What Muslim member of Congress?!

Keith Ellison sworn in holding Thomas Jefferson's Koran 

Each of the 435 voting members of the House of Representatives has four options on each of the hundreds and hundreds of recorded votes which are called for in every session of Congress. A member can vote “Yay” or “Nay” or “Present.” In addition, a member can choose to not vote at all on any issue.

On Nov. 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress. She was a Republican from the state of Montana. Like others who go forward to blaze the trail, she had an awesome responsibility, and with courage, she upheld that responsibility with dignity.

Shortly after Rep. Rankin took office in 1917, Congress took up the debate over U.S. participation in World War I. Women and others who have not always been welcome at the table of power-sharing in this country could learn a lot from Jeannette Rankin.

With the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote, still three years from ratification, women suffragettes were extremely conscious of the conduct and image of women in the public arena. Women wanted Rep. Rankin to go along with the prevailing sentiment for the United States to hurry on and join her European allies who were already fighting “the war to end all wars.” They did not want the first woman in Congress to be perceived as “feminine” and less able than men, to make the tough decisions required to govern a powerful nation. Ms. Rankin opposed the war.

On that fateful day, to the consternation of many women, she was one of only 50 votes in the House, opposing U.S. participation in WWI. Continue reading

A marriage made at ‘Mecca,’ but no bride

There is “Mecca” we all know in Saudi Arabia. It is the Islamic Holy City, where once every year millions of Muslims trek for a Holy pilgrimage.

Then there is “The Mecca,” Howard University, the place known in Black educational and cultural circles as the center, the capital, the headquarters–The Mecca.

Howard, therefore, was the ideal place for the second Presidential candidate’s debate at an historically Black university (An earlier presidential candidates debate was held  already this season on April 26 at South Carolina State, another historically Black university).

More than 1,000 of Black America’s elite were there to witness the ceremony featuring all eight Democratic candidates, which seems as though it should have been the investiture of Sen. Barack Obama as the one and only Black presidential “sweetheart.”

Radio/TV host Tavis Smiley was undoubtedly the “Best Man,” and he reveled in the role. His No. 1 Bestselling book “The Covenant” was the bouquet, but Sen. Obama seemed to leave his “A-game” at home and did not seek to grab it or run with it. Two of his rivals–Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) stole all the thunder with the “highlight reel” comments of the night. Continue reading

Yearning for learning…not

No amount of administrative, legislative, changes that are going to be made to the schools in Washington soon, will mean anything at all to the performance of Blacks in any kind of American learning institutions…with the exception of the University of Hard Knocks—unless the students involved arrive at school ready, eager to, and prepared to learn. A yearning for learning, so to speak.

So the Mayor appoints a new Schools Chancellor. The President appoints a new War Czar. Big deal. Neither will have much affect in the schools, in the streets of Baghdad.

There is too much attention focused on the top-level leadership of the schools, and not enough attention paid to creating an environment, a culture, where learning is a virtue. Oh sure, some individual “stars” will be born, sooner or later, but we are hard pressed to have a really lasting affect on Black peoples’s schools without doing a cultural 180.

Pianist composer Sun Ra said it, and I’ll repeat it and repeat it. “We’re on the right road. We’re just headed in the wrong direction.”

Black people should want to become, once again, the prosperous, united, intelligent, peaceful people we once were, who gave civilization to the world. If that was the case, our schools would be academies, everywhere. Continue reading

Sudan and the “genocide pimps”

African or Arab Sudanese youth? 

I just can’t get a handle on what’s really going on in Sudan.

My base instinct is to dismiss all of the full page ads and high profile media criticism of whatever the atrocities there , as theater intended to upend an Islamic government…an Islamic government that just happens to be in the largest, and one of the most mineral rich countries on the African continent. An Islamic government that has ports on the Red Sea, the head waters of the Nile River, rich agricultural potential, and which borders on nine–count them–nine other African nations. Sudan has the potential of being a bridge between Islamic (Arab) North Africa and Bantu (Black) Sub-Saharan Africa. In my book, that makes Sudan, an “enemy” of Judeo-Christian Imperialism, by simple definition.

