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Another Nation: The Nation of Islam and the Refutation of the Black American Identity

Despite the mass racial psychosis afflicting contemporary Black America that has questioned the validity and relevance of race to the American identity, there has been an organization that, despite the attacks and smears to their work and legacy, have continued to recognize the centrality and importance of race in American political life – The Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam (N.O.I.) is a Black organization within the United States that continues the tradition of proliferating a race-centric Black politique, one that ties racial identity to political action. Through the teachings of the N.O.I., the organization instills within their membership a sense of race pride and belonging outside of the national identity of ‘American’ by replacing it with a historically informed alternative. This begs the question, how exactly does the Nation of Islam act as a vehicle for influencing Black Americans into feeling a sense of belonging to a nationhood outside of the U.S? 

In order to fully understand the appeal and influence of the N.O.I. as an alternative nationalist institution to America, we must first understand the condition that Black people in America live under. The presence of Black people on the North American continent was brought into being by the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, from which millions of Africans were stolen and put into bondage and worked to death for white capital. Here we can understand Black people in America as having been introduced and conceptualized as a mere mechanism for the construction of a white European polity, rather than a group that was ever intended to share in the bounty of this new continental social formation. And even after the independence of the United States of America, which only proved to be a pro-white “revolution,” Black people were still held in bondage as slaves. Black people, as slaves, were nonpolitical actors, not allowed to be present when the liberal tenets of the American Creed were being crafted . Black people have always existed outside of de jure American life, left to live in whatever meager existence they could glean for themselves. Even after the Civil War, America’s bloody reckoning with race, Black people were still wretched entities thought by white America to be incapable of embodying the “democratic” principles of the American Creed. Black people, in the minds of their now white countrymen, remained scarred by their innate racial nature of being ignorant and cowardly. Despite their participation in the Civil War, and despite the legal ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, Black people existed as de facto non-citizens, cast out by white America. For Black collaboration in the destruction of the Confederacy, they were promised land. This deal was scrapped immediately following the war, and promises of 40 acres and a mule, which was promised to be appropriated from rebel plantations, withered to nothing. This great betrayal of Black people by the United States government, in turn, created the birth of contemporary Black nationalism, as this betrayal was the original sin from which the debt of slavery had yet to be repaid. Black sovereignty was usurped via a white lie, and in turn, created a legitimate demand for Black America. Black people had been shoved away from full citizenship and forced to live as an internal colony of white America .

The N.O.I. is a product of this unreconciled racial contradiction within America and is a doubling down on the racial two-ness of America, imposed by white America on Black. The N.O.I. is capable of having their membership identify as something outside of an American identity because they, as Black people, already know it to be true. Black people themselves, overtly politicized or not, understand that American society operates with limitations for Black phenotypes. 

Na’im Akbar, a psychologist and former member of the N.O.I., recounts the reach the organization had beyond its formal membership in a 2002 interview saying, “[My friend] Cedric and I were very much directly influenced by the Nation [of Islam] in our thinking. And both [my other friends] Phil and Wade, who never joined the Nation, were also very much influenced by those kinds of [nationalist] ideas”. This kind of attraction to the politics of the N.O.I. by ordinary working-class Black people is created through broader socialization into white America. Black people understand the reality of the American life they live and the lives that are lived by others. This is the nature of Black life in the United States, told you are American but knowing and feeling from the abrasiveness of your daily life that you are not . An unreconcilable contradiction. 

In the foundational and sacred text of the Nation of Islam, written by the then leader, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Message to the Blackman in America, Elijah Muhammad provides a binding link between the racial condition of Black people in America and an insurgent understanding of Abrahamic theology. Elijah Muhammad uses Black spiritualism as a means of binding Black people, as many share a sense of spiritual belonging, one that was instilled from Black America’s collective generational experience with slavery. Elijah Muhammad emphasizes the spiritual miseducation of the Black American, which consequentially bleeds into his political understanding of self. Black people, according to Elijah Muhammad, must break with Christian spiritualism, which is itself the product of slavery, one fully tainted by white ideology. In order to realize the ultimate goal of Black self-determination, the goal of the N.O.I., Muhammad argues, is for Black people to move past the aftermath of slavery and undergo a fundamental spiritual transformation. This spiritual transformation will, in turn allow for a material shift in the lives of Black people for the better once they realize their divine purpose. 

The N.O.I. presents Islam as a Black religion and a tangible spiritual alternative to the slave religion of Christianity. Given its eastern and non-European roots, Islam is embraced as an act of rebellious political agency, making the conscious decision to align fully, mind and soul, away from the teachings of white America. Islam is embraced not only as an anti-racist alternative to Christianity but an explicitly Black religion laden with liberatory principals. By understanding white America’s spiritual legacy as one tainted by slavery, it is easy to understand that when God was invoked in the founding document of America, the Declaration of Independence, they mean a white God. This is the only reason why Black people were simultaneously slaves at the same point in time the divine, the most merciful and righteous, was cited for white National legitimacy. To the N.O.I., this, in turn, makes white people guilty of worshipping a false God, one who condones the rape, enslavement, and the abuse of Black people. In turn, white people are guilty of worshipping the Devil and are themselves agents of his evil will. White people, understood by the N.O.I., are rotten by the sins of their fathers, and so, who are they to dictate Black life? The N.O.I. uses sacred scripture as a holy challenge to the mandate of white America. Just as the Israelites within scripture were sanctified in their refusal of Egyptian law by God, so too are Black people in America in their refusal to be dictated by the satanic entity of white America. 

