by Fudia Muhammad
One of the most powerful seeds that my father planted in my mind as a young girl was his love for all things Black! I have to admit that this particular seed took its sweet time taking root before sprouting. Like most young Black girls, I had issues with my Blackness; and it was not until my late teens that I truly began to also love all things Black. Being born in Africa, but reared in America, by parents who saw both value and harm in assimilation created an internal struggle for me that was constantly filled with contradictions and confirmations.
One of my most vivid memories as a child was wanting a Barbie doll for Christmas and my father’s insistence that any doll in our home had to be Black. The thought never even crossed my mind to request a Black Barbie doll because I did not think she existed. This was in the early 1980s. There was no internet then, so we had to drive to every store in town trying to find the elusive Black Barbie doll. I remember getting so excited when we found a Brown one, but no go, she was not Black enough – my father was not playing. I got that Black doll, it was not “Barbie,” but I was content. I know that seed had deep roots because to this day, I cringe when I see young Black girls playing with white dolls.
Many are familiar with Dr. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s experiment in the 1940s measuring the perceptions of Black children about themselves and about White people, by using dolls that differed only by color. The infamous “doll test” which tested children ages three to seven concluded that the majority of the children preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it; negative characteristics to the black doll. The Clarks further concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation created a feeling of inferiority among Black children and damaged their self-esteem.” Though this study was used to argue for school integration in Brown v. Board of Education, integration clearly was not the answer – several similar tests have been completed post segregation and have produced the same results.
In 2012, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke to over 1,000 Central High School students in Newark, New Jersey. During the lecture, he asked the cameraman to take a photo of the students on the first row. He showed the students the photograph and asked them, “Who did you look for first?” Everyone responded, “Me.” The Minister said, “That’s what I’m talking about. Because if you didn’t see yourself, you’re not interested in the picture. It’s the same with education. If these children don’t see themselves in what you’re teaching them, they’re not interested in what you’re teaching them.”Outside of the home, the majority of a child’s time is spent at school. Our children are not interested in school because they do not see themselves represented in the images or the subjects being taught.
Black children need to see themselves depicted in all facets of life as early as possible. In the United States, Black people are approximately 13% of the population, so this is going to take some work. Some of us may argue that this is not necessary and our children should be comfortable with all races and free to read any books and play with dolls or toys of any color. That is a dangerously reckless stance in a country whose fabric is tightly woven in White supremacy. America is over 75% White so without any effort, at least 75% of what we read, see, hear, experience and think will involve whiteness. This means you do not have to worry about your child learning about and being comfortable with White people if that is your goal. However, our goal should be to make a concerted and deliberate effort to counter the damaging effects of White supremacy and project our own image as often as we can.
Usually, the same people who think that there is no harm in allowing our Black girls to play with white dolls are the same people who think no harm was done by allowing our people to believe that Jesus is a White man, even though the Bible and historical data proves he was most certainly Black. Think about it – that is one heck of a mindset to combat because if Jesus was White and we want to be like him, then we subconsciously oppose anything Black and gravitate towards those things we believe are in Jesus’ image and likeness. White supremacy is ingrained in religion, education, and popular culture – it can only be uprooted if it is countered with proper knowledge and representation, accentuated with Black images.
The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that his teacher, Master Fard Muhammad, summed up His teachings to us in six words: “Accept your own and be yourself.” This begins with thorough knowledge of God and ourselves.Every Black child must know the origin of his or her Blackness. Being Black is not a curse; it is a result of being direct descendants of God, Who created Himself from the triple darkness of the universe. This knowledge is reinforced in our children by showing them the beauty of Blackness. They should be surrounded by positive Black educators, mentors, doctors, neighbors, business persons, community leaders, etc. And today all we need is the desire because the internet has made it a lot easier to immerse our children with a myriad of Black images through books, toys, dolls, posters, movies, songs, clothes, room décor, paraphernalia, etc. Just the word “Black” should denote strength and pride in our children. They should feel beautiful, powerful and secure in their Blackness.
This is why there is such great anticipation and excitement in the Black community about the premiere of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther. It has been described as “unapologetically Black” with a socially and politically “woke” message. In addition, one of the creators said that Africans were intentionally depicted as “smarter, richer and more technologically advanced” than all others. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said,“The greatest change agents in the world are the people in the culture and art community of every nation.” He said that as great as Black preachers are, they do not have the same reach that artists have, who can use their gifts to spark a cultural revolution. While the reach of a preacher is limited, one song or one movie with the right message can inspire millions of people to make a positive change instantly. The movie, Black Panther is a great example of this. In an instant, it sparked Black pride in millions.
The same can be said about the impact from the election of President Barack Obama. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said that God has always blessed him to see the bigger picture; so he never did anything to interfere with the election and reelection of President Obama. The image of a Black man and his beautiful Black family in the highest, most respected office in the world is now seared into the minds of millions of young people and can never be removed. The Minister said of President Obama, “A wonderful Black president; and while we disagree with certain things that he does, if he never does another thing, what he has already done has freed the minds of young Black children. That we will never again think that all we can be are singers and dancers and sports people, but we can aspire to rule, to govern, to lead. We thank him and those who backed him for that.”
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)