Individual ambition is a very repugnant trait among white people. And there are three reasons why being ambitious on an individual level is such a repulsive thing if you’re a white person:
First, the entire white population is propped up by a global economic system (capitalism) that makes it easier for us to gain access to resources at the expense of everyone else. So, whenever we focus on an individual’s success, we’re ignoring the reality that– if they are part of the European or white population– they are just climbing up on the backs of violently oppressed Indigenous/Native peoples, African/Black people and the majority of humanity. That’s really not very impressive at all. And to think it is impressive not only shows we’re ignorant, but that we are proud of our ignorance.
The second reason that individual ambition is a repugnant trait among whites is that it indicates we are failing to recognize why we have become successful. If we recognized why the individual white person has become a “success story,” we would know that they are entirely powerless outside their class, and their class gets all its power from a political system (capitalism).
You might say, “Well, I’m not into politics, and I dislike all systems.” But you do like being able to get out of bed in the morning. You liked being able to go to bed the night before and get plenty of sleep. And you like to sleep in a neighborhood that has been made safe for you. You like a full stomach. You enjoy drinking clean water and bathing in water that is clean– water that, in both instances, isn’t poisoned. You enjoy being able to wear clothes to keep you warm.
And there isn’t one individual in the entire United States– if not the entire world– who has been able to provide any of these necessities for themselves without the work of the people first supporting them. Any additional wealth or satisfaction that you may get from your own work has only been made possible by the workers in your own class or– if you are not part of the working class– by the exploited workers below your class. And how was all this made possible? By a system of economic exploitation– by capitalism.
So, while we may not be involved in political debates, and while we may not give much thought to who is running the government (Democrat or Republican), nevertheless, our individual desire to survive, and grow, and improve our own lives, has been combined with similar desires of people who share our interests– which have become class interests— and this force of mass power is what determines our ability to do anything.
But if white people in the United States were to look at the labels on our clothes, and where our food comes from, and the parts for our phones and other electronic devices, and if we were to consider how we have been empowered to live in houses on Indigenous land, we would recognize that we gain access to all these resources entirely on account of a system of power. Without the military, the police, the courts, Congress, the White House, local governments, corporations big and small, immigration agents, and all the institutions and structures of capitalism, white people would not only lack all the wealth and power we enjoy (at whatever level we happen to enjoy it), but Europeans wouldn’t even be able to exist in this part of the world, so far away from Europe.
Therefore, anything we do on an individual level is only in addition to— it’s only on top of— the power we have as a class of white colonizers who occupy Indigenous land and who benefit from the colonial exploitation of Africans, Indigenous peoples and most communities outside Europe. We can only enjoy these benefits– as “Americans” and as the “white majority”– because a system of power has been built to satisfy our basic needs, and then provide us opportunities to add onto these benefits: as industrialists, as missionaries, as “pioneers” in covered wagons, and as small business owners, artists, academics, and as colonizers with advanced degrees.
If you only focus on the things added to the top– the things we may brag about, or struggle to stay humble about– then, yes, these things might be a little impressive. But if you recognize that our ability to do any of these things, or even live at all– at least as white people in the United States– comes entirely from a system of power that benefits us at the expense of Black people/Africans and the majority of humanity, then any personal ambition on our part is exposed as inhumane, and repugnant, and just plain wrong.
And there is a third reason that individual ambition among whites is wrong. The first two reasons have a material or objective basis, but the third reason has a religious basis– it has to do with our belief in God. If you don’t believe in God, or religion, then you can just go by the first two reasons– which are actually connected to the third reason, on account of the greater Power of the Creator, the One deity: Allah.
But let’s take my own life as an example. I haven’t done anything in my life through my own power or effort. I haven’t provided anything for myself. I’m not self-sufficient at all but am entirely dependent on the Mercy of Allah. And Allah has provided everything to me through His Mercy.
If we consider my own situation many years ago as a helpless child, it was Allah– the One God, the Provider– who provided me a mother who then fed me, and held me, and protected me from the heat of summer and the cold of winter. I would have died without her care. No ambition on my part could account for my survival, or my development as an individual person, or any good that may have been derived from this life after surviving those early years.
After all, where did any of these ideas of goodness originate? I would be very proud to say that they have come out of my own imagination. Because, just as we can’t create a tree that gives us fruit or the materials for our house, we also can’t say that we create ideas. All we can do is absorb these ideas from our environment. And none of us could survive long enough to absorb these ideas if Allah hadn’t created the tree to give us fruit or the wood for our homes, as well as everything else in the material universe. Allah is the only Creator of the universe– the Lord of the worlds and all that exists– so any advancement we may have been blessed to experience within His creation is entirely due to his Power. Alhamdulillah. All praise and thanks are due to Allah. And, indeed, Allah is over all things the Most Powerful.
Allah has blessed me so extensively through his Power and Mercy that it would only be ingratitude on my part to believe anything in my life was accomplished on my own, and was just a result of my “hard work,” “initiative,” “smarts,” and “ingenuity.” But if we go back to the material basis for my advancement as an individual, and connect this to the Truth and the Power of the God who is One, then we know that the gratitude we show for His Power– which is entirely Self-Sustaining, and upon which all things depend for their existence– does not include any behavior on our part that contradicts His Truth.
In other words, if we steal from someone– such as snatch a grandmother’s purse, or steal Africans from their land, and then steal their land, and their resources, and culture, and refuse to pay reparations— then we cannot (by definition) be truly grateful for any stolen fruits that we may be enjoying after Allah had already provided the victims these fruits. In fact, such behavior indicates instead that we have “a god-complex”: we seem to believe we can give and take away life (or the things which sustain life, which is practically the same) and this makes us look like we believe that we are gods. There is only One God, One Creator. But by putting the individual ahead of the masses– ahead of the many people who make up His creation– then it seems we are just behaving like the devil, who was rejected because of his pride.
So, if we are grateful for what Allah has provided to us, this is not the same as smugly believing we are “blessed” with all these comforts– or “the American way of life”– when the material reality is that we are sitting on a mountain of stolen wealth and power. The objective truth is that our elevated situation– that we enjoy in “America” as whites– has come at the expense of the global majority (mainly “people of color”) whose labor, resources, land, culture and lives are being exploited by a system of power (capitalism) that benefits us.
Since humans have been created to struggle– to give praise and thanks to Allah and to do good deeds– then any consciousness we may gain of this unbalance or inequality in our conditions should inspire us to work against the system that brought it about. And even this growing consciousness is not something we can take credit for, as if the idea to fight systemic oppression– such as white supremacy and patriarchy– originated in our own imagination.
All Knowledge comes from Allah, and so, once we are taught anything, it is our responsibility to educate the masses, to engage in mass political education, and to allow people to gain consciousness of this knowledge. By doing this, we can (if God wills) move conditions closer to those that are just and equal, and bring about a qualitative change to the system of power and societies on earth. However, in order to do any of this, each of us may be required to look beyond the individual and our individual ambition, and recognize that we are obligated– while we are living– to struggle.