Rightfully, we pause to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. every year. Wrongfully, Malcolm X is still not so well received. Sadly, Brother Malcolm’s birthday often comes and goes without the majority of people realizing it. There is no fanfare in most quarters. No parades, no holiday, no television specials, no proclamations from the mayor … nothing. Be honest, do YOU know the date of his birth? This year, February 21 marks the 50th anniversary of Malcolm’s assassination. It too will pass without many taking notice. Yet he remains!
Despite willful national amnesia, Malcolm continues to occupy a special place in our consciousness and consciences. He comforts us with his disarming, warm smile. He pricks us with his masterful rhetoric. He motivates us with his unconditional love. He shames us with his critiques of our self-loathing, selfishness, ignorance and spinelessness. He emboldens us with his courage in the face of racism and hate. As Ossie Davis proclaimed in his eulogy of Malcolm, even in death he remains “our shining black prince.”
Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that Malcolm fiercely loved and labored for justice. Though not formally educated, he was one of the greatest organic-intellectuals America has produced. He was unsurpassed in his ability to contextualize race, politics and struggle in a way that resonated with the common man and woman. He was simultaneously incredibly intelligent, analytical, strategic and dedicated. This is a rarely encountered combination in a world now largely ruled by selfish, opportunistic cowards.
Malcolm’s legacy is important because, in word and deed, he was a great teacher. He taught black people that “revolution” is not a dirty word — it just means change. Revolution is, in fact, essential for the oppressed. If you are person of good conscience and do not want change on the societal level, then it is you, not the revolutionary, who is insane. Malcolm taught us to not be afraid of change. God knows he went through changes himself. He was many people — psychologically abused student, displaced child, street-hustler, pimp, dope-dealer, dope-addict, numbers-runner, self-hater, thief, convict, Nation of Islam minister, husband, father, orthodox Muslim, OAAU founder, Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Satan, Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. No matter how he changed, for a good deal of his adult life he was always guided by one goal — the dismantling of oppressive structures and cultures. He died on his feet, not his knees, fighting for it.
People respect Malcolm because he taught us to move, live and breathe in this world with courage, conviction and pride. He spoke his mind. He told the truth. He stood up to whites and complacent blacks — especially those in power. He did it all, and he seemed to look over his shoulder at his hesitant brothers and sisters cowering behind him, smile, stretch out his hand to them and say, “See, you can stand up with dignity and win. Look at me, I’m still alive. You can do it, too.” Something inside of him was so strong. Unlike many of the poor excuses we see today, he was a man!
Malcolm was taken from us before he saw his 40th birthday. He is dead now. Dead and safe. Paper revolutionaries, false prophets, and exploitative activists can love him now. Selfish, individualistic free-riders who have benefited from his struggle without any risk to themselves can now speak his name. Some black bourgeois vulgar careerists even have pictures of him in their offices and homes now. To be sure, he would not have graced their walls fifty years ago. They quote him now even though very few of them would have stood with him at the Audubon Ballroom or anywhere else. “By any means necessary” they say … until trouble comes. Then they disappear or switch sides. As the “Last Poets” said, they “love to talk like Malcolm, but they didn’t love Malcolm.” Thankfully, these are safer times.
So, yes — it’s ok to love Malcolm now. You’d better love him! He deserves it, because he loved us for so long when we hated and condemned him. He loved us when we didn’t even know how to love ourselves. Never forget him. Never dishonor him. Never allow the undeserving to adopt him and abuse his words. Much love, brother.
Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools!