MUHAMMAD: Thinking 'Black' Necessary but not Sufficient

Askia Muhammad | 7/23/2014, 3 p.m.
it was and is important for Black people in America and all over the planet to "think Black" — but ...
Askia Muhammad

Coming up at the time I did, I became well acquainted with “Blackness.”

There were definable degrees of Blackness; meaning therefore, there was a measure of whether a person, a leader, an organization, a book, a hairstyle, whatever, was “Black enough.”

Not only could Blackness be determined by a hairstyle, we took to measuring the length of Afro hairstyles as a measure of our pride. So as it turned out the cutest people with the bushiest Afros were adjudged from afar as “blacker” than a guy who might have been prematurely bald. So many men in today’s culture, who shave their heads, would have been out of luck back in the day. That look invariably extended to other features of appearance, such as physique as well as clothing styles.

Fortunately, we did not limit our choices of leaders, and role models, and those in positions to make decisions for our collective well being, just to the young and beautiful.

Still it was and is important for Black people in America and all over the planet to “think Black.” One good reason for this is because for centuries past, and right up to this very minute, people of various nationalities, religions, ideologies, all see a person with dark skin and make judgments and decisions – usually negative – about what they see.

So it is valuable for Black people to collectively “think positively” about themselves and about all the other people they see with dark skin. That kind of “thinking Black” is a good thing. Indeed it is necessary to think Black in that way in these modern times.

But thinking Black is not sufficient.

Suppose skin color was the exclusive criterion for determining the music or musicians we like. How then could we account for the music which blind performers like Stevie Wonder, or Ray Charles, or George Shearing preferred listening to and performing? Since those particular musicians can’t see, they must have used another yardstick which they heard, to determine what good music was to them.

What should I care about the numbers of Black professional team owners, for example? That’s way over my pay grade, and I don’t see how a lack of Black owners or a bunch of Black owners will affect my enjoyment of athletic competition.

In the fields where we needed them – law, music, medicine – we got what we needed. Lawyers from Algonquin J. Calhoun, to Johnnie Cochran, to Thurgood Marshall, they stepped up for us. When we had voices to express our joy and our pain, which could not get recorded by White record companies, we had folks like Berry Gordy fill our need. We had doctors from Ernest Just, to Percy Julian, to Ben Carson when we needed them.

But just because a person is Black does not guarantee that person will do a good job for our people. When he retired from the Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was asked should Republican President George H.W. Bush appoint a Black justice to succeed him. He said the bite from a black snake could be as deadly as that from a white snake. Well?