Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Heather Gray, an activist who has worked in support of Black farmer for 24 years, to discuss the inequalities that target African-Americans.
Click here to read the first part of the interview.
The following is the second part of this interview:
Muslim Press: Do you think the media portrays the Black Lives Matter protesters as violent people?
Yes, the protestors are often portrayed as violent people by the mainstream press but not by independent media. It is important to make that distinction when discussing this.
MP: How so?
The mainstream press is owned and controlled by major corporations in the United States that have a vested interest in the status quo and in the major US political infrastructure that has virtually no interest in the advancement of “people power” or in highlighting the inadequacies of the American racial and political infrastructure. Rarely or ever are these mainstream reports objective.
Also, during the Reagan administration the government’s “Fairness Doctrine” was overturned. The doctrine required that the media provide the various sides and/or opposing opinions on issues to then be “fair”. Without the “Fairness Doctrine”, the advent of right wing media arose in mass across the country, such as Fox news, that could basically state what it wanted and sway public opinion. For example, when the US invaded Iraq after 9/11, CNN routinely had on its airways American generals to explain what was happening rather than Iraqis or American protestors. I call that a model of state owned and controlled media.
Most independent media, however, is significantly different. Independent media, in radio at least, is largely owned and controlled by the listeners rather than major corporations. In many instances throughout the country, these radio entities are referred to as the “voice of the people”. And many provide opportunities for representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement and other activists and academics to have a voice, explain their positions, analyze what is happening in America now and historically and suggest solutions.
Other media or communication entities include the internet, of course, with reports and articles from a vast array of organizations that also offers a voice for the protestors.
The point is, the response or depiction of protestors from the media requires individuals to be attentive to their source of information.
MP: A third of African-American men spend at least part of their lives in prison. What do you think is the reason behind this?
According to Antonio Moore in his Huffington Post article, "there are more African American men incarcerated in the U.S. than the total prison populations in India, Argentina, Canada, Lebanon, Japan, Germany, Finland, Israel and England combined." There are only 19 million African American males in the United State; collectively these countries represent over 1.6 billion people.(Wikipedia)
This outrageous percentage of incarceration rates of Black males is a disgrace. It reflects sentiments, policies and directives from the slavery period in the United States up to the present. Throughout this long history, it appears whenever the Black community organizes to demand justice, the local and often federal government entities will invariably react against these initiatives. For example, this was true during and after the Reconstruction period after the Civil War; during the populist movement in the South in the late 1800s that coalesced black and white workers and farmers; to the civil rights initiatives in the early 1900s up to the 1960s; and the 1966-1982 Black Panther freedom movement. And these are but a few examples. However, in many instances these organizing examples above by the Black community have led to successful resolutions, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the Black Farmer Lawsuit against the US government in the 1990s.
Nevertheless, it appears invariably there will be strategies to attempt to manipulate Black communities by the powers that be into compliance with the status quo. This meant that rather than the American public and government considering and accepting the Black community’s demands and strategies for justice or to at the very least negotiate, there has often been direct, imposing and violent manipulation of organizers and organizations.
One primary example was the infiltration and violence by the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover who claimed that one of the greatest threats by the Black Panthers, ironically, was that they were feeding school children.
On Sept. 8, 1969, armed police raided the Watts breakfast program.(30) This raid accorded with an early 1969 FBI directive to "eradicate [the BPP's] serve the people programs." On May 15, 1969, in an internal memo, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote: "The Breakfast for Children Program B - represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities B - to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for. "From September to December of 1969, Southern California's Panthers were arrested on a daily basis, with most of the charges dropped within a week. On Oct. 10, 1969 the LAPD had a shoot-out with some Panthers. Panther Bruce Richards was wounded and charged with attempted murder, and Panther Walter Toure Poke was killed. On October 18, the L.A. BPP office was raided yet again. On November 22, the San Diego BPP office was raided. All seven Panthers present were arrested. (It’s About Time)
Another way Black Americans have been targeted in the 20th century that has led to the imprisonment of thousands is through the introduction and selling of a vast array of drugs targeted specifically into the Black community. In fact, in this scenario Black Americans have been manipulated and used for the benefit of corrupt Presidential and insidious CIA engaged international violent and anti-revolutionary directives.
