It’s 2:30 in the morning and my House of Cards binge has sadly come to an end. No more episodes to watch until next season and now I can’t sleep. For those of you unfamiliar with House of Cards, it’s an original Netflix series about a ruthless, power-hungry congressman and is based on the British series of the same name. House of Cards kept me hooked for the following reasons: 1.) It’s set in D.C. Not too many T.V series actually take place in Washington, so that’s kind of cool. I LOVED the opening credits with all the scenes of D.C streets and buildings. 2.) It captures this world where everyone is constantly scheming for more power and prestige. Does this world actually exist? And if it does, am I at a disadvantage in life because I don’t have a calculating, ruthless mind? I mean, when I was a kid the only card game I liked was War because it was based on luck, not strategy. So I really, really, don’t have the get ahead at any cost gene in me, but I am fascinated by those who do. I grew up in a household that valued fairness above all else, even if it got in the way of getting ahead — and I have to admit I sometimes wonder if this resulting lack of competitiveness and intensely focused ambition makes me an ill-fit for a town like D.C. But oh well, that’s a matter for another blog post.
So there I was, lying in bed contemplating the callous political maneuverings of Francis Underwood when I suddenly found myself thinking about a group of African-American men I’ve seen protesting/preaching at the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro Station on many occasions. How this thought-process came about, I don’t know. Anyway a friend dropped me off at H&M on Friday (amazing deals going on there, by the way — I got 18 items for $130!) and when we passed by the Chinatown station, I saw this group of maybe 8 or 10 African-American men dressed mostly in black and camouflage preaching in a rather combative, militant manner. Like I said, I’ve seen them before and I’d always wondered who they were and what and who they represented. I vaguely remember them preaching against white people and homosexuality in the past, but not knowing much else about this group, I took a couple of pictures from the car and made a mental note to look into the matter.
Because I wasn’t having any luck falling asleep tonight, I decided it would be as good a time as any to do a little research. Google informed me that these men belong to the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge,which is based out of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. I was able to find their website (see below) where I learned that the ISUPK describe themselves as a “faith-based community organization” (though I’m unclear if they consider themselves Jewish or Christian) whose mission is to “awaken” urban America, “where hunger, drug addiction, and single parenting [plague] the…streets and homes of America.” They also strongly believe in helping urban Americans live a sober life within a strong family unit free of government dependency. Still interested in learning more? Click here. This may seem harmless enough, but the group often spews pretty vehement anti-gay rhetoric and from what I’ve read, they believe that white people are “devils” and will be enslaved (at best) and slaughtered (at worst) when Jesus comes again. The ISUPK belong to a larger, better known movement/religious organization known as the Black Hebrew Israelites, who see themselves as descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel. There’s an interesting 2011 article in the Village Voice that does a pretty in-depth profile of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement in New York City; the article states that the Black Hebrew Israelites consider themselves Jewish, although they are, for the most part, not accepted as Jewish by the mainstream Jewish community. According to the article, these “prophets” often call women “bitches” and “whores” and view homosexuality as “a plot to destroy the human race.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the group is “extremist” and states that they promote black supremacist views. If you want to hear their sermons in action, just type “Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge” in the YouTube search bar and you’ll get plenty of clips. And if, like me, you’re still intrigued by the ISUPK, you can read this interview with General Yahanna, a leader within the ISUPK. I will be honest and say the interview gave me chills because the group’s message and beliefs seem to be so blatantly hateful — I’m all for religious freedom, but as someone who grew up in a very secular household, I sometimes have trouble understanding and yes, even tolerating, extreme/dogmatic religious teachings and beliefs. But if Mr. Yahanna’s interview leaves you wanting to learn more about the why behind the group’s message (because there is always a reason, whether real or perceived, that these groups come into existence), there’s an interesting article from the New York Times on gentrification and street preaching on H Street.
To be honest, it is the reasons behind the creation and formation of these types of organizations and movements (whether founded and followed by African-Americans, Caucasians, men, women, Christians, Muslims, anarchists, etc) that interest me more than their actual teachings or beliefs. Are these groups — which seem to promote fear and hate — themselves born of fear? Or is it more a desire for freedom and opportunity? Do they feel threatened and/or oppressed within the framework of mainstream American society? Do they come from broken, unhappy homes and need something to believe in — to devote their lives and minds to? Or is it all a farce? My guess is that it’s a combination of factors but that poverty and a general belief — probably at least somewhat grounded in reality — of belonging to a consistently oppressed, marginalized, misunderstood and “forgotten” underclass probably plays the biggest role.