I did not know too much about the Muslims, except for what I had read in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MALCOLM X, but being young and cocksure, was quick to charge the Muslims with not being violent enough to change the conditions of oppression in Amerikkka.
Shabazz, patient then as always, tried to explain to me the program of the Honourable Elijah Muhammad.
– pg. 5, THE CROWD CALLED UBAD, by Evan X Hyde, Modern Printers, 1970
I don’t move around a lot, but when I do so in the old capital, I have gotten the impression that the result of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum last May has been a depressing development for most adult Belizeans. Perhaps I am only judging from my own disappointment at seeing our country’s territorial sovereignty, which we considered sealed and sacrosanct on September 21, 1981, becoming subject to the judgment of a panel of international jurists, this being a decision made by a majority of adult, registered Belizeans in a free and fair poll, but one highly influenced by extraneous and external sources.
Of late, in fact, with the leadership uncertainty and wrangling in the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) over the past three and a half weeks, and then the surge in public marching and rallying last week by the trade unions and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) in separate demonstrations a few days apart, I feel that there is some socio-political instability around me.
Now, it is for sure that our economic situation in Belize is dicey, marginal. The crushing fuel taxes which the UDP administration has been able to impose and extract from our citizens and private sector have been the focus of my personal attention for a long, long time. I am not an economist, so it may well be that there are areas which are more critical than these fuel taxes, but, whatever the case, the Belizean economy is not booming in the places where roots people reside. There is suffering here.
I remember that when British Honduras (Belize) achieved self-governing status as a British colony in early 1964, I was a sixteen-year-old teenager about to enter St. John’s College Sixth Form. The ruling PUP, and its charismatic, controversial Leader, Hon. George Price, were very popular at the base of the social pyramid, although there was a fierce National Independence Party (NIP) Opposition led by Hon. Philip Goldson, a certified national hero, which concentrated on an anti-Guatemalan posture.
Despite the political dichotomy in Belize City’s streets in 1964, I truly believe, looking back, that as a people we Belizeans were very optimistic at that time where the future was concerned. Around us in the region and in the wider Third World, many former colonies were achieving political independence, and in the United States the black civil rights movement, which featured Dr. Martin Luther King, was making more and more progress.
In 1964 in Belize, I did not understand the concept of white supremacy as I grew to understand it while attending university in the United States between 1965 and 1968. Remember, in 1964 Belize was majority Black in ethnicity, and our British colonial rulers knew how to behave in an understated, unobtrusive manner. We Belizeans of color were not experiencing a daily, bitter sense of being oppressed by the Englishmen here. The situation in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and the various Confederate (southern) states of the U.S. was different for African Americans. They were a clear minority, and they were brutally oppressed, had been so from slavery days.
In college in New Hampshire I basically stayed out of the civil rights struggle. But in the winter of 1967, there was an incident on our college campus which compelled me to support the small group of African American students on our Ivy League campus. These students risked their academic futures to demonstrate against the segregationist Alabama governor, George Corley Wallace, when he visited our campus to speak.
After this incident, I began to become alienated from the white supremacist world around me, and it was during this time that Guy Mhone, my African friend from Malawi, loaned me his copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley. I understood many things after reading Malcolm’s story, as told to the writer Alex Haley, the same man who later travelled to West Africa and traced the tribal roots of his slave ancestors, and published Roots. (Malcolm was murdered in February of 1965, before his autobiography could be published. It became a best seller.)
Malcolm had been assassinated just a few months before I began school in America, in September of ’65. The fact of the matter was that when he came out of prison, where he had become a disciple of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, in 1952, Malcolm over the next twelve years became the Nation of Islam’s most sensational and internationally renowned Minister, because of his absolute brilliance and eloquence.
My son Mose has told me of a recent Netflix documentary which reinvestigates the story of Malcolm’s murder. A few days before that, I had read a story in The New York Times issue of Sunday, February 9, 2020, entitled “Pressure Builds to Reinvestigate the 1965 Killing of Malcolm X.” I have not yet seen the Netflix documentary, but, as I understand it, the most important aspects of that documentary are establishing the fact that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) had infiltrated the leadership of Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, the fact that two of the three men who went to prison for Malcolm’s murder were innocent, and the fact that the man who fired the fatal shotgun blast was never even arrested, and lived out his days in Newark, New Jersey, until his death in 2018.
I am trying to make a long story short. Younger generations of Belizeans do not seem to know anything about the Nation of Islam, Hon. Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X. They will know a bit about Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world who visited Belize as a young man in July of 1965, but our younger Belizeans do not understand Belize’s place in this region, our relationship to Black America, and what the future holds for us.
The United States elected a President in 2008, Barack Obama, whose father was an African from Kenya (Barack’s mother was a white American), and Barack served two terms in office. Barack has been followed, however, by a President, Donald Trump, whose base support has come from those same Confederate states I mentioned previously – Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and so on. Trump represents a backlash from white supremacy in the aftermath of the Obama years. This is dangerous for African Americans.
I watched and listened to Minister Louis Farrakhan for three and a half hours on Sunday, February 23. He was giving the Nation of Islam’s annual Savior’s Day address in Detroit, Michigan. It was an incredible physical and oratorical performance from a man who is in his middle eighties.
If you are a Belizean who is a tertiary student, it will be difficult for you to appreciate the belief system of the Nation of Islam, an organization which was revived by Minister Farrakhan after Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s son/successor, Warith Dean Muhammad, took the Nation into orthodox Islam following Elijah’s death in 1975. But there are things which Christians believe, such as the concept of the Trinity God, which Muslims do not accept, and consider far-fetched. As a religion, the Nation of Islam may be far-fetched in some of its teachings, but as an organization, the Nation of Islam is probably the most relevant Black organization on the ground in the United States of America.
We Belizeans have never really embraced our African ancestry. Because of our ignorance of self, we have rejected our own kind. For more than a half century, I have maintained that we are in need of knowledge of self. What I believed back then, I still believe now. We have to be what we really are. Until that day when we know and accept self and kind, our situation here will remain desperate physically and psychologically. Worse than that, our situation may grow worse.
Power to the people.