this being the American government and white society) was a success, as it encouraged entrepreneurial activity and independence from corrupt, racist institutions.

The Black Panther Party also showed similar success, particularly in the provision of services to poor black neighbourhoods that weren’t being provided on the market due to increased regulation. An example of this was the American Medical Association, who “gained control of the licensing of medical schools…the number of medical schools in America dropped from 166 in 1904 to 81 in 1918, a 51 percent drop.18 The increased price of medical services made it impractical for many lodges to retain the services of a doctor”[4] meaning that black fraternal lodges who ran hospitals for poor black Americans were put out of business due to increased, unnecessary regulation. Thus in the 60s the Black Panther Party stepped in, providing free health clinics in poor black communities, again not relying on governmental institutions that usually had racist or paternalist attitudes.

The vision of people and groups such as Malcolm X, the Nation of Islam and the Black Panther Party has been implemented successfully by these groups. It has encouraged economic independence and self-reliance, as well as a sense of community spirit and solidarity. However, it isn’t for the majority of black people in the US and the UK, where poverty and crime are an everyday thing, being a continual blight on their lives. Many of these communities have extremely high unemployment rates and are welfare dependent, encouraging an atomistic society. However, if black individuals and communities can gain some independence from the nation state and its institutions, it can develop its own institutions and flourish. The cultural precepts that black people find important, whether that be some form of Judeo-Christian morals, Islamic code or civic pride, should be allowed to develop and even flourish within Black communities, as these precepts instil a sense of pride and belonging. Thus we need to allow black communities and individuals to develop on their own through groups like the Nation of Islam and away from the yoke of national government, which isn’t interested in their welfare but rather is interested in creating a pool of desperate voters. Integration has created ghettoisation and welfare slavery, leading to generational poverty and zero life chances. Independence through Black Nationalism should be developed, as it may actually rid generational chains.

[1] Muhammad, Nafeesa Haniyah, “Perceptions and Experiences in Elijah Muhammad’s Economic Program: Voices from the Pioneers”

(2010). African-American Studies Theses. Paper 1.

http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/aas_theses/1

[2] Muhammad, Nafeesa Haniyah, “Perceptions and Experiences in Elijah Muhammad’s Economic Program: Voices from the Pioneers”

(2010). African-American Studies Theses. Paper 1.

http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/aas_theses/1

[3] Muhammad, Nafeesa Haniyah, “Perceptions and Experiences in Elijah Muhammad’s Economic Program: Voices from the Pioneers”

(2010). African-American Studies Theses. Paper 1.

http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/aas_theses/1

[4] Fulton, J. (2011). Welfare Before the Welfare State. Available: https://mises.org/library/welfare-welfare-state. Last accessed 5th Jul 2015.

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