We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
I NEARLY FELL TO THE ground in shock when I discovered Malik Shabazz on the front page of Washington City Paper (“The Revolutionary’s War,” 4/21). While I emphatically support Afrocentrism and black nationalism, I do not support Shabazz. And while I abhor speaking out against African-American leaders in the press, Shabazz is no leader. In fact, I’m sure that each time he speaks, true African leaders from Imhotep to Malcolm X spin in their graves. I’m writing to use my personal experiences with Shabazz to correct some misinformation in your article.
I remember Shabazz, who was Paris Lewis on campus, from my undergrad years at Howard University. Then he was a fashion plate and BMOC, and not an activist. When he wasn’t socializing, he attempted to have a brief career doing a sorry imitation of Chuck D in a rap group called Defiant Giants. Meanwhile, a group of truly committed students, amongst them April Silver and Ras Baraka (son of writer and activist Amiri Baraka), formed a nationalist organization named Black N.I.A. Force.
Several months later in 1989, Howard appointed Lee Atwater to its board of trustees. Atwater had been primarily responsible for 1988 Bush campaign ads featuring Willie Horton, a black male who had raped a white female while on furlough from a prison in Massachusetts. Many African-Americans had correctly identified the ads as racist, and Howard students objected to a person who had vilified black males serving on the board of trustees. A coalition of students and student organizations, including Black N.I.A. Force, led the protest against Atwater’s appointment. But Shabazz did not “lead” the protest as your article claims. The main leaders of the 1989 Protest were Silver and Baraka of N.I.A. Force, and a host of others. Shabazz mostly took the microphone and stepped into the action when the cameras started rolling. It is a disrespect to the students who risked their academic careers for their political beliefs to grant Shabazz credit for “leading” the action. He was there, he participated, but he did not lead it.
Furthermore, the majority of the audience the night of the infamous Khallid Muhammad speech at Howard University were not students, nor were the majority of the speakers on the podium. Shabazz’s audience at Howard is quite small compared to the number of students involved in the campus movement in 1989. It is true that many Howard students, and African-Americans in general, are members and supporters of the Nation of Islam, much to the disdain of most white Americans. However, it is incorrect to assert that a majority of students are “followers” of Shabazz.
City Paper has committed other disservices with this article. By what was written, one could draw the conclusion that all African- Americans that wear African attire and espouse Afrocentrism are demagogues. The article also gives Shabazz more anti-white/anti-establishment material for his bullhorn speeches. But Shabazz has committed the greatest disservice and sin of all by continually misrepresenting the true Afrocentric movement with rip-offs of ’70s Black Panther politics. Consequently, many brothers and sisters in Ward 8 and elsewhere no longer know the difference between a true community activist and an opportunist.
I beg all of my brothers and sisters in Ward 8 not to prostitute themselves by giving their vote to Shabazz. Ward 8 has already been pimped once by Marion Barry, who used the ward as his step-stool back into the mayor’s seat. What did Ward 8 gain when Barry was councilman? Nothing. What has Ward 8 gained since Barry has become mayor? Double nothing! And Ward 8 will gain nothing from an administration under Shabazz. As soon as he finds greener pastures, Ward 8 will be out in the cold once again. Brothers and sisters of Southeast, do not make the same mistake twice!
Lincoln Park, via the Internet