Local griot El-Kati tackles the delusions of race

Arts no chaser


Mahmoud El-Kati’s newest missive, The Myth of Race, the Reality of Racism: Critical Essays (Papyrus Publishing, Inc.), marks the latest crowning achievement of a brilliant, well-storied career as author, historian, scholar and community griot. It joins a canon that includes the highly entertaining The Hiptionary: A Survey of African American Speech Patterns with a Digest of Key Words and Phrases and Politically Considered: 50th Commemoration of the Supreme Court Decision of 1954, which, like the title says, is an informed look at the desegregation of public schools.

You can, if you don’t know, catch El-Kati’s issues-oriented program Reflections and Connections on KMOJ Tuesdays at 6:30 pm. You can also swing by his Fourth Fridays at the Movies monthly screening of historic African American cinema at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul. For a full overview of the man, go take a look at www.mahmoudelkati.com.

Meanwhile, there’s The Myth of Race, the Reality of Racism. It’s a fine way to meet the mind of one the Twin Cities’ most fascinating purveyors of social and political comment. Those already familiar with his work will welcome the addition to their libraries as he continues confronting an issue that increasingly bears candidly unflinching examination.

elkati-the-myth-of-race-coverHe noted in a Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder interview early last year, “The race idea… [is] fairly recent in the world. Most White people don’t know this — that people have been calling themselves “White.” Certainly no African ever called himself a Negro. No Navajo or Choctaw-Chickasaw ever called himself an Indian. That was imposed, right? So, all these are new identities. That’s what I want to challenge.”

That is one of the things El-Kati does best: He creates a challenge to stock concepts and gets people to use their heads for something besides a hat rack. He will make you think until you practically sprain your brain. That’s how knowledgeable and thoroughly exhaustive his approach to a subject is, especially when he’s holding forth on the idea of race.

Take, for instance, “Understanding Racism as an Ideology,” which reads, “The attempt to define the justified, indignant and correct reaction of African people to ‘[White] supremacy’ as ‘Black’ racism is in effect a dishonest and deceitful expression to disguise the maintenance of…supremacy.” Or, there’s “God Made Us Do It: The Misuse of the Holy Bible,” in which he states, “Misinterpretation and misapplication of the Biblical text has been central to the rise of ‘race’ thinking. Distortion and out-of-context readings were used to sanction slavery. Clergy and lay people alike twisted the Scripture. [It] became a device that placed [‘White’] people close to God, while African people…were placed beyond the pale of salvation.”

This is something stubbornly evinced to this day in deluded depictions of Jesus as a blue-eyed Swede. In getting to the heart of the truth, Mahmoud El-Kati is probably the only essayist whose scope is far-reaching enough to quote George F. Will, Albert Einstein and James Baldwin all on the same page.

The Myth of Race, the Reality of Racism is a fine, fluid read that features a foreword by Alfred Babbington-Johnson with an introduction by John S. Wright. You really can’t go wrong by reading it.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses at P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.