Honoree Mahmoud El-Kati speaks on award and White supremacy
By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer and
On Monday, April 23 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, The St. Paul Foundation held its Sixth Annual Facing Race Ambassador Awards ceremony. Award recipients are nominated by people in their community for their efforts in working to create a more equitable society. Three award recipients received honorable mentions and a $1,000 donation, and two received Ambassador Awards and $10,000 donations. All donations will be given in their name to the organization of their choice.
“Though we can’t undo the harm that’s been caused by racism in the past, we can take action to eliminate racism from our future,” said Carleen Rhodes of The St. Paul Foundation. “It is work that must be done if we are going to positively change the nature of personal, organizational and institutional responses to race and racism.”
The evening began with a performance by Duniya Drum and Dance, followed by a keynote speech by Dr. Anton Treuer, professor of Ojibwe for Bemidji State University (See interview in MSR, April 19-25, 2012) who has used the Ojibwe language as a way to heal wounds created by historical racism.
Treuer spoke of the importance of America acknowledging its racist past. “The problem with racism is that if someone has been pounding us in the head with a hammer for a really long time, [then] setting down the hammer and saying, ‘Forget about it, that’s all in the past,’…you’ve still got this horrible wound called historical trauma.”
The $1,000 recipients include Elizabeth Campbell. In her job as emerging business inclusion coordinator for Ryan Companies U.S. Inc., she works to increase business opportunities for contractors of color and women-owned businesses.
“I’m White, and I come from a culture — a dominant culture— that says that individuals accomplish things on their own. I don’t agree with that… An award given to an individual always reflects the involvement of the unseen community.”
Civil rights director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota Chapter, Taneeza S. Islam, Esq., works toward equal justice for her Muslim clients in resolving discrimination complaints.
“I guess it was the right time for me to go to law school and graduate, because unfortunately the discrimination against Muslims is real…whether it’s…being profiled at the border [while traveling] or whether it’s a refusal for services in public spaces, or whether it’s a refusal to [let someone] pray at work.”
T. Gregory Stavrou is executive director of the Rochester Civic Theatre. He has encouraged racial dialogue in Rochester through two plays he recently produced that explore racism and racial stereotypes. Rochester, a southern Minnesota city with a population of approximately 100,000, is currently the fastest growing city in Minnesota, Stavrou says. Before entering the city, a sign reads, “We are building an inclusive community.”
“It’s an honest sign,” Stavrou says. “It’s says we are building; it doesn’t say we are there…And it’s hard work sometimes, and it requires that we take professional risks with some regularity.”
Winners of the Ambassador Award and a $10,000 donation include Steve Pederson, a member of the executive leadership team for Diversity Resource Action Alliance, an Alexandria-based volunteer organization whose mission is to provide “a platform for building and strengthening community understanding and appreciation of diversity and cultural differences.”
Though always a rural Minnesota resident, Pederson became a racial equity champion seven years ago after adopting the first of two African American children. He addresses the issues of recruitment and retention with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for students of color and first-generation students as well as acts as an advisor on issues of diversity for the Alexandria City Council.
“Anti-racism activism and leadership has many different faces. Each of us has different roles to fill, a unique niche… Thank you for this honor and for the challenge to continue this important work.”
Mahmoud El-Kati was also a $10,000 award recipient. “Off of the top of my head, I can think of at least 10 different people who are far more deserving of this recognition than I am,” he said while accepting the award. “And yet I am grateful for this recognition… In honoring me you are saluting my fellow workers, associates and supporters. In short, The St. Paul Foundation is acknowledging my community — acknowledging the hood.”
The retired professor has dedicated his life to education, history and social justice. “Racism is the most intractable of our nation’s entire social problem,” said El-Kati. “It has been a major dynamic since the inception of the republic. The founding fathers assured us of this birth defect. It was they who inscribed a racist act in the Constitution of the United States of America.”
El-Kati doesn’t use words for shock-value purposes but for people to fully understand the society they live in, a society of White supremacy. He told the MSR in an interview last week that foundation members initially called White supremacy a “hot-button issue” and suggested that he not talk about it.
“I told them… [White supremacy] is what generates the madness, behavior, murder, fear and hatred” in the U.S., he reiterated. “My mindset is that if I can’t say that, there’s something wrong with that.
“I wish to again commend The St. Paul Foundation for making, however belated, an institutional and creative response to challenge the ill deeds generated by the ideology of White supremacy. This reality is more American than the flag, baseball or apple pie,” he pointed out in his acceptance speech last week.
All countries have an ideology, and in this country, it’s White supremacy, the professor explained. “When I say racism, I’m saying White supremacy. There’s no competing racism or ideology in this country. The people who founded [this country]…believed in the doctrine that Black people were inferior to White people. It’s a doctrine we live under.”
El-Kati compares it to Communism. “The Soviet Union was a Communist country. Were most people card-carrying Communists? No, but if you wanted to get anywhere in that society or want[ed] to advance, you are going to genuflect to that doctrine and join the [Communist] party.”
White supremacy therefore establishes a “caste system” in America, continued El-Kati. “You fix people’s positions in society. It benefits White people but [not] Black people, Native Americans and all shades in between. The closer you get to behaving White, the closer to success you get.
“What cause people to do what they do? Beliefs, values and customs — and all that is wrapped in culture,” said El-Kati. “We have a White supremacy culture, which means that all the institutions in this society are based on White supremacy.”
For example, El-Kati refers to a 100-question test that immigrants must take to qualify for U.S. citizenship — only two questions deal with Black people: “Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] and the Emancipation Proclamation. Ninety-eight other questions deal with White people. So for a person who wants to be in America, he is going to behave like White people and practice anti-Black racism.”
El-Kati says that although he was proud to receive the Facing Race award, being honored by the community a dozen years ago was an even prouder moment for him.
“I’ve never been that high before or since,” he recalled, adding that the award forced him to reflect on his past for the selection committee. As a result he is also “most proud of” his involvement with four local institutions: Sabathani Center; the University of Minnesota, where he taught for four years and was involved in the 1970 Morrill Hall takeover by the school’s Black students; the Pan African Leadership Conference at Mankato State; and a Twin Cities job-training program, which is now Summit Academy OIC.
“I’ve taught in prisons for 20 years,” he added, “to give brothers an alternative entry into society when they get out. That was a great experience for me.”
A longtime social-justice advocate, “I just do what the spirit tells me to do,” El-Kati says humbly.
On the event itself, “I thought it went well,” says El-Kati. He was impressed with “a goodly number — a cross section — of Black people” who attended last week’s free event in St. Paul, “most of them I did not know. I appreciated it.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to vnash@spokes man-recorder.com.