Studs Terkel’s Race: Where are they now? Salim Muwakkil

June 20, 2012

Bill Healy

Each week this summer we’re profiling a character from Studs Terkel’s 1992 oral history, Race. Twenty years after Studs’ book was published, we want to see how these characters' thoughts and feelings on race have changed…or not changed.

As part of our series “Race: Out Loud” we’re asking people to read – or re-read – Studs’ book and to speak up about what feelings the book stirs up in them. We invite you to follow along and to join the discussion at www.WBEZ.org/raceoutloud.

 

Salim Muwakkil is a senior editor at In These Times magazine and host of a radio show on WVON. In addition to writing the text for “Harold! Photographs from the Harold Washington Years,” Muwakkil is an occasional op-ed columnist for the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 2011, he wrote about class and generational divisions within Chicago’s black community for In These Times as part of a larger series, which also included an exploration into mutual distrust between African Americans and the police in Chicago.

On May 8, 2012, Muwakkil served on a panel at the Chicago History Museum about Studs Terkel’s book Race moderated by journalist Laura Washington. The audio posted here was taken from that panel.

Muwakkil says that one of the reasons Studs contacted him for the book was to help contextualize Louis Farrakhan and Black Nationalism.

 
 

 

 
Since then, Muwakkil says, Farrakhan has become more accommodating of other belief systems and less critical of black culture. But, he says, the issues Farakkhan highlighted back then are still apparent today.

Muwakkil believes the high incidence of crime committed by blacks on other blacks is evidence of a lack of self-esteem, and of a white supremacist socialization that has been absorbed by the black community. Slavery looms large here, he says. “The idea of race is a European creation…Blumenbach and those guys who came up with this categorization of humanity according to racial distinctions. Black people have always been on the bottom of that.”

 
 

 

 
African Americans have been trained to be subservient, Muwakkil says.

 

 
 

 

 
One major change since he spoke with Studs was the election of the first African American to the U.S. presidency. At the time that he talked with Studs, Muwakkil couldn’t imagine the possibility of a black president. And when it happened in 2008, he was thrown for a loop by the symbolism of a black president.

 

 
 

 

 
Muwakkil believes Obama is so well-loved among some segments of the African American community, that he can influence their stances on immigration and other issues of importance to Latinos.

 

 

 

 

 

 
To listen to the full audio from the panel at the Chicago History Museum, go here.

 

Next week, we’ll feature Timuel Black, a legendary figure in Chicago’s history who has a lot to say about race.

 

**Thanks to the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Amplified series for use of their audio.

 

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