Black Nationalism, and the Road Not Taken

From Biblical Educator, Vol. 3, No, 10 (October 1981)

As reproduced in Christian Education: Democratic Tryanny [sic]

—<Quote begins>—

E. U. Essien-Udom, Black Nationalism (University of Chicago Press, 1962).

Reviewed by Kevin Craig

In previous issues of the Biblical Educator, stress has been placed on the importance and desirability of home education. But there is a place for Christian “Schools.” For one thing, Christians must operate “schools” for those children whose parents will not educate them at home. And the most obvious fields where the harvest is plenteous but the laborers few are the ghettos of racial minorities. How would racial minorities accept the idea of education that emphasizes family responsibility, discipline, and hard work? As well as middle-class whites would! (?) More to the point, the full-orbed Gospel is so very obviously the precise remedy for the economic and social problems of the ghetto that even blacks like those described by Essien-Udom have attempted to copy the truly Christian life. Naturally, their attempt in the flesh was doomed to fail from the start. But this eyewitness account of the activities of the “Black Nationalists,” (the “Black Muslims,” or the “Nation of Islam”) during the 1950’s and early 60’s, from the scholarly pen of a visiting professor from Nigeria, is rich with indications that the Gospel is color blind. The ghettos are ripe for Christian reconstruction.

Can the problems of the ghetto be solved by massive injections of aid from federal anti-poverty programs? That bureaucratic answer is dependent upon a bureaucratic diagnosis of the problem. Essien-Udom gives his diagnosis:

In these ghettos, the community’s “mood” is uninspiring; enduring friendships are rare; opportunities for moral deterioration and self-debasement are abundant, and only the upwardly mobile, endowed with character, determination, and capacity for self-improvement, seek to escape from the general indifference of the Negro community or from the “facts of being black” in a hostile white environment. Unemployment, broken homes, and sickness are their common experience. Bitterness, frustration, and disillusionment are the constant ingredients of their daily lives. Most are compelled by their feeling of social estrangement and cultural alienation to seek escapist remedies for their problems, to gambling, alcoholism, dope, and crime. Some end up in jail. Others turn to fortune-tellers, to “spiritual” remedies; not a few join a nationalist organization, and some join the Nation of Islam. All engage in a continuous search for some way out of their present miseries. They take different routes, most of which, however, lead to further misery, frustration, and moral degeneration. Few lead to self-enhancement and to moral regeneration. The Nation of Islam is one of these routes for lower-class Negroes who seek to enhance themselves. The Nation points a way out for those who have the capacity and motivation for developing character through self-discipline, hard work, and individual sense of responsibility (pp. 183-184).

Essien-Udom’s use of the word “regeneration” shows us the religious nature of the problem. Clearly, the solution is all the counsel of God. As one reads this book through the eyes of a reconstructionist, one sees how desperately these people were searching for that which the Bible offers. If one can sift through the pseudo-Islamic rhetoric, one can discern tremendous opportunities. If one reads this book through the eyes of the typical evangelical, who thinks he can conquer the problems of the ghetto with a stack of the four spiritual laws, or promises of “charismatic” experiences, one will miss the point. In fact the Black Nationalists saw through the sanctimonious Southern Baptist mentality that hindered the economic and social progress of the blacks. They called the “old-time religion” the “White Race’s Christianity” (p. 164). By failing to take the Law of God seriously, the “Pentecostal Negro religious movements”, (p. 84) have failed the blacks. The unbiblical practice of preaching a solely other-worldly religion and neglecting God’s command and blueprint for dominion over the earth has exposed the impotence of those groups to truly offer “a way out” of the bleak world of the ghetto. Essien-Udom criticized these worthless churches:

Another defect in the contemporary social situation of the urban Negro masses is the impotence of traditional Negro institutions in dealing with either the psychological or practical needs of their community. For a long time, these institutions and leadership groups have been the interpreters of the social scene for the masses of Negroes. Of these, the Negro church is the most important. There is evidence that the Negro church has lost its significance for the urban proletarian who seeks to define his situation in terms of the church. However, where its influence is still felt, the Negro church is particularly culpable for its general lack of concern for the moral and social problems of the community. Rather than face the problem of the degradation of its people and take positive action for moral, cultural, and economic reconstruction, it has been accommodative. Fostering indulgence in religious sentimentality, and riveting the attention of the masses on the bounties of a hereafter, the Negro church remains a refuge, an escape from the cruel realities of the here and now. In large measure… both the Negro Church and other traditional leadership groups do not seem to appreciate how debased the life of the urban lower class Negro is, nor the magnitude of effort in thought and action required for the reconstruction of the “Souls of Black Folk” (pp. 331-332).

