New York is the heart of the Yankee dome and the pinnacle of the American dream. It is known as the center of American capitalism, trade, and high skyscrapers. But East New York is the tale of the American nightmare. When it comes to Black people, Malcolm X reminded us “you and I have never seen an American dream, we’ve experienced an American nightmare.” Many people mistakenly hold the belief that chattel slavery and Jim Crow’s segregation are fading legacies of the past; with Black people steadily making progress towards the “American dream.”
Reality begs to differ: Plantation slavery has only been replaced with a more peculiar institution known as the ghetto. In his legendary song:Juicy, Biggie Smalls articulated the pains facing Black families in Brooklyn’s ghettos but also, he celebrates his new-found success in the rap industry which brought him out of the ghetto. Reflecting, Biggie raps “We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us; No heat, wonder why Christmas missed us” highlighting the predominance of slumlords, who maximize profits by minimizing the amount spent on maintaining property impoverished black ghettos.
Biggie further discusses how many in the urban ghettos rely upon the drug economy for basic necessities when he bemoans the people who called the police on him when he was “just tryin’ to make some money to feed my daughter.” How did these conditions of poverty and food insecurity emerge in Brooklyn? To study this, we must know the origin of the ghetto.
The Making of The Black Ghetto in East New York
When cities grow, they span out and the suburbs grow but in segregated America, the suburbs were for the whites only. National Association of Real Estate Boards (NAREB) was the torchbearer of such racist and segregationist policies making sure white neighborhoods stayed white with all the facilities and amenities.
Facts speak for themselves, in 1935 the Federal Housing Administration: the brainchild of NAREB made sure mortgage insurance was received only by segregated developments.
This meant pushing the Black community into the central cities which became crowded with time. By the 1940s, overcrowding declined to 5 percent for whites but rose from 11 to 19 percent for nonwhites. Ironically, New York City at that time amounted to 3.7 percent of the nation’s population yet the findings in the form of FHA loan insurances were only 2.1 percent. About 42 percent of nonwhite homes across the country lacked a flush toilet in the early 1960s, compared with 10 percent of white homes. 
The Role of Redlining and the Making of The Hood
The concept of redlining must be thoroughly understood to understand the making of the ghetto. Redlining is the policy of withdrawal of mortgage money from a community due to the color of their skin. Banks loaned the money that comprised of the deposits of their urban customers for financing houses in the suburbs. Making sure funds dried up for urban areas which were mostly black. This also ensured that middle-income Black families had no money to buy a better home or even lacked funds to perform the most basic of maintenance. The FHA and banks using the techniques such as ‘redlining’ made sure funds were available to white families of suburbs.
This laid the foundations of ghettos. Alongside this humiliating policy of tipping over which meant when a block or area started having more Black families, the whites decided to leave to other areas. This way ghettos increased in size but shrank in quality of living. All these deprived areas formed part of East York. The result of years of segregation, redlining, and obstacles put in place to block the socio-economic mobility of black people was obvious: crime, drugs, and other sins became the trait of the area. A whole generation tinted and scarred for life.
Giving Hope To An Oppressed People
In order to keep the Black people in these desolated ghettos, the white supremacist power structure wants Young Black men to stay doped up, relying on the drug economy, and partaking in gang beef. Sadly, the Black men either end up with early deaths or face a life behind bars, whilst never challenging the oppressive structures that preserve this American styled apartheid system of the ghetto.
Providing advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of white supremacy in the hood, brother Bilal Abdullah in a recent lecture stated “Change your condition by avoiding the pitfalls of white supremacy in the hood. I encourage you to read the autobiography of Malcolm X, a brother who like you came from the hood, but he fell into the pitfalls but came out of it a new man.”
For Malcolm X, the journey to the right path started from the pits of being a pimp, drug seller, and street hustler. Malcolm X’s life turned around when he embraced Islam. It was Islam that uplifted the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula from moral decadence into a rich civilization, the Islam that built the intellectually thriving University of Sankore in Timbuktu, produced such men as Sultan Muhammad a West African Islamic scholar who mastered Euclidean geography, and shaped the civilization where the wealthy Mansa Musa spent his wealth to build Mosques and Islamic centers of learning.
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) taught that, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then let him change it his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”
The institutional racism that creates such harsh conditions for Black people is an obvious evil and the Muslims must hate it in our hearts, speak out against it with our tongues, and most importantly we must work to change it through communicating the message of Islam within the oppressed urban ghettos so that they may begin to change themselves from the inside so that Allah(SWT) may change the conditions under which many have been forced to live.
Black Dawah Network in Brooklyn
In a powerful scene in Juicy, a young black man is shown behind prison bars as Biggie Smalls raps “stereotypes of a black male misunderstood.” Biggie Smalls sends the message of “don’t let ‘em hold you down. Reach for the stars.” For many oppressed in urban ghettoes, this song was a reminder to not let the ghetto life hold them down, to continue dreaming and to work to fulfill them.
Malcolm X similarly taught the Black folks living in the hood that, “all of us who might have probed space, or cured cancer, or built industries were, instead, black victims, of the white man’s American social system.” But how does one overcome the system of white supremacy to reach for the stars? In order to achieve this in reality: 1)oppressed black youth of urban ghettoes must understand how the ghettos were created and 2) change the condition from the inside by avoiding the pitfalls that white supremacy sets up in their hood in the form of gangs, drugs, and prison.
We can no longer allow the white power structure to hold our people down and inhibit them from reaching the stars. On February 22, 2020, The Black Dawah Network is launching the Malcolm X Annual Day of Dawah. The Black Dawah Network will be in East New York handing out free copies of the autobiography of Malcolm X, The Noble Qu’ran, and offering them the dawah so that they can be inspired to change the conditions inside of themselves. This is the righteous way and the most sagacious means of ending the oppressive conditions of East New York. The cure is here for drugs, crime, and the horrific miseries. The Black Dawah Network extends the hand to the oppressed brothers and sisters of Brooklyn through the Malcolm X Day. If you are a Mosque in or around East York and would like to participate in the Malcolm X Annual Day of Dawah, fill out the following form:
1) How East New York became a Ghetto by Walter Thabit
Author: Hakeem Muhammad
Hakeem Muhammad is from the South side of Chicago, is the founder and president of Black Dawah Network. Muhammad has lectured and taught in the areas of Black Political Thought and Critical Race Theory at U.C Berkeley and Harvard University. Muhammad is currently a Law Student and a scholar of Public Interest Law. Muhammad has worked as a student-attorney in the areas of Prisoner’s Rights and Criminal Defense of indigent clients. Muhammad was selected for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers fellowship that pairs students to work under top criminal defense practitioners in the country.