[Documents menu] Documents menu

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 00:20:36 -0400
Message-Id: <199908290420.AAA19240@lists.tao.ca>
From: Art McGee <amcgee@igc.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Understanding the Essence of Malcolm X
Sender: worker-brc-news@lists.tao.ca
To: brc-news@lists.tao.ca
X-WWW-Site: http://www.blackradicalcongress.org/


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.

  • Given the cultural aggression and degradation which African people have suffered within a racist society, Malcolm believed that the liberation of Black people must begin with a healthy appreciation of self. The struggle for liberation must begin with self-respect and self-help. Black people must break the psychological, cultural, economic, and political dependency on the oppressor. This requires a knowledge of self and the maximizing of our own resources for self-help and self- development. Malcolm's goal was to see African-American people achieve self-reliance and independence.
  • Closely related to the above point is Malcolm's emphasis on the study of history. "Of all of our studies, history is most prepared to reward all research." Malcolm was concerned with probing for the true knowledge of the history of African people in the unfolding of human history and civilization. Hence, Black people must move beyond a Europeanized version of history to discover the real contributions of African people to human development. Of equal importance, Malcolm saw the study of history as a useful means of learning how other oppressed peoples had gained their freedom.
  • As a proponent of Black Nationalism, Malcolm advocated that African-American people must control the politics and economics within the African-American community. Black people should strive to establish control over the territory where we have been forced to subsist by a racist and exploitive society. Control of the African-American community was just a starting point for the struggle for complete separation and independence from an oppressive country. Africans in America are not the least duty bound to hold allegiance to a government or nation that has not held allegiance to African-American people.
  • Malcolm X was a Pan-Africanist and an internationalist. His study of history gave him to a deep appreciation for Africa and African people the world over. On the question of identity, Malcolm X was clear that we are an African people whose destiny is inextricably linked to our African homeland. As an internationalist, Malcolm taught that as Africans in America we should not view ourselves as a minority in this country, but as a part of the majority of people in the world who are Black people and people of color. Hence, African Americans should build cultural, economic, and political bridges to our African homeland and similar ties and alliances with other oppressed people internationally.
  • Malcolm also taught that the quest for African-American liberation in the U.S. was a human rights struggle, not just a matter of civil rights. Like William Paterson and Paul Robeson before him, Malcolm argued that human rights, or those rights that all human beings are entitled to, supersede civil rights, or those rights which may be granted by a particular government. Therefore, Malcolm was determined to take the U.S. government to the United Nations and before the World Court to charge this country with genocide for past and present violations of the human rights of Africans in America.
  • Though Malcolm never advocated initiating acts of violence against other people, he was firmly committed to the principle of self-defense. He did not believe that African Americans were obligated to be "non-violent" in the face of violent attacks against African-American people by white racist elements or oppressive authorities in the U.S. His famous "freedom by any means necessary" position was intended to suggest that Black people should use whatever strategies and tactics that produce a rational and positive result-the ballot or the bullet, non-violent peaceful protest or armed resistance f against enemy attack.
  • Finally, Malcolm's position evolved from an analysis based exclusively on race and racism to a race-class analysis which indicated racism, capitalism, and r imperialism as systemic manifestations of global white supremacy and domination. To his death Malcolm remained a Black nationalist. However, his break with the Nation of Islam, and his subsequent international travels, particularly his pilgrimage to Mecca where he learned and witnessed universal brotherhood as taught by orthodox Islam, broadened Malcolm's perspectives on a range of issues and questions. He moved beyond a simplistic, "the white man is the devil" analysis to an appreciation of racism and economic exploitation as functions of a system of global exploitation and oppression. Malcolm was still growing and evolving when he died.

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

BRC-NEWS: Black Radical Congress - General News/Alerts/Announcements
Subscribe: Email "subscribe brc-news" to <majordomo@tao.ca>