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MUHAMMAD: The Liberal vs. Conservative Conundrum

5/29/2013, 9 p.m.
Askia Muhammad

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught his Minister Malcolm X to challenge Civil Rights leaders with a cute conundrum. [A conundrum is: a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun.]

“Which is better: to be devoured by a southern wolf, or a northern fox?” Brother Malcolm would demand.

The correct answer of course is to not be devoured by either, but the riddle was used to illustrate the condition of Black people in those turbulent times: saved from the clutches of the demonic, conservative, southern, Dixiecrat wolves, only to fall into the clutches of the devilish, sly and conniving northern foxes.

So it was, and so it shall be. Of course, there are degrees of abuse, and today’s second-class citizenship in which Black people are at the bottom of every indicator of good things in American society – health, wealth, education, for example – while at the top of every measure of suffering – incarceration rates, poverty – Black life in America today is undeniably an improvement over life under chattel slavery.

But Black people are not free in America. Black people are not equal.

The conservatives preach “states rights” as a euphemism for Black slavery [during the antebellum days]; for maintaining segregation throughout the 20th century; and for today opposing any and all social changes that would improve the life of even one individual Black person, not to mention the group.

The liberals preach “equality for all” as long as Blacks are in a distinctive minority and are abiding by White social norms and cultural mores. In the 1960s, liberals preached “sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Conservative, White segregationists of course were aghast.

Coming from a segregated age when Black children aspired for education and social improvement for the good of “the race,” living under adverse conditions to the present time when resources are available and barriers have been removed in virtually every field of endeavor, as well. Many Black youth view the quest for intelligence – indeed books themselves – as “acting White.” And when successful Black role models from Bill Cosby to President Barack Obama scold Black folks with “tough love” and no sympathy for dysfunctional behavior, somehow they are criticized for blaming the victims.

Today, the fact of the matter is that there are more Black people now in jail, than were ever held in servitude slavery. Who’s to blame for that reality: the southern wolf or the northern fox? It’s true that even as crime rates have gone down in this country, the rates of incarceration of Black folks have gone up, and most convictions are for petty, non-violent drug crimes.

The southern wolves point and say “I told you so. Black folks are inferior.” The northern foxes turn out more and more lawyers and judges and psychologists who make bank on Black anti-social conduct.

But neither the southern wolf, nor the northern fox wants to see Black people crawl out of the ditch we’ve been in, from the condition that profited both of those species of canines. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass told us 130 years ago the view which is shared by both the wolves and the foxes. In a speech to the National Convention of Colored Men on Sept. 25, 1883 he spelled out the Black predicament, no matter where we might reside.