“Whenever an oppressed black man shouts for equality he is called a racist.”
“I want you to watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man in his press, is going to identify me with ‘hate.’ He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of ‘hatred’—and that will help him to escape facing the truth.”
Newton’s third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, we can conclude that if African people are subjected to racism, discrimination, slavery, colonization, mass incarceration, and other injustices that anything they do from then to oppose those injustices is the opposite reaction. Now, Newton’s law does not completely fit here because although the action is opposite, in the majority of cases it is not equal. Overthrowing slavery did not mean that Africans intended to enslave whites. Nor did ending apartheid mean that Africans were looking to invade England and force apartheid like rule over the British.
Therein lays the difference between racism and what is termed “reverse racism.” Not only would this so-called reverse racism not exist without racism, but African people at no point in history have done to Europeans what Europeans have done to Africans. One of the most commonly cited examples of black racists is the Nation of Islam. The NOI was established as an organization to clean up and uplift African Americans, especially those that had turned to crime and drugs in the ghettos. Their main goal was to establish a separate nation independent of white rule. Their logic was that whites had brutalized, enslaved, raped, and murdered African people for over 200 years in North America, so these would be the last set of people that African Americans should be integrating with. Seeing civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King being brutalized and jailed in the fight for integration only confirmed the fact that white America did not wish to accept black people as equals.
To the claim the NOI’s religious doctrine was racism because it preached that white people were a race of devils, one must keep in mind the situation that Elijah Muhammad and his followers found themselves in. After all, it was white people that had enslaved, lynched, raped, tortured, and killed black people. These actions were most certainly devilish actions, even if they cannot be attributed to every white person. Malcolm X’s own family members were victimized by this. His grandmother was raped by a white man and his father was killed by white supremacists. When Malcolm X was speaking of white people as devils he was not only speaking towards the historical actions of white people, but of some of his own experiences. Malcolm also made it clear that when he spoke of whites being devils he was speaking of their collective historical actions towards black people. Therefore, there was a historical basis for the doctrine of the NOI.
One the reverse side, the NOI did not systematically harass or terrorize whites like white supremacists organizations did to black people. The NOI did not seek to suppress the voting rights of whites. Although a Muslim temple was attacked and NOI member Ronald Stokes was killed, one cannot name a single case in which the NOI attacked a white Christian church. Elijah Muhammad argued that the solution for black people was to separate from America and build their own nation that was independent of white people. This was not the doctrine of a man who was seeking to dominate and subjugate another race of people.
This was the issue that came up when discussing whether or not the “anti-white” Sonny Carson should have a street named in his honor. Of course defenders of this idea pointed out that America had seen fit to honor men like Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson. By comparison to both men, Carson had never enslaved anyone. Thomas Jefferson is an American hero, and Carson has become a convenient symbol of hatred and racism.
The idea that black people can be just as racist as whites is a largely romantic one that does not fit the reality of the situation. African people have never underdeveloped or devastated Europe in the manner that was done to Africa, nor do we even have the power to. Kwame Ture explained, “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.” What he is saying here is that racism is a power relationship. Simply saying I don’t like someone because of their race is not the same as being able to impact their lives in serious ways. The European was able to enslave African people because he had the power to do so.
What power do Africans have collectively over Europeans? We do not own or control European communities or European resources. Have we ever forced our language and culture on Europeans? You may certainly find Africans with bigoted or prejudice views, but you must understand one of two things here. Those views did not appear out of nowhere, but are a reaction to the historical abuse that has been inflicted on African people. And secondly, Africans that hold those views have virtually no power over the collective European population. The most Africans can do is respond to European racism, and in the case of the NOI and others, that response then is labeled as racism and those “black racists” then become convenient symbols of hatred, as Malcolm X explained. It is confronting to think of the Black Panther Party (or even the New Party that bears the Black Panther name) as being just as racist as the KKK, but one certainly has been a more destructive force in American history than the other.
In conclusion, African people simply have never systematically oppressed or discriminated against European people like Europeans have done to us. Historically speaking, when Europeans arrived in West Africa they were treated as honored guests and showered with presents and hospitality, only to have that hospitality betrayed by a people who came to oppress them. As stated before, the idea that racism is bad regardless of who acts racist is a romantic notion that is not grounded in reality or historical fact.