[Editor’s note: The following text is excerpted from a speech delivered by Minister Louis Farrakhan on Nov. 19, 1978 at the National Conference of Black Lawyers in Chicago, Ill. The entire speech was printed in Vol. 1, No. 1 of The Final Call.]
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
These are the three tests that Allah (God) has given to each of us as proof of our worthiness to face and overcome all the struggles of life: 1) a hostile environment; 2) overcoming overwhelming odds; 3) pulling up against the force of gravity.
No person or people become great having an easy time. Most of you think that if Allah (God) loves you, you are supposed to have life on a silver platter. Allah (God), and life, does not work that way. We must get away from that old, ignorant way of thinking. Allah (God) has ordained struggle for all living things. Man has struggled to conquer the hostile environment of the jungle, and he has. Man has struggled to conquer the hostile environment of the desert, and he has. Man has struggled to conquer the oceans and its depths, struggled to conquer mountains, and he has. Man struggled to conquer the hostile environment of space. Nothing remains in the path of man who is resolved or determined to succeed. If we conquered the most hostile of environments of life before we had a developed intelligence, what should we be able to do now that we are developing a higher degree of intelligence?
Our fathers came across the Atlantic Ocean in the holds of ships during slavery. This journey was called the “Middle Passage.” Many of our fathers and mothers were lost in the ocean. Some scholars give very conservative estimates of 100 million lives lost in the Middle Passage. But who made it to the shores of the West Indies and the shores of America? Only the strongest of the strong. No wonder the scriptures teach us that the race is not to the swift, but to the one who can endure to the end.
And that is what the real challenge represents. It represents the furthest point beyond which we can go. It represents contest; it represents struggle. However, if you jump into that struggle, know that you can survive. To survive means to outlast, to outlive, to go beyond. It means to stress one’s power to endure as in overcoming difficulty. If we want to survive, there is a way. I know that the enemy has plans. We should consider his plans. Yes, his plans are deadly, his might is great, but the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said the unity of the Black man would give us a weapon more powerful than any hydrogen or atomic bomb.
We Must Unite
If Black people came together anywhere in America, there is nothing that we could not have if we wanted it. The unity of more than 30 million of us in America would guarantee our survival. In fact, the unity of one million of us in America would guarantee survival for all of our people. To achieve survival, however, there are things that each of us must sacrifice. There is no way to survive unless we come into unity, and there is no way to have unity unless we give up the things that keep us from having unity. Survival starts with you and me. Don’t look to big government plans. Look to yourself and ask yourself, “Am I, as an individual, willing to struggle, to exert myself to the fullest to ensure that I outlast what is coming upon this world?” If you make the commitment and say “yes,” then there is a job that you have to do right now as an individual.
Don’t tell me you want to survive and you are smoking a cigarette. If you don’t have the will to stop smoking a cigarette that contains 19 deadly poisons, stifling your lungs, poisoning your bloodstream, interfering with your ability to think and see clearly, then let’s not talk about the greater problem, because we have already failed the test on the simple problem. How can we talk about survival and engage in that which kills self?
We must also understand that eating the wrong foods, and even eating too much of the best foods, is not good for our health if we want to survive. During the plague in Europe, the Jews survived. And many of the ignorant, seeing the Jews surviving the plague, began to kill the Jews, thinking that they had brought the plague about. But they later found out that what caused the Jews to survive was their diet: they were eating day-old bread or bread that had molded, and in that mold was penicillin and that penicillin caused them to survive that plague.
Some of you will go and light up your marijuana, or get a little cocaine. How can we talk about the survival of the Black man yet engage in the Black man’s extinction? Some of you are so greedy for money that you left religion and went to selling dope. Some so-called “Muslims” are doing this. Some Moorish Scientists are doing this. Some so-called “Christians” and “Hebrews” are doing this. If we want to survive, we must stop doing the things that contribute to our destruction. If we want to survive, we must stop promoting banners or ideologies and denying the principles that support those banners or ideologies.
Principles for Survival
If we want to survive, we have got to give up stealing. If we want to survive, we have to give up lying. Anytime we lie, we undermine our own character development. No matter how bad the situation seems, if we tell the truth, we begin building our character, and when we build character, we create trust in each other, we build confidence in each other. How can any institution that we build survive if we don’t have any trust or confidence in one another? And none of us can have confidence in a liar.
We must strive to make our word our bond. That is a principle of survival. Can we have unity if we are gossiping about each other? Can we create brotherhood spying on one another, back-biting one another? Once we are prone to gossip, and doing dirty things behind each other’s backs, the enemy of our unity sees this. He has his electronic devices on us night and day. And once he finds us weak in character, he uses this to destroy our organizations and discredit us. So each one of us has to police ourselves. The program of survival starts with you and me. If we would just stop doing the negative things that we do to each other, we would be 50 percent on the road to survival.
Every leader, every preacher, every teacher, every scholar must recognize that we must stop being hirelings and start being good shepherds. A hireling is one who does what he does for money. If we only lead for money, teach for money, guide for money, prestige and vain glory, soon we will lose those who once looked to us for guidance. We must challenge injustice wherever it is and the people will walk with us. But we have to be willing to make the sacrifice ourselves.
Black intellectuals and Black bourgeoisie: We need you! Your brainpower has got to stop thinking all day and night for ITT and IBM and the big corporations and banks of America. You must give some of your energy and expertise to the liberation struggle of your people. You must learn that no one man can rise above the condition of his people. You must learn that your people are depending upon you. You must learn that you need your people because the White man is cutting you out little by little. If you don’t quickly recognize that you need your people as your people need you, then as the economy falls, and the White man’s problems intensify, he is most assuredly going to increase his misuse of you and then throw you back in the laps of your people. You must come home to self!
The Ultimate Challenge
If we would today begin to think that our differences are minor, and our internal enemies are major, and work to scrutinize and uproot those internal contradictions, then we will have faced the ultimate challenge.
The ultimate challenge is not the White man. The ultimate challenge is ourselves. The ultimate challenge is not the United States government. The ultimate challenge is the foolish and weak government that rules our brains. The ultimate challenge is to root out and destroy the negative forces within ourselves. Once we can root out those negative forces within ourselves and recognize that the hostile environment within ourselves and in the society is what we need to flex the muscles of our will against, and once we recognize that even though the odds are great and seem overwhelming, that they are not odds that we cannot overcome; and once we realize that we must pull up against the gravity of our vain and personal desires that keep us self divided, then we will survive.