In the 1980s, the US Congress had denied monies for the Contras - fighters that the Reagan administration and the CIA supported for the battle being waged against the progressive Nicaraguan Sandinistas. In response to this lack of money for the Contras during the Reagan presidency, it is now widely reported that, in the 1980s, the CIA knew about and supported the selling of drugs in Black communities to raise money specifically for the Contras. The renowned journalist Gary Webb reported about this in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996:
FOR THE BETTER PART of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, a Mercury News investigation has found.
This drug network opened the first pipeline between Colombia's cocaine cartels and the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a city now known as the "crack'' capital of the world. The cocaine that flooded in helped spark a crack explosion in urban America and provided the cash and connections needed for L.A.'s gangs to buy automatic weapons. (Mercury News)
Webb’s key findings were later corroborated by the CIA’s inspector general.
What we witnessed, then, was the sacrificing of the Black community through the sales of drugs, for the benefit of President Reagan’s agenda to defeat the Sandinistas.
The contradiction here is that not only was the CIA engaged in the drug running during the Reagan presidency but Reagan also initiated on October 14, 1982 his “War on Drugs” that led to his Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986:
After the passage of Reagan's Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986, incarceration for non-violent offenses dramatically increased. The Act imposed the same five-year mandatory sentence on users of crack as on those possessing 100 times as much powder cocaine. This had a disproportionate effect on low-level street dealers and users of crack, who were more commonly poor blacks, Latinos, the young, and women. (Wikipedia)
This meant that the Black community was targeted twice by the government in a no-win situation – one was government involvement in drugs sales and the other was government policy of imprisonment for drug crimes that were initiated by the government itself. It was an infamous Catch22 scenario and served to destroy individuals, families, communities and freedom movements. I have at least two Black friends who recently told me their younger brothers overdosed during this period and have never recovered from this disaster. And this is but the tip of the iceberg, as they say!
The legacy of this Reagan era of targeting the Black community with drugs and prison as a consequence has continued to the present.
It is also always necessary, of course, to “follow the money!” Who benefits from this abuse? Well, for one, it is American corporations! Below is an excerpt from the 2014 article entitled “13 Mainstream Corporations benefitting from the Prison Industrial Complex”:
Prison labor in the United States is referred to as insourcing. Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), employers receive a tax credit of $2,400 for every work-release inmate they employ as a reward for hiring “risky target groups.”
The workers are not only cheap labor, but they are considered easier to control. They also tend to be African-American males. Companies are free to avoid providing benefits like health insurance or sick days. They also don’t need to worry about unions, demands for vacation time, raises or family issues.
According to the Left Business Observer, “the federal prison industry produces 100 percent of all military helmets, war supplies and other equipment. The workers supply 98 percent of the entire market for equipment assembly services; 93 percent of paints and paintbrushes; 92 percent of stove assembly; 46 percent of body armor; 36 percent of home appliances; 30 percent of headphones/microphones/speakers; and 21 percent of office furniture. Airplane parts, medical supplies and much more: prisoners are even raising seeing-eye dogs for blind people.”
With all of that productivity, the inmates make about 90 cents to $4 a day.
In 2014, the Atlanta Star report also disclosed some of the largest corporations to make use of prison labor, that are: Whole Foods, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Walmart, Starbucks, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, Victoria’s Secret, Fidelity Investments, JC Penney and K-Mart, American Airlines and Avis.
In addition to the American corporations taking advantage of prison labor, perhaps the most egregious of all corporate abuse in this system is private prisons, that, thankfully, the US Justice Department has recently stated it will phase out. Under the circumstances, however, human beings become commodities to benefit the profit and income of the prison owners. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private prison company in the US.
