El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, Race & Politics
(This tome is also subtitled "Shanikka's Sort-Of Response to Armando's Call to Discuss Racism)."
I want to talk about El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. Friday was his birthday. He would have been 81 years old, had he not died 41 years ago. I wrote some of what follows as a passing comment on My Left Wing on Friday. Someone said that it should really be made a diary. The result herein is an apt example of "be careful of what you ask for, because you may get it", given its length. But my apologies, as usual, for that fact. Chalk it up to this being only the 2nd diary I've written in a month. On the other hand, this is bad even for me - I've had to cut out in the interests of mercy on the reader, much of what I have written. So think of this, I guess, as the first part of a series. A series that, hopefully, will further a conversation about race, mainstream politics, and the role of African-Americans in each from a different perspective than has been discussed in most leftist political blogs before.
Anyhow, let's start with what may some day be called "Part I."
The man who died El Hajj Malik al Shabazz on February 21, 1965, who was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, and who was best known to the world as Malcolm X, was a man greatly misunderstood both during his lifetime and beyond.
This is my favorite picture of him, and Dr. King - and probably the most representative of how I feel about all the things each man fought for and what their efforts meant to each other, and to Black people:
Most people in the mainstream don't know (or don't want to know because it's inconvenient for their post-hoc reconstruction of Dr. King's views) that at the end of their respective lives, Dr. King and Malcolm X were politically moving towards each other, in terms of viewpoints about the struggle and methods. Over the years I have had many moments of fantasy about what could have been, for African-Americans, if Malcolm had continued to live even until Dr. King was killed 3 years later. Most Americans have this fantasy that it was Dr. King who was successful all by his lonesome, his Christian non-violence movement morally swaying Americans to his view, and that other than "small details", America itself has truly changed. And, but for folks -- mostly of color -- who just won't "move on", has solved its race problem.
Whereas if you actually study the history and compare on the ground to what exists today, it becomes obvious that but for Malcolm X, and the subsequent ascension of the Black Nationalist movement including its champions the Black Panthers in the urban areas, Dr. King's success --transitory as it appears to be, in hindsight -- was directly correlated with majoritarian America seeing full frontal what the alternative could be and *would be.*
What could have been, had they both lived. I suspect that a lot of things we still talk about and struggle about today would have been resolved long ago. I know that when I first heard The Ballot or The Bullet as a college student in 1978, I cried, knowing he was dead and that the brutal, practical advice to African-Americans about how to succeed long term and *permanently* in our struggle for our due in this country was rapidly being shunted away as "violence" and "hatred" for self-serving political reasons, and no more.
Malcolm X was assassinated in February, 1965, at the early ascendancy of his movement -- the Organization for Afro-American Unity, whose charter had been presented for the first time only 1 week before his death -- so it is difficult to make an assessment of whether he was or was not "successful in practice". Yet the charter is an informative document because it does establish a set of goals against which we can measure other movements that continued after his death. It advocated a practical prescription for the collective development of African Americans in America. This is because of Malcolm X's perspective on what the problem was:
Whether you are -- Whether you are a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Nationalist, we all have the same problem. They don’t hang you because you’re a Baptist; they hang you 'cause you’re black. They don’t attack me because I’m a Muslim; they attack me 'cause I’m black. They attack all of us for the same reason; all of us catch hell from the same enemy. We’re all in the same bag, in the same boat. We suffer political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation -- all of them from the same enemy. The government has failed us; you can’t deny that. Anytime you are living in the twentieth century and you are still walkin' around here singing “We Shall Overcome,” the government has failed you.(BTW, throughout this I have made changes from the text shown at the American Rhetoric site, because they are necessary to restore the words that Malcolm X actually spoke. I am always amused at the numerous "errors" in transcriptions at the American Rhetoric site in fiery Black speeches, including Malcolm's.)
This is part of what’s wrong with you -- you do too much singing. Today it’s time to stop singing and start swinging. You can’t sing up on freedom, but you can swing up on some freedom. Cassius Clay can sing, but singing didn’t help him to become the heavy-weight champion of the world -- swinging helped him become the heavy-weight champion.
This government has failed us; the government itself has failed us. And the white liberals who have been posing as our friends have failed us.
Today, Malcolm X's face hangs in my living room, making me one of the few Black folks of a certain age that don't have the Holy Trinity (John Kennedy -- with Jackie or without; Robert Kennedy and Dr. King) as their visual savior hanging next to the default image (the propaganda image) of Jesus Christ himself. There is a reason for my choice of visual savior.
And no, it's not because I'm "violent". I no longer become as enraged as I used to when I hear folks spout the usual "violent" tripe. But I still get disgusted. Anyone who actually listened to his speeches, studied the development of his political philosophy over time, and took to heart his words, particularly post-Mecca , would know with certainty that a desire for violence against anyone simply did not exist in Malcolm X. It was neither his motivation nor his method. Although he rightfully pointed out the hypocrisy of this particular charge against him, given the history of revolutionary violence in America:
When this country here was first being founded, there were 13 colonies. The whites were colonized. They were fed up with this taxation without representation. So some of them stood up and said "Liberty or Death!". . .The white man made the mistake of letting me read his history books. He made the mistake of teaching me that Patrick Henry was a patriot. And George Washington? Wasn't nothing non-violent about old Pat! Or George Washington. "Liberty or Death!" was what brought about the freedom of whites in this country from the English. They didn't care about the odds. Why, they faced the wrath of the entire British empire...Yet these 13 little scrawny states, tired of taxation without representation. Tired of being exploited and oppressed and degraded. Told that big British Empire: "Liberty or Death!" And here you have 22 million Afro-Americans, Black people today, catching more hell than Patrick Henry ever saw.Today, the number of Americans of African descent living in America is no longer 22,000,000, but around 37,000,000, taking into account the structural undercounting of the census (which reports 35 million.) Since we know with certainty that there has been no racial Revolutionary War equivalent post-1964, it's easy to ask: has there been an elimination of the conditions that Malcolm X referred to as "hell" -- political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation? Malcolm X believed they were sufficient to justify the comparison between the feelings of the Founding Fathers when they went to war to create America and "This new Black man.....this new generation" in 1964 faced with what Malcolm X described as "hell?" Has this been fixed?
We can all agree that today if hell continues to exist, it has quite a few differences from the hell than existed 42 years ago when Malcolm X gave The Ballot or the Bullet?" speech. A different version of hell than that existing 43 years ago when Dr. King told 250,000 people on the Washington Mall that he had a future dream (he first told them that America had given Blacks a check marked "insufficient funds" they'd come to collect, but most today block out that less utopian, yet primary, part of Dr. King's message at the March on Washington; that phenomena is something that if this really becomes a series will be Part II or Part III of the discussion.) We can all agree on some clear differences. The water hoses are gone; the dogs largely so (but not quite.) Bull Connor's dead, and George Wallace, and even the hated J. Edgar Hoover, the scourge of the Black liberation movement if ever there was one. At the most practical, day to day level of life, one can indeed now eat at an integrated restaurant, drink water from a single water fountain, watch a movie from somewhere other than the balcony, and pee in an integrated toilet. Certainly there is much less physical violence perpetrated by supremacist whites. One can even now vote (at least in theory; see 2000 and 2004) and not worry much about hanging from a tree burnt up and castrated the next morning. And certainly, today an overtly white supremacist candidate can no longer be elected to any national office. These are all differences - good one.
But if one is honest one cannot end the inquiry there. One has to ask instead: Are the types of problems listed above the only, or even primary, "hell" that Malcolm X was referring to? No. Remember, he said that the problem was summarized as three distinct ills: political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation. At the time he lived, that also included the larger problems for day-to-day Black life that by 1965 had millions of African-Americans functionally or literally illiterate and unable to access a decent education all the way through 12th grade; unable to work because of skills or training or racial discrimination, or working only under unfair conditions; unable to eat healthfully, eat at more than a subsistence level or occasionally eat at all; forced to live in slum housing largely concentrated in run down ghettos, to pay premium prices for the privilege and live in crowded conditions, all as the alternative to no housing at all; subject to constant police surveillance and, at times, harassment and brutality; and without decent medical care, responsible for the premature death and shortened at-birth life expectancy of African-Americans. Both Dr. King and Malcolm X at various points in their lives believed that all of these things needed to be addressed before their work was done.
Unfortunately, they haven't been.
I believe that the current situation 41 years after Malcolm X's death and 38 years after Dr. King's death speaks for itself. Just some snippets of what Black hell in America looks like right now, in case you didn't know:
I could go on, and on.
Increasingly, particularly since the recession began but no less than 15 years ago, you can find quiet discussions in the Black community about the clock being rolled back on our progress. On the only things that really mattered: what quality of life would be experienced by the average Black man or woman in America.? No matter how many of us have reached a "middle class" economic or educational security, this question increasingly haunts more and more of us. It's rather hard to ignore, at this point. And when you don't ignore it, an obvious question is clear: weren't a lot of these (other than the crack, anyhow) the same problems that existed back in 1964? Aren't they today just as bad, if not far worse for millions of people, if current statistics about Black America are to be believed?
Asking such questions leaves us with an unpleasant, but necessary truth: it is decidedly premature to say that collectively Black people have stopped catching all the hell that Malcolm X talked about. They haven't. Quite the opposite: some things, including some brand new vehicles of political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation unique to our times have made things horrifically worse. Conditions 41 years after Malcolm X's death are now in fact so hellish in some Black communities in America that Dante's Inferno is a far more apt descriptor of them. This is the case even as it is true that most folks are not consciously ascribing to racist views anymore. We have the theoretical cure part down pat - as a country, we can readily recite the "dream" of Dr. King and how much we believe in it. But what about the practical solutions that are necessary to make the entire dream reality?
Well, maybe not so good. Indeed, today, on the left you find a silence in the face of fact, when the issue of "what to do" is raised. You also occasionally get some stuff that doesn't sound all that much different from 1964, even though the speaker usually will go to the mat if you even hint that this type of stuff might reflect the "R word" (a reaction someone aptly pointed out is the closest white equivalent to the reaction of a Black person to being called a nigger by a white person.)
It's sort of sad, then, that it was easy for Malcolm X to look posit at least one practical solutions 42 years ago, in light of what he believed would be the case about America, based on what he already knew about America and its relationship to the descendents of its slave class:
And once we see that all these other sources to which we’ve turned have failed, we stop turning to them, and turn to ourselves.History reflects, however, that Malcolm X's solution of nationalistic self-reliance was never really tried -- and that he did not live a year after uttering these words. Why? Because the powers that be made clear that Black nationalism was categorically unacceptable. But rather than an honest rational case for why it was not a perfectly fine solution, the response of the majority of white America was to deem Malcolm X -- the man who died El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz -- a hater. A hater because he excluded whites from the implementation of his proposed solutions for Black political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation. And because he refused to adopt, as a Muslim, Dr. King's prescription of Christ-like non-violent moral suasion and integration with whites as the primary vehicle to achieve Black equality in America became the only white-approved method and thus, the only method that was encouraged and supported both economically and culturally by the majority (or superficially at least; see the Maybe Series, Part II)
We need a self-help program. A self-help philosphy. A do-it-yourself philosophy. A do-it-right-now philosophy. A it’s-already-too-late philosophy. This is what you and I need to get with, and the only time -- the only way we are going to solve our problem is with a self-help program. Before we can get a self-help program started we have to have a self-help philosophy.
Black nationalism is a self-help philosophy.
What's so good about it? You can stay right in the church where you are and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can stay in any kind of civic organization that you belong to and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. You can be an atheist and still take black nationalism as your philosophy. This is a philosophy that eliminates the necessity for division and argument. 'Cause if you are black you should be thinking black, and if you are black and you are not thinking black at this late date, well I’m sorry for you.
Once you change your philosophy, you change your thought pattern. Once you change your thought pattern, you change your -- your attitude. Once you change your attitude, it changes your behavior pattern and then you go on into some action. As long as you got a sit-down philosophy, you’ll have a sit-down thought pattern. And as long as you think that old sit-down thought you’ll be in some kind of sit-down action. They’ll have you sitting in everywhere.
It’s not so good to refer to what you’re going to do as a sit-in. That right there castrates you. Right there it brings you down. What -- What goes with it? What -- Think of the image of someone sitting. An old woman can sit. An old man can sit. A chump can sit. A coward can sit. Anything can sit. Well you and I have been sitting long enough, and it’s time today for us to start doing some standing. And some fighting to back that up.
40 years later one can make a pretty persuasive argument based on the evidence that what Black progress really got for the Faustian bargain that rejected Malcolm X's prescription because it would "harm the Negro cause", and focused all its efforts on moral suasion and integration based on showing whites that Blacks were actual human beings was nothing more than America wanted us to have in the first place. At least, nothing more if you measure what has been received in terms of a reduction of political oppression, economic exploitation and social degradation as measured by the day to day lives of most African-Americans not of the privileged middle or upper class. The bullet-points I made above could have stretched to the hundreds. It doesn't take much research to confirm that - research that I hope that anyone truly of good will will make the time to undertake.
But today's outcomes should have surprised nobody, really. Because if there was anything about Malcolm X, it was