Public Comment

Commentary: Your Black Muslim Bakery (Or What’s Left Of It)

By David Nebenzahl
Tuesday August 14, 2007

You’re gone now, it looks like for good. That’s a shame, at least for me personally. Let me explain. 

For the past five years or so, my breakfast has invariably consisted of a single cup of strong coffee, home-brewed, and one of your sweet rolls. The same thing every day for five years. Actually longer: When I lived on the Peninsula in the 1990s, I used to buy these same rolls from the now-departed Palo Alto Co-op. Back then they seemed somewhat exotic, coming from a place called “Your Black Muslim Bakery” and labeled “A Taste of the Hereafter.” 

In any case, they were damn good sweet rolls. I also treated myself to your excellent fish sandwiches from time to time.  

So even though I will definitely not miss the actions of the thugs who were part of your organization—the terrorizing of small liquor store owners, the Carrie Nation-like smashing of refrigerated cases, the over-the-top, racist ideology, the ersatz pseudo-religious mish-mash of Islam, fundamentalist Christianity and black nationalism—even though I found myself stepping into your shop with a lot of trepidation of late—I will miss your bakery and its products (and even its historic San Pablo storefront). 

I hasten to add that even though I witnessed your black-suited thugs smashing their way through local businesses on the TV news, and read about the criminal activities of your organization, I was always treated courteously in the bakery. The young people who worked there were very businesslike and treated their customers respectfully, no matter what color they were, and they all seemed genuinely concerned with running a neighborhood business properly. That, too, will be missed. 

(I leave speculating about the cause and implications of the demise of your organization to others, as will be unavoidable in the weeks to come. To me, it appears to be yet another case of a well-meaning group of people, struggling against injustice, who fall victim to the usual human shortcomings—greed, hubris, religious mania and messianic visions, and plain old corruption—in a spectacular, Shakespearean drama, leading to a final implosion. You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last.) 

So let me ask some of you, perhaps naively: Is it possible that you might be able to regroup yourselves, shake off the dust of this scandal and reopen your bakery? Preferably in, or somewhere near, the old location (I say selfishly). If you could somehow shed the ideological aspects of the operation, and just concentrate on producing sweet rolls, fish sandwiches, bean pies, cookies, cakes, and all the other good stuff you used to make, I think a lot of people would appreciate it. I know I would. 

And if running a bakery just happened to advance the cause of black economic empowerment in a depressed, predominantly black neighborhood, that would only be further to your credit.  


David Nebenzahl is an Oakland