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Fighting Darkness by Mowahid Hussain Shah

This August marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King made his seminal “I have a dream” civil rights movement speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Two interesting movies connected with the issue of race relations are also available for viewing this season. One is called “The Butler”, which is loosely based on the true story of a black butler, who served eight Presidents in the White House from 1952-1986. Through his intimate observations, one gets to see an inside view of various US Presidents’ attitudes towards blacks, and culminates with Obama’s win. The movie depicts Ronald Reagan, despite his affable nature, being adamantly opposed to taking any action against South African apartheid. Today, Reagan is lionised and many conservatives idolise him. The National Airport in Washington is now renamed the Ronald Reagan Airport. Americans, like others elsewhere – despite the easy and free availability of a wealth of information – tend to turn a blind eye to their past.

The other movie is called “42”. It is based on the life of Jackie Robinson, who, in April 1947, became the first black to break the colour barrier in major league baseball when he started for the Brooklyn Dodgers team. The movie captures the pervasive ignorant bigotry then prevailing in mainstream American culture, where on the field Jackie Robinson was subjected to vicious verbal abuse from the crowd, coaches and players. He was even shunned by his own teammates with whom he was playing, being told that “he didn’t belong.”

The message of Martin Luther King was that you can’t fight darkness with darkness. You can only fight darkness with light. This is a message that blacks, too, need. And most importantly, need to heed.

The black community in America is saddled with crippling socio-economic problems, which many attribute to white racism. Yet, it may be inattentive to its own insufficient introspection.

Great American black figures like Malcolm X and Mohammad Ali did attack the mindset of passive victimhood, and sought to break the shackles of subservience. Yet, they have not been given their due. It is a conspicuous omission, too, in “The Butler” movie.

While the 1963 March on Washington is justifiably celebrated, the even bigger rally, the original “Million Man March” in Washington on October 16, 1995, spearheaded by Minister Louis Farrakhan of The Nation of Islam and in which I participated, is not given its due weight.

Accidental or coincidental, the fact remains that Malcolm X, Mohammad Ali and Louis Farrakhan have been associated with Islam. Arguably, perhaps, the mainstream black community still may be tentative in embracing Muslim activists, who happen to be black, for the deep-seated fear of incurring the displeasure of the dominant white community. If so, it may complement the point made in “The Butler” that blacks have to maintain two faces, one amongst themselves and one before whites.

In a way, it parallels the two-faced approach of governing Muslim elites, who growl at home and grovel when in the West.

Mohammad Ali wisely kept one face and was ultimately beloved by both blacks and whites.

This article was originally published in The Nation. Printed with permission by the author.

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