“(CCA) manages more than 65 correctional and detention facilities with a capacity of more than 90,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. The company’s revenue in 2012 exceeded $1.7 billion.” (Atlanta Star)
Historically, the US government and its corporate interests have always wanted to take advantage of black labor for their own financial benefit. But the black community will always wisely act against this, which is what we are seeing now with Black Lives Matter. Constructive activism will always be there as long as this abuse continues. The government, after all, is supposed to “serve” the people and not “manipulate” the people for its benefit or for corporate benefit and activists play an important role in educating the government and the people about this fact.
MP: What should be done about the inequality and the rights of African-American people?
The black community in America needs to continue its activism on every front be it economically, politically or in “civil” society overall. But, importantly, those in the white community who are also concerned about these injustices need to join with the Black community under black leadership. This includes me, of course, as I am also of white European ancestry. After all, the problems rest largely in the white community because of its abuses historically and in the present. Whites who know something about this history and present conditions need to be educating other whites and to learn from the black community on a consistent basis to help all of us make changes in America.
But also, importantly, it was Karl Marx who said that ‘people are treated differently for profit.' So it is always important to look beyond or behind a scenario to discover who profits from injustice. Invariably, it will be corporate America and this always needs to be pointed out once the culprit has been identified and/or to develop plans and agendas to reconfigure the entire corporate infrastructure in America. It has too much influential power over the government and the justice system.
There also needs to be more education overall about black history along with its achievements and including required reading of black scholars. For example, I think every American should be required to read W.E.B. DuBois’ “Black Reconstruction in America: 1860-1880”. Published in 1935, DuBois' book contradicted the previous white scholarship that negatively critiqued the period. For one, it was the black leadership during the Reconstruction period that launched the first state-funded public school system in the South. Here’s more:
By 1870, all of the former Confederate states had been admitted to the Union, and the state constitutions during the years of Radical Reconstruction were the most progressive in the region’s history. African-American participation in southern public life after 1867 would be by far the most radical development of Reconstruction, which was essentially a large-scale experiment in interracial democracy unlike that of any other society following the abolition of slavery. Blacks won election to southern state governments and even to the U.S. Congress during this period. Among the other achievements of Reconstruction were the South’s first state-funded public school systems, more equitable taxation legislation, laws against racial discrimination in public transport and accommodations and ambitious economic development programs (including aid to railroads and other enterprises). (History)
There are so many remarkable leaders that emanate nationally and historically from the black community, it is rather hard to be selective. However, in the South one of those leaders was the remarkable George Washington Carver.Carver was born into slavery in the 1860s and a little known fact is that he was castrated by his slave-master. This was, apparently, because of the slave-owner’s sexual concerns regarding his daughter and obviously without the least consideration and violation of Carver himself.But in spite of all this slavery backgroundCarver’s achievements were immense.
It appears that almost wherever Carver went he was acknowledged as brilliant. He managed, in the 1890s, to obtain a degree in botany at the Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames. He was its first Black student. While there, Carver mentored the young Henry Wallace who became President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice President. Carver was ultimately asked to join the staff at Tuskegee University in Alabama – a black agricultural college created in 1881.
It is often noted that while at Tuskegee University, George Washington Carver “saved the South”. For example, the soil throughout most the south had been depleted considerably because of the unrelenting production of cotton. Carver realized that there needed to be a “rotation of crops” to replenish the soil. In this instance, he recommended that the cotton crop should be rotated by legumes that will, then, fix nitrogen in the soil. As a result, up to this day virtually all farmers, regardless of color, wisely started to rotate their crop production.He “saved the South” thanks to this and countless other achievements and recommendations based on his on-going research. He is also renowned for his quote, “It is simply service that measures success”.
But another major educational effort on the part of Americans should be to begin to learn about Africa and its history.
It is rather interesting that when Americans discuss culture unique to America they will refer to the likes of blues, jazz or bluegrass – all of which evolved in the rural South. While the Bluegrass music has its origins from working class Britain, the banjo itself, often used in bluegrass, is of African origin. Virtually all of Southern music and/or instruments, then, such as drums, banjos and rhythms have their roots in Africa.
