|Attorneys Eric E. Vickers, W. Bevis Schock and James Schottevickers teamed to fight injustice in St. Louis City.|
Fourteen years ago this time I was over seven thousand miles from my native land, America, performing the Islamic pilgrimage known as Hajj in the city in Saudi Arabia regarded by Muslims as the holiest place on earth, Mecca. I think about this as I watch this country being put to the test from within by the Black Lives Matter awakening, and from without by a religion perceived as an existential threat. If the two forces - black consciousness and Islam - ever joined, America might find the racial reconciliation Malcolm X witnessed over five decades ago:
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe could never exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem."
The problem of race has been an issue in my life for more than a half century now, like a cloud that never goes away, despite all the days of sunshine. It is as American as television. And my enduring challenge - and I think that of most black people - is to not hate white people.
"You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patters previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions."
I don't know from whence came the hatred. I vividly recall as a kid, growing up in East St. Louis, me and my friends throwing rocks and shouting racial epithets at a car full of white people, who had apparently gotten lost and ended up driving through our neighborhood. I also remember my parents, teachers, and other black adults constantly stressing that it was wrong to hate people because of their color, though I could sense their struggle to contain their animosity towards the white race.
"Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities - he is only reacting to four hundred years of the conscious racism of the American whites."
Moving from the almost exclusively black and impoverished world of E. St. Louis to the virtually all white and affluent suburb of University City in my sophomore year of high school did little to alter my feelings about whites. For although it was true that some neighbors greeted us with pastries as the first blacks on the block, it was also true that our windows were shattered before we arrived, and "for sale" signs immediately began popping up.
And while it is also true that genuine individual friendships that I formed with some whites gave credence to my being taught that "all whites are not bad," it came during the time of the Black Power movement, a period when my intellect was awakened to the sordid history of America's racism and the systemic race discrimination still in existence. My now sharpened and mature mind was telling me one thing about the evil from the white race, while my heart was speaking another about my white buddies, who were like brothers.
"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug) - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white...We were truly all the same (brothers) - because their belief in the one God had removed the 'white' from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude."
The black power and pride movement - crystallized in my junior year by James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" anthem - only seemed to complicate race relations. Whites, even friends, felt put off and threatened by our asserting love for our blackness. They sincerely embraced equality, yet somehow felt this meant our being equal as humans - one color blind human family - rather than equal as different races.
When years later in law school I decided to become a Muslim, race was not the factor. Instead, it was a spiritual craving for a purpose beyond the materialist world and lifestyle for which I felt I was being programmed. It was then that I understood Malcolm's metamorphosing into El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
"But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experiences that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth - the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to."
Letter from Mecca, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)
The lesson of Hajj: You can't be Muslim and not love God, and you can't love God and hate a race. El-Hajj Eric Erfan Vickers.