Reading this book would give whites a great understanding of the black mind, and it is astounding how close the Black Nationalists came to copying the broad points of the Christian life, unaided by a reverent dependence upon the Bible. Many Christian schools, whether they cater to blacks or whites, could learn much from this book. Surprisingly, it is Essien-Udom himself who says that the life-style of the Nationalists was “reminiscent of the New England Puritans” (p. 16). Their lives were not lives of faith, and their system was plagued (naturally) by legalism (that is, unbiblical and hence oppressive law-making). But the similarities are certainly worth noting.

First, the Black Nationalists recognized the importance of a strong family in general, and of strong fathers in particular. One of the prominent leaders of the Nationalists, Elijah Muhammad, “denounces the matriarchal character of Negro society; the relative lack of masculine parental authority which makes the enforcement of discipline within the family difficult” (pp. 14-15). Strong families are the basis of a strong culture. Essien-Udom describes the Nationalist family:

The Muslims’ attitude has shifted from the maternal-centered —characteristic of the Negro subculture—to the paternal-centered. This arrangement, although not peculiar to middle-class culture, is a significant departure from the norms of the subculture. It helps to strengthen the family, the most important unit of socialization. The father is the undisputed head of the family. Responsibility for the welfare of the family shifts significantly from the woman to the man. The writer found that, in theory at least, the Muslim men preferred that their wives should not work outside the home. Brother John W. earns a modest income and believes that so long as he remains employed, he would rather have his wife take care of the home and children. Sister Emma, his wife, was asked how she felt about her husband’s attitude. She said she was quite satisfied. Most wives worked because of economic necessity rather than by choice. The Muslim attitude in this respect is unmistakably middle class (p. 118).

Middle class? Well, Biblical, anyway. But this life-style and attitude puts to shame most middle-class white families—even Christian ones. Decades ago, fathers in this country abandoned their responsibilities as leader and educator for the family. Now, mothers are doing the same, “liberating” themselves from the responsibilities of home and seeking the “glitter” and “glamour” of the corporate success ladder, contrary to Biblical admonition (I Tim. 4:15; Titus 2:5; Psalm 113:9). Black Nationalist educators held that “the Muslim girls must be schooled in their special duties and responsibilities as future wives and mothers” (p. 233). Is your Christian school being swayed by the rhetoric of the ERAers?

In general, the Nationalists “try to make the parents assume major responsibility for the conduct of their children… ” (p. 244).

Second, the Nationalists urged their members toward personal responsibility and discipline, following the Puritans and the “work ethic” (cf. p. 16).

The Muslims disapprove of the expression of undisciplined, spontaneous impulses. The “Laws of Islam”. .. prohibit the following: extra-marital sexual relations, the use of alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics, indulging in gambling, dancing, movie-going, dating, sports, long vacations from work, sleeping more than is necessary to health, quarreling between husband and wife, lying, stealing, discourtesy (especially towards women), and insubordination to civil authority… (p. 15).

With the exception of some unbiblical requirements, it does sound as if they had been reading the book of Proverbs. And what a contrast to many ghetto residents (including, increasingly, residents of the “ghettos” of middle-class whites). One Nationalist group declared, “there is no room in (our movement) for lazy American Negroes (p. 51). Many Nationalist leaders saw “lack of desire for self-improvement among the Negro masses” as a chief cause of the slum conditions. Anti-white racism, although present at times, was not the primary issue. “Muhammad is convinced that the chief obstacle to overcome is the ‘mentality’ of the masses of Negroes. This is the true enemy of their advancement and progress. It has helped to produce the moral and material conditions in which the Negro masses now find themselves. The enemy of the Negro people, he maintains, is not simply white people, but also the ‘value system’ of the subculture” (p. 335).

This led, third, to upholding the virtues of economic responsibility. Muhammad denounced “the traditional lack of savings-and capital-accumulation habits. Personal indolence and laziness are sternly deprecated. Habits of hard work and thrift are extolled” (p. 15). One of Elijah Muhammad’s chief aims was “to inculcate, through habits of saving, a sense of responsibility for economic self-improvement” (p. 166).

Why, this is just the “Protestant Work Ethic!” One certainly cannot expect to achieve “economic self-improvement” without a new heart created in Jesus Christ, but these habits are very definitely taught in Scripture, and should therefore be taught in our schools. Does your school teach the virtues of hard work and thrift? Only those who do will produce competent Christians, in or out of the ghetto. In the ghetto, it was the Muslims, and not the Baptists, who got the jobs and held them (to the shame of the Baptists).

The writer feels that in general, the Muslims seem to take their occupations more seriously than before they joined the Nation. Several expressed this attitude. Most believed that they are better accepted and respected by others and by their employers because of their membership in the Nation. They asserted that white employers treat them better than they treat other Negroes “once they know that you are a Muslim and a follower of Mr. Muhammad.” Some even claim that employment opportunities are open to them where other Negroes may not be hired. Nearly every Muslim interviewed claimed that whites do not discriminate against them in employment because of their religion. One can well imagine. that employer may regard them highly because they take their jobs seriously, work harder, appear neater, and behave more “reliably” than some lower-class Negroes in similar situations. It is also possible that white employers may accord them some deference over other Negroes (and for that matter lower-class whites) because of their personal comportment and demeanor (p. 116).

This is simply astonishing. These blacks picked up the book of Proverbs (or so it seems), taught their people, and through their practice developed a reputation for solid, responsible character. I know employers who, upon finding out that a prospective employee was a “born-again Christian” would immediately cease considering him for the job. Most “Bible-believing Christians” are “too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good!” Any “Christian School” that is not producing students with at least the competence and character of the Black Nationalists is not providing a Christian education. It is not even providing a Black Muslim education! And this is strictly a matter of content and method, for none of the Black Muslims had the power of the indwelling Spirit to aid them in their walk, as many of our students do.

Unfortunately, all the public schools, and the overwhelming majority of the “Christian ” schools, do not teach practical Godliness and responsibility. Thus, fourth, the Nationalists were forced to abandon the establishment schools and form their own system. When the Black Nationalist attacked white social structures, they little realized that their true enemy was White Humanism. But they did recognize that the systems established by the White Humanists (and accepted by the Black Humanists) could not help advance the blacks. And so they avoided them. “Their enthusiastic desire to be independent of white control is demonstrated partly by their willingness to overstretch their resources in order to maintain private elementary and high schools in Chicago and Detroit” (p. 15). In order to emphasize the ethic of responsibility and disciplined character, the Black Nationalists had to establish parochial schools (p. 231).

It goes without saying that we cannot condone all that the Black Nationalists did. But Christians need to read this book and become inspired to take up the task of ministering to ethnic minorities. The history of this group provides a temporal point of identification with which to gain an audience, and it also demonstrates that the Word of God really does provide practical answers to all of man’s problems. And isn’t it a shame that Christians, failing to recognize the scope of God’s authority, are leading lives less exemplary than the Black Muslims?

—<Quote ends>—

  • “The ghettos are ripe for Christian reconstruction.”
  • “If one reads this book through the eyes of the typical evangelical, who thinks he can conquer the problems of the ghetto with a stack of the four spiritual laws, or promises of “charismatic” experiences, one will miss the point. In fact the Black Nationalists saw through the sanctimonious Southern Baptist mentality that hindered the economic and social progress of the blacks. They called the “old-time religion” the “White Race’s Christianity” (p. 164). By failing to take the Law of God seriously, the “Pentecostal Negro religious movements”, (p. 84) have failed the blacks. The unbiblical practice of preaching a solely other-worldly religion and neglecting God’s command and blueprint for dominion over the earth has exposed the impotence of those groups to truly offer “a way out” of the bleak world of the ghetto. Essien-Udom criticized these worthless churches”
  • “I know employers who, upon finding out that a prospective employee was a “born-again Christian” would immediately cease considering him for the job. Most “Bible-believing Christians” are “too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly good!” Any “Christian School” that is not producing students with at least the competence and character of the Black Nationalists is not providing a Christian education. It is not even providing a Black Muslim education!”
  • “…Christians need to read this book and become inspired to take up the task of ministering to ethnic minorities.”

There was a moment when Christian Reconstructionists really did threaten Progressive control.

“The Kingdom of God might have grown too fast, too quickly, out of control!” *Establishment Shudders*

“Good thing we can rely on the pious racists to put the brakes on that nonsense!”
*Establishment Smiles*

When the Christian Reconstructionists drive out the Nazis and the Slaver-Apologists, they will inherit the world.

But not a moment before.

My bet: homeschooling Black Americans will spot the treasure, and won’t wait on the Whites to open the door.

And Black obedience to God, coupled with Black self-governance under Divine Law, means Black success in the here and now, as well as the hereafter.

In response, I would expect a surge of “Responsible and Progressive White Nationalism”, and in time an old-new alliance of patriarchal-authoritarian White Nationalists and White Progressives… especially after:

  1. the Welfare State chains/control structure are broken up via the Great Default,
  2. White Americans — yes, including the paler Hispanics — decline to a minority population.

I don’t think there will be a successful return to the Pious-Progressive Era of the 1920s, with State-enforced segregation and public lynchings. “Too many cell phone cameras.”

But when the welfare checks dry up, various veiled attempts may well be made, and older tools to protect the power structure will be used.

And dogs return to their vomit.

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