And did I say that Sudan has vast un-developed oil resources, not to mention that Sudan supplies the U.S. 80 percent of its gum arabic, an essential product in soft drinks like Coke, Pepsi and 7-Up? But the subject of gum arabic and Coke has become a big headline joke. Sanctions against Sudan will cause Americans to lose weight and be healthier because there will be fewer soft drinks available. Hardy, har, har, har. That kind of smugness is just par for the course for White folks. Continue reading

Mumia Abu Jamal’s Last Stand?

Mumia Abu JamalPress your hand on the glass partition. The proud, Dread locked Black man on the other side lifts his shackled hands and touches the glass.

Shake hands with Mumia Abu Jamal at S.C.I. Huntingdon, in the hills of southern Pennsylvania. That’s how he received visitors when I met him there in the early ‘90s–through inch-thick glass, via a telephone. He would read several commentaries for radio broadcast. We would record with a crude microphone arrangement we had to improvise. The prison authorities did not want to accommodate him in any way. They did not want him publicizing his cause to supporters all around the world. They feel he’s a cop killer. Continue reading

Malcolm X, House Negroes, Field Negroes & Terrorists

There is hardly one credible list of the Top 10 Black Leaders who’ve emerged in the 400 year history of the United States which does not include either Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali or both. Sadly, the name of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the mentor of both men, is usually missing from those same lists.

Most white people in America, find it hard to understand why Blacks still honor Brother Malcolm now, more than ever before even though in 1999 a U.S. postage stamp was issued in his honor. His family’s “slave name” was “Little,” but in Harlem’s after-hours street life, he was anointed “Detroit Red,” for his complexion, his reddish brown conked hair, his hometown.

In prison he was “resurrected from the dead,” as Brother Malcolm when he accepted the religion of Islam as taught by Mr. Muhammad. He earned the “X” in his name after passing a rigorous examination of Mr. Muhammad’s “Lessons.” he had to recite–with 100 percent accuracy–a list of 23 “Actual Facts” concerning the planet Earth, its astronomy, physics and geography, as well as a list of 10 questions and their answers called “Student Enrollment.”

The “X” symbolized the Blackman’s lost Muslim name and the mathematical term for the “unknown quantity.” It also symbolized rejection of the American culture. He was an “ex” American so-called Negro. Continue reading

At the intersection of race and class

Pyramids, Sudan

When I was attending San Jose State College with schoolmates Tommy Smith and John Carlos, Dr. Harry Edwards was an instructor, and the director of some type of “poverty program,” an “equal opportunity program.” He once told me when I asked for a job in his agency, that I was not qualified because I was “latent bourgeoisie.” I only recently figured out what he meant by that. Continue reading

Shallow scholarship at Howard University

First, there are some sour grapes in these upcoming observations…might even be a case of Playa Hatin’. That said, I proceed in behalf of the countless others with similar experiences who never bother to footnote their experiences or keep a paper trail of their slanders…

I am sick and tired of the shallow prevailing Black intellectual view of the Nation of Islam. It’s not just the Neo-Cons and the White Evangelicals of the World who have problems with Muslims, our own Black intelligentsia have issues with the Islamic influence—particularly the Nation of Islam—on Black literature and culture in the United States and they refuse to admit it.

Black literature and academia lionizes Brother Malcolm X, highlighting only the 14 months or so of his life after he broke with the Nation of Islam, while trying to wipe out his 12 years of steadfast service and leadership within the Nation, his platform for earning national attention in the first place. We’ve done the same with Muhammad Ali.

Howard University’s English Department concluded an elaborately produced yet faintly publicized conference celebrating the Black Arts Movement March 24, and when I saw the program, I went bonkers! “They’ve done it again,” I thought. “They’ve kicked the Nation of Islam’s contribution to Black intellectual development to the curb.”

They had a truckload of Ph.D. candidates chaperoned by real professors, presenting papers and performances for two whole days at Howard, talking about the Black intellectual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s—the Black Arts Movement. Continue reading