Michael Muhammad Knight: What I Learned from the Five Percenters

What I Learned from the Five Percenters – VICE – In the course of collecting texts, interviewing community elders, decoding Wu Tang lyrics, and hanging out at Five Percenter gatherings (parliaments), something changed. As an amateur ethnographer, I was not prepared to be affected by the materials that I was ingesting. Spending thousands of hours thinking about the Five Percenters, I actually began to internalize their narratives, symbols, and ideas. Though I wasn’t entirely inside, I was no longer outside. My position became a strange in-between space that I would examine in another project, Why I am a Five Percenter.

The first lesson I learned from the Five Percent was simple: Fuck white people. Seriously. White people are devils. I don’t mean this as a statement on biology, because the category of “race” is only political fiction and bad science. I’m using the term more in the sense of what it means to be marked as white in an unjust society. The fact is that I benefit from being white in several ways that I recognize, and many, many more that I usually fail to see. Because I am so often blind to the benefits of my whiteness, it is possible that I unintentionally reenforce those benefits, no matter how vehemently I say that I oppose racism or shower white affection on groups like the Five Percenters. When people want to sound like they’re theoretically sophisticated, they describe this phenomenon with the term, “white privilege.” I call it Satan.

Malcolm X returned from Mecca with a belief that classical Islam’s allegedly transracial brotherhood could help white Americans to move beyond the race poison that has been so deeply injected into their brains. However, I’ve also seen white Muslim converts use this claim to color-blindness as an excuse to avoid talking seriously about race. Mix white privilege with the privilege of religious orthodoxy, and you get a white Sunni who doesn’t have to consider why Elijah Muhammad was so absolutely necessary for this country.

There have been numerous white Five Percenters throughout the community’s history, and I have ironically found a greater fulfillment of Malcolm’s experience in Mecca through the Five Percenters than in my Sunni conversion. A Five Percenter elder told me that if I rejected white supremacy and strove for righteousness, I could not be called a devil; though he believed in the Five Percenter doctrine of white devils, he would not hold that against me as an individual. The answer was not for white people to instantly stop being white, as Malcolm had claimed that Islam would do for them, but to directly confront their whiteness and everything that whiteness does in the world. To be white in America means that I have been groomed to be a devil. The Five Percenters allowed me a space in which I could confess that and work to transcend it.

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