MUHAMMAD: Money Doesn’t Explain Hate, or Pay for Regained Dignity

Askia Muhammad | 7/2/2014, 3 p.m.
The simple way many people explain American slavery and its aftermath is to say it was all about money. And ...
Askia Muhammad

The simple way many people explain American slavery and its aftermath is to say it was all about money. And while it is true that America’s wealth and power in the world today are a direct result of the free labor of millions of enslaved Africans, it wasn’t all about money.

It wasn’t just about money in the antebellum days. White supremacy, race hatred, xenophobia, are not all about money today. Misogyny, or hatred of women, is not about money. Indeed, rape is not about sex. Child abuse is not about disciplining children.

No, the mental illness that’s involved in these behaviors has more to do with domination, with a sense of power over lives which are subject to one’s authority than any gain that may be derived from the undeserved suffering of another.

Now money is used as a barrier to segregate some men and women from “their betters,” that is folks who would build barriers about all that’s good to have in life, and place a price on it, knowing many people (most people) will never be able to pay the price. That “price” is for certain food, certain clothes, certain living accommodations, education from certain schools, and the leisure time away from drudgery and work to be able to enjoy those attainments.

No, slavery was not about the money barriers that were erected between Blacks and Whites. There is this primordial sense of superiority which goes along with being White and discovering a world full of dark-skinned people.

President Lyndon Johnson said at the time that there were three principalities: The United States, The South, and then there was Mississippi.

This existential hatred got refined in Mississippi where it seems the notion developed that no one or nothing could be more hateful than they, because after all Mississippi has the reputation for being the worst state in the union. It is the poorest state in the union. So the state profits nothing from being the place where between 1870 and 1940 more than 600 Black men were lynched, murdered, with seldom anyone even standing trial let alone being convicted. It’s not about the money. No other place has such a bloody record by its name.

But there developed in Mississippi a component of the Civil Rights movement like no other. Thousands and thousands of brave Black natives of the state were joined by equal numbers of Black and White young people from all over the country and they stood and fought back, measure for measure, not with hate or harm, but with faith and fearless tenacity.

Their movement was called Freedom Summer, and 50 years ago – in 1964 – it was coordinated by members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the end of June this year, the survivors came together to commemorate the remarkable events of 1964 which led to major changes in not just Mississippi, but in the United States.

This year’s event was called “Freedom Summer 50” and it was a look back at the Freedom Summer of 1964 and what has ensued from that time, as well as a strategy for engagement in the future, because while there has been remarkable progress since those days when American apartheid was destroyed, the forces of White retrenchment and privilege have not surrendered and they have been trying mightily to re-impose the evil that Freedom Summer helped do away with. And it’s still, not just about the money.

More than 1,500 alumni of Freedom Summer returned to Tougaloo College where much of the instigation a half century ago was plotted. Another 700 young people attended a weeklong Youth Congress at the same time.

Tougaloo, which almost lost its charter in the face of attempted retaliation by White state legislators who were hateful of the school’s role in accommodating the insurrection; Tougaloo’s motto is a fit description of what happened during Freedom Summer 50. That motto is: “Tougaloo, Where History Meets the Future.” In the African mythology of Ghana it is depicted by the Adinkra symbol of the Sankofa Bird.

Sankofa translates to mean: “To go back and fetch it.” The Sankofa is a bird moving forward, with its head turned, looking back where it has been.

So, for the challengers, this 50-year odyssey has been about gaining and restoring the dignity that Black people have always deserved, here in the very teeth of the dragon. And while there have been financial rewards for many as justice has come to prevail, like the dehumanization of 300 years of slavery, it was not just about the money.