Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 00:20:36 -0400
Beyond Fad and Fashion: Understanding the Essence of Malcolm X
By Ron Daniels. 29 August 1999
[Keep in mind that this article was written in 1997, so the part about Malcolm X memorabilia being hot is way off <grin>]
There is no more popular political leader among young African Americans today than El Hajji Malik Shabazz, Malcolm X. From the Autobiography of Malcolm X to tapes of his speeches, everything about "Our Black Shining Prince" is in high demand. Malcolm X memorabilia are the hottest items on the market with street vendors and Black-oriented gift shops. Malcolm X buttons, t-shirts, posters, and the popular X caps are visible everywhere. There is no doubt that it has become quite fashionable to be down with Malcolm.
For those of us who consider ourselves sons and daughters of Malcolm X, this remarkable resurgence of interest in Malcolm is refreshing and encouraging. Young African Americans seem to have gravitated towards Malcolm because they sense a certain "no sell-out" quality to Malcolm's character. But the fascination with Malcolm X, to the extent that it is mere fad and fashion, also carries with it certain dangers. The profound meaning of Malcolm's life and the legacy which he bequeathed to African people world-wide and to oppressed humanity could be obscured and trivialized because of a lack of knowledge about the man and his mission. Hence, there is the challenge to young brothers and sisters, the new generation of leadership, to understand the essence of Malcolm X and to study the basic tenets of his teachings. Beyond simply sporting an X cap, the challenge is to understand the nature of Malcolm's evolution and development into on of the greatest African leaders in our history. He was born May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska as Malcolm Little. He died February 21, 1965 as El Hajji Malik Shabazz, felled by assassins' bullets at the Audubon Ballroom in upper Harlem. This 39-year sojourn is one of the greatest sagas of human transformation in the annals of African world history. From my vantage point, this transformation from Malcolm Little/"Detroit Red" to Malcolm X/El Hajji Malik Shabazz stands as a testimony to the possibilities of an individual and a people to rise above their oppression in the struggle for liberation. Malcolm's continued capacity for growth and development, his unflinching commitment to African people and oppressed humanity, and his courageous, selfless service to his people, even in the face of death, are the hallmarks of Malcolm's character.
Malcolm Little spent only a brief time in his native Omaha, Nebraska. Much of his early life was spent in Lansing, Michigan and later in the growing ghettos of Detroit, Boston, and New York. Like so many young African-American men today, Malcolm was a "manchild in the promised land," seemingly condemned to a life of poverty, vice, and violence. He was a troubled spirit who was forced to cope with the trauma of the murder of his father for being a "uppity nigger" (Malcolm's father was an organizer for Marcus Garvey's Universal Improvement Association--UNIA). He witnessed the trials and tribulations of a devoted mother struggling against terrible odds. To keep the family together within a racist and oppressive society. It was/is the kind of stuff that has turned so many young African-American men to the streets.
Detroit Red was a hoodlum, a drug pusher, and a pimp. Characteristic of a people victimized by oppression, Malcolm Little, aka Detroit Red, turned his anger and his frustrations into anti-social behavior against other victims of oppression. He became an agent and accomplice to America's genocidal exploitation and disregard for African-American people. He was an agent of destruction and death among a battered and abused people.
In reality there was absolutely nothing inherently wrong with young Malcolm. There was and still is something inherently wrong with the system. Malcolm Little/Detroit Red was not born a criminal. He was criminalized by a criminal system. Malcolm was not born a hustler. He became a hustler within a system which denies African-American people full economic and political parity in this nation. Malcolm was not born violent. He became violent within a system which breeds violence and thrives on violence. In fact Malcolm, like so many "boyz in the hood," was an intelligent, resourceful, even brilliant human being. It was this socio- economic and political context which must be understood if we are to grasp the full meaning of Malcolm's evolution and development and its significance to the situation of Africans in America today.
Malcolm's life of crime eventually landed him in prison. What is noteworthy about Malcolm's tenure in the penitentiary, however, is that he turned prison into a classroom, a veritable university where his God-given talents began to flourish. He read every book in the prison library and took it upon himself to learn and master every word in an edition of Webster's dictionary. Malcolm broke the psychological and cultural chains that had bound him and was transformed. He was transformed from an agent of oppression to an agent for the liberation of Black people.
Malcolm's joining the Nation of Islam under the guidance of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad was a crucial factor in Malcolm's transformation from Malcolm Little, aka Detroit Red, to Malcolm X. After his pilgrimage to Mecca and conversion to orthodox Islam, Malcolm became and would remain a devout Muslim for the rest of his life. The teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad became the foundation for the Black nationalist philosophy which Malcolm X so forcefully articulated. Out of the crucible of racial and economic oppression in a racist and exploitive nation would emerge a revolutionary Black nation nationalist freedom fighter; a freedom fighter whose life, philosophy, and example should serve as a guide to young African Americans today.
The following are a few basic points which every young African American should know about the philosophy of Malcolm X. They constitute an essential beginning to the study of Malcolm X and should be considered only as an outline for more indepth inquiry.
These, then, are a few basic points which form the basis for a beginning inquiry into the essence of Malcolm X: the man, his life, and his mission. Up from the devastating depths of oppressive ghetto life, Malcolm came to symbolize uncompromising resistance to racism and oppression. He embodied our hopes for what we can become as a free and self-determining people. He illustrated, without a doubt, that all of us can rise above the limitations imposed by an oppressive system to strike powerful blows for our own freedom and liberation.
Beyond mere fad and fashion young African Americans must keep the legacy of Malcolm alive through the deeds performed in the struggle for liberation in their daily lives. Long live El Hajji Malik Shabazz!
Ron Daniels serves as national co-chairperson of the National Malcolm X Commemoration Commission and was the coordinator of the National a Malcolm X Day Proclamation Ceremony in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1990. He is available for lectures at colleges and universe.
Copyright (c) 1997 Black Collegiate Services/The Black Collegian Magazine
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