Food in the southeast is also distinct, such as okra, rice, watermelon, and many others that have their roots in Africa thanks to African slaves and subsequent Black farming community that continues to grow these gems and offer recipes unique to Africa! The term “gumbo” of Louisiana cuisine, is of West African language origin.
And yet one way or the other, however, the rural South is often denigrated by the rest of America because of its poverty, its history of slavery, its unique southern accent, etc. This inconsistency has always disturbed me because there is never an effort to explore its unique history and ancestry beyond Britain, Ireland and Scotland. It’s time to look at our African roots here in the South that are exceptional.
With all of the above in mind, I am of the opinion that it is way past time for Americans to focus on the origins of so much of what incorporates and is considered to be American culture. We need to finally learn about Africa – its history, its vast ranges of cultures, its agricultural legacies, its languages and religions. All of this should be taught in schools for both blacks and whites. What we are culturally is largely African in scope and origin in countless areas of contemporary American life.
There should also be African museums in major cities throughout the Southern region in particular.
Plus, and importantly, the discussion of reparations needs to continue overall in America and pressure brought to bear on this issue. The black community is owed considerably for the injustices they have experienced and for playing a leading role in building America’s wealth. It’s way past time for America to give back.
MP: What problems do African-American Muslims face? Do they face more discrimination compared to other African Americans?
Since the Moors were ousted from the Iberian Peninsula in 1491, the Muslim world has largely been ostracized by the west. The American colonists in the 1600s, however, didn’t care one way or the other about the religion of slaves, some of whom were Muslim. The English colonists wanted Africans for chattel, and religion or most traditional cultural expressions would not be allowed anyway. If anything, the colonists would want their slaves to be "Christians".
But fast forward to the 20th century when the Muslim community in America is largely identified for its black membership. Islam had provided the opportunity for Blacks, who became Muslim, to have a religious identity other than the traditional Christian religion.
The trend of independence by Black Muslims in the 20th century, has not been appreciated by many "white" Americans. Still, in the face of "Christian" intolerance, the Black Muslim community has grown considerably. Without doubt, this relationship with and between Muslims here and abroad has been meaningful and important.
As with the slavery system and the subsequent derogatory attitudes toward slave descendants that were not the fault of Africans themselves, so, too, the present scenario in the west toward Muslims is not the fault of Muslims here in America or throughout most of the Middle East.
The fault rests with the American government itself for inappropriately invading Iraq in the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to both Bush administrations and this violence has continued under the Obama presidency. This violence was seemingly to access Iraqi oil and it waslikely known that it would ultimately destabilize the entire region in a way that would benefit the west.
But who has benefited the most from this tragedy?
The military industrial complex in America is the primary beneficiary of the conflict in the Middle East from which it makes huge profits. Everyone else suffers because of this greed.
And, yes, under the circumstances, African American Muslims are facing enhanced discriminatory problems at present. When presidential candidate Donald Trump and others make derogatory statements about Muslims, without placing any of this in context, it is not helpful. When the vast number of Americans know nothing about the Muslim faith, its history and diversity, this is also not at all helpful. “One fits all” as the saying goes and that’s what many ill-informed Americans are inclined to do – paint the picture with one swath of the paint brush as in inferring that “All Muslims are the same!” It’s rather like saying the Catholics, Methodists, Southern Baptists, Jehovah Witnesses, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Mormons, Unitarians (etc.) are all alike. It’s insane!
These are difficult times for the Muslim community during what is an intolerant period that evolved because of a state of affairs beyond their control and not initiated by them.
Under the circumstances, Muslims are needing to be careful about identifying themselves openly as Muslim and are at times being chastised more than previously for their dress.
And yes, I would most definitely say that African American Muslims are experiencing more discrimination than non-Muslim African Americans. This is based both on observation as well as asking African American Muslims about this issue. It is color plus religion in this scenario that is making the difference. Hopefully this situation will not last long.
And to help rid ourselves of this intolerance, Americans need to end this insane aggression in the Middle East and to finally start learning something about the Muslim faith, its history and diversity.
Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer on WRFG-FM in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology.