In 1992, I was 11 years old when Spike Lee dropped his most complex and monumental joint, “Malcolm X,” and I remember like last payday how every Uncle Terry I knew lost their alabaster minds without even seeing the fucking flick. From church parking lots to the horseshoe pits they was pissed the fuck off and were running on very little info, of course.
They “knew” that Malcolm X was a pro-violence Muslim who had disrespected JFK, and that Spike Lee was a black nerd, a Nike lover and a troublemaker, whom they felt should keep his New York mouth shut, and they knew that the film opened with Spike Lee burning the American flag, which is true, sorta, as Denzel Washington, delivers one of Malcolm’s more impassioned speeches condemning white America for its 400-year-old crime spree on humanity, and they knew that the film was a love letter to the Nation Of Islam, the “prison religion,” as it was referred to back then by shivering Christians being hit with the tides of change.
And that’s about it. On what they knew about a film they never saw. A film about a man they hated by a reputation they had cobbled together out of hearsay. A film that now sits in the Library of Congress for being, you know, “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant,” but this was ‘92 — the nation was selling Operation Desert Storm trading cards to kids, sleeping on water beds, eating pizza rolls and trying its hardest to fake-believe rock and roll was still relevant.
By summer ‘93, Malcolm X seemed to be everywhere, in my neighborhood and beyond. People were reading Alex Haley’s autobiography on Malcolm and the X could be found on everything from snapback caps, to T-shirts, to posters hanging in bedrooms. The X could be seen shaved in the side of youthful heads and — boy oh boy, were those who were white, crunchy and out of step with time not happy about that. They were lost in the dark and confused, wholly and completely.
That summer I went to the Jefferson Mall with my moms and had a life lesson permanently branded upon my brain. This was the ‘90s, pre-Amazon America in a shopping mall on a Saturday — the joint was hoppin’ to say the least, with good people everywhere. We were walking around, looking into windows, for the most part, when I caught eye of this guy coming towards us in a pushy posture. He was wearing combat boots, camouflage pants and a Confederate flag T-shirt with the words “They Have Their X and I Have Mine” written across it. The dude looked mad and was sweaty as he heaved himself passed us in a dodgy matter. I was a freshly turned 11-year-old white kid who had witnessed a blue-million, wretched old, white baby boomers and dip-shit generation Xers say, support and display racist shit. So at first I just wrote the dude off as just another Kentucky asshole who had crawled out of the creek bed of Kentucky assholes to come looking for some Megadeath records on the cheap at the mall. But I was way wrong — something much more malicious was going down, something that up to that time, I had not yet witnessed for myself, and it took me a moment to mull it over and figure it out. While sitting in the food court, we saw him for the third time, and that’s when it dawned on me: This guy wasn’t shopping — he was making a statement. He was on full parade, walking the mall, back and forth trying to intimidate everyday people getting their shopping done with his asinine, retaliation flea market attire, “They Have Their X and I Have Mine” and he wanted someone, anyone to tell him he was wrong, so he could explode, like a hot litter box filled to the brim with C-4 and cat shit. The dude was seething with corn-fed stupidity and white, watered down Jesus hostility. Just one more lunkhead who knew two things to be true: He was a beacon in a world of fog, and the South was gonna rise again. But no one that I saw engaged him in any way that day. He was, from where I stood, completely ignored.
Walt Whitman once wrote: “Whoever degrades another degrades me. And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.” And it’s on all this shit I’m contemplating today.