Shabazz inflames campus with controversial speech
?Can you ? for a moment ? put aside the color of my skin and what I stand for and put aside the color of your skin and what you stand for and shake my hand?? asked Student Senator Ed Ryan, a senior in physics.
Malik Zulu Shabazz paused, then spoke: ?No, sir, I cannot.?
Shabazz, an attorney from Washington, D.C., and chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP), spoke in Gregg Hall as part of a 12-city tour on Thursday evening. Shabazz did eventually shake Ryan?s hand after Ryan explained how he had defended Shabazz?s funding in a Senate meeting three weeks prior. Although this exchange happened during the question-and-answer section of Shabazz?s lecture, it was indicative of the event?s overall controversy.
Although Shabazz was earlier denied funding from the Office of Student Affairs and Senate, parts of his honorarium and visit were sponsored by SPIRIT, Carnegie Mellon?s black culture and awareness organization, as a part of the celebration of Black History Month. He was presented by Abigail Cyntje, president of SPIRIT and a senior in electrical and computer engineering, and senior chemical engineering major Kierra Wright, who invited Shabazz. The event was facilitated by the NBPP and run by their invited guests.
?I was all for bringing him in, not because of what he was preaching, but because I believe we shouldn?t shield everybody from the hate on campus.... Now we cannot hide the [diversity] issue any longer,? said Tanvir Suri, a first-year student in business administration and Student Senator. ?With someone like Shabazz, it?s going to be very hard to forget.?
Dean of Student Affairs Michael Murphy had a different thought about Shabazz?s lecture: ?I did not think it was a good idea to bring [Shabazz]. I was clear on my belief that it was not a good idea,? he said. ?That kind of hurtful and hateful rhetoric doesn?t have a place in constructive dialogue.?
To gain admittance to Gregg Hall, guests were searched by hand and metal detector by Carnegie Mellon University Police, who patrolled the event. Many were denied admission from the lecture; others entered by jumping the queue.
?I was in the first row and I was waiting for a long time,? said Marina Meyster, a first-year student in SHS. ?At one point they wanted to let six people in, but [security personnel] would just basically just pull out African Americans out of the crowd.?
The lecture hall was filled with students and members of the community. The majority of the attendees were African-American. Around the Porter 100 dais, several NBPP members stood in uniform ? at least one of whom was armed with a billy club, permitted on the spot by Campus Police. However, only audience members were checked for weaponry, according to campus police chief Creig Doyle; presenters and NBPP guards were not scanned.
The event started smoothly as a man referred to as a community elder chanted of black history with a powerful voice resonating throughout the auditorium. This was followed by an invocation, called a libation, and the singing of ?Lift Ev?ry Voice,? the Black National Anthem.
Next was a representative from Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam. His statements rallied the crowd in preparation for Shabazz; the crowd reacted strongly as he said, ?Any time you see a strong black man stand up to speak truth, ?controversial? is always put on the front of his name.... There is no speaker of truth in the history of the world that has not been controversial.? References to Farrakhan and Islam prefaced Shabazz?s lecture, setting a strong black and Islamic connection for the rest of the presentations.
?Controversial speakers are so named because they do just that: bring controversy. Just because I didn?t agree with his opinions on many issues doesn?t mean he shouldn?t be able to speak,? wrote junior biological science major Sally Maikarfi, a SPIRIT member who attended the lecture.
Wright then introduced Shabazz. ?This man is well versed in world issues, national, and local politics,? she said. ?He?s so much more than the national chairman of the New Black Panther Party.?
Shabazz entered with a standing ovation. Shabazz started his presentation with his own smaller invocation and the first of many references to Farrakhan. To aid his argument, Shabazz also brought with him an array of historical, religious, and opinion texts, including The Iceman Inheritance, by Michael Bradley, and The International Jew, by Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.
After listing his own achievements, such as having been voted Young Lawyer of the Year by the National Bar Association and winning court victories against anti-organizers, Shabazz himself eventually described his purpose in addressing the crowd as ?the roles and responsibilities of the black college student and white racism,? adding the phrase ?white racism? himself. After discussing the difficulty in coming after his funding was refused, Shabazz said of the University: ?This is supposed to be a place where diversity and ideas can be
discussed, and I?m disgusted.?
Ten minutes into the speech, Shabazz?s speech was cut short as the auditorium lights blacked out. Amidst cries of sabotage and blame, Shabazz composed himself and ? lit by the projector ? continued his talk. Amidst the confusion, he likened the situation to that inside a slave ship as dozens of members of the audience tried to augment the light with their cellular phones.
Shabazz?s lecture strayed at times to various issues, many of which contained anti-Jew or anti-Zionist messages. In one, he called the Anti-Defamation League ? an organization which aims to prevent Jewish and other cultural discrimination ? an organization ?founded by gangsters.? He also examined Jewish religious law and its implications to present-day relations between Africans and Jews and the current land dispute in Palestine.
?To the members of the [Carnegie Mellon] Arab Student Organization: You?ve got an ally here,? said Shabazz to the many ASO members in the audience.
Shabazz continued on other topics, calling what he thought were the underrepresented topics of the Tulsa, Okla., economic riots of 1921 and the Chicago race riots of 1919 examples of the multi-century ?Black Holocaust.? He also spoke of ancient history, including a detailed description of how blacks inhabited Earth before whites.
?The reason I enjoyed the lecture is because he talks about all the things that black people went through, and how we should be proud of who we are because of that struggle,? said Jarel Copney, a sophomore mathematical sciences major. ?He gave us a perspective of our history that most of us did not know prior to the event.?
Some of his statements expressed positive sentiments, such as: ?I?m striving for a righteous, clean, and productive society for my people.? Many, though, were punctuated by divisive comments: ?Let?s be honest: White folks are white folks! Can you tell the difference?? Shabazz, however, denied allegations of racism, asking, ?How can I be a racist? All we are is victims of racism.?
Responding to calls that Shabazz?s lecture strayed, Abigail Cyntje stated, ?The lecture that Attorney Shabazz presented did state that the role and responsibility of the black college student is to know the truth about your history and ... to help advance your community. Though Attorney Shabazz did touch on the topic at hand there were segments of his lecture that responded to the hostility towards him and the event. We did not expect the lecture to go off topic.?
The event continued with a town hall meeting. Dennis Roddy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked whether Shabazz believed white racism was genetically encoded. Citing the photos of lynching and other atrocities that hung behind him, Shabazz eventually responded that ?I believe these problems result from the very nature of white people.?
?I strongly agree with his views on the importance of education and attaining knowledge in empowering people,? said Nur Azlina Abdul Aziz, the president of the Muslim Student Association. ?But at the same time I disagree with views on how certain groups can bear burdens of guilt based on the color of their skin.?
As a closing, Shabazz offered an inclusive activity where he directed all in the room to form a circle. In perhaps the clearest demonstration all evening of his stated purpose on campus, he then led the group in an affirmation of common purpose and cheers for unity.
Following the lecture, dialogue erupted both around the lecture hall and on the campus?s electronic forum cmu.misc.market. Many questioned whether inviting Shabazz was prudent, how close Shabazz stayed to his topic, and what response members of SPIRIT had to the community outcry.
?To SPIRIT?s credit, they sought out a lot of opinions about the event,? said Murphy. ?I do believe that many members of the SPIRIT organization believed that he was going to give a talk about African history and the rights and responsibilities of the African-American college students, and it clearly wasn?t that.... I think the intent was genuine.?
The online debate included several implied threats against members of SPIRIT for inviting Shabazz, discomforting some students. ?Some members of SPIRIT do feel more threatened since several members of our organization have been harassed or insulted,? wrote Cyntje. ?The negative and harassing messages on misc.market alone are indicative to the lack of understanding of our community.?
Said Kim Long, senior architecture major and vice president of SPIRIT: ?Don?t look at all of our members saying, ?Oh, you think like Shabazz? because that?s definitely not the case. And it?s definitely not the case even as a collective body, that we all don?t
have the same view he does.?
?Guys like Shabazz prove that [diversity] is a big deal, said Suri, ?and that?s why I think bringing him to campus was a good idea.... Now it?s out there.?