Religion is the vehicle for racial awakening for the membership of the N.O.I. Through tying the plight of Black people in the pursuit of their sovereignty with a larger divine mission, the N.O.I. produces a legitimate dual power to the United States government sanctified by God. The N.O.I. does not call for integration into broader white society, but the erection and development of separate Black institutions that can serve as the backbone of a Black state when the time arises. Black Americans should not concern themselves with aspirations of integrating into an America which foundationally fixes Black life as a racialized substructure, but they should seek a nationhood on their own terms that reflect their own culture and history. The membership of the N.O.I. understand themselves to be insurgent political actors, following the teachings of the most holy in the land of the most wicked, and through such a pursuit, form a separate group consciousness antithetical to the post-racial ‘melting pot’ mythology of broader imperial American society. A righteous Black existence cannot be reconciled with the satanic mission of white America.

The oppressed v oppressor contradiction of Black America to white, mirrors other societies in their experience with colonialism and imperialism. Through the mechanism of shared experience, Black America, viathrough the prism of the N.O.I., are allowed to seek solidarity and political connections outside of the traditional channels of de jure governmental representation. In this way, the N.O.I. acts as an already existing substructure of de facto independent government capable of forming international relationships independent of the U.S. state department. The political independence of the N.O.I. is demonstrated by the international reach of the organization and the relationships the N.O.I. can create by their own efforts. The N.O.I. has a history of its leadership traveling the world on “friendship tours,” where the organization creates political and moral alliances with the many Black and brown nations of the world in opposition to the joint plight of American imperialism. Countries oppositional to the U.S. are seen as allies and friends of the N.O.I. such as Iran and Libya. The membership of the N.O.I. considers itself themselves as being outside the reach of the American identity because the N.O.I. holds control over its own image around the world and can speak for itself, rather than be spoken for. In fact, the origins of the N.O.I. as an institution was formed in concert with other national independence movements during the height of colonialism in the 1910s, back when the N.O.I. existed as a mere concept amongst the ranks of the Garvey movement. Black Americans spoke in solidarity with the aspiring nationalist movements of the non-white peoples of Africa and Asia. This historical legacy and international reach are what legitimate the N.O.I. as a polity and give those amongst the organization’s ranks a sense of national pride without being chained by the imperial crimes of white America. Black America, through the N.O.I., can dissociate themselves from the evils of the United States and proudly represent themselves as a people who have never benefited from America, but rather, have suffered at its hand.

The contemporary leader of the Nation of Islam, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, is also an element that binds the N.O.I.’s sense of group consciousness. For all intents and purposes, Minister Farrakhan is the face and voice of the N.O.I., and he is the pride of all its members. membership. Minister Farrakhan is famed for his rhetorical capabilities and is infamous for his public condemnations of white America and all the evil brought about by its deeds. Minister Farrakhan’s hypversibility This hypervisibility of Minister Farrakhan, positive or negative, has given the N.O.I. much political clout amongst Black Americans, who see him speak much of their unspoken thoughts to power. He is seen as unwavering, virtuous, and humble – essential qualities of a good statesman. This is why almost every urban center in America hosts an N.O.I. mosque, as the presence of the N.O.I. is welcome among the Black urban working class. 

For working-class Black America, the N.O.I. is seen as effectual effective and fervent, capable of speaking on behalf of a Black America collectively, an incapability of de jure government politicians. The N.O.I. is an explicitly Black polity that serves as a challenge to the existing social order of white supremacy in America. The N.O.I. existing in such an antagonistic mirroring of the U.S. government, allows Black Americans to see and hear political calls to action that they would not hear from the mouths of anyone in Washington. There is a disconnect between what Minister Farrakhan covers within the day-to-day plight of Black America and what is said by those who hold elected office. Minister Farrakhan has a differing constituency to Washington, and the N.O.I. wears it as a proud badge. Speaking to an innate nationalistic tide amongst so-called Black Americans earns the N.O.I. immense amounts of credibility and legitimacy in the minds of its ranks and those sympathetic to a Black political agenda.  The ire accumulated by the political action of the N.O.I. also helps its members membership think of themselves as belonging to a separate national polity to America. Minister Farrakhan speaks to the conspiratorial nature of the U.S. government in the ways Black Americans will think but seldom mention, lest they be scorned and scolded by their white ‘countrymen’.  

There is a reason for this that is explained by Frantz Fanon when he examined the mind of the Black colonized. Black people hold within themselves two selves, one public facing, a mask for white America, and an internal self, one shared only with fellow Blacks that is unafraid to speak frankly and tactfully. In this way there will be an internal side to Black America that white America will never fully understand, let alone encounter. Minister Farrakhan is the conduit for which Black internal political dialogue, anger, and skepticism are legitimated and given voice. This is what earns Minister Farrakhan much of his fame and which makes Black Americans eager to hear his political takes before they even think to read any statement from their ‘elected’ official. The N.O.I. is so eagerly embraced by Black America and its tenets so eagerly internalized because the N.O.I. is a product of Black American political life, one that is tired of living in shadows and one tired of having their political objectives sacrificed to the altar of imperial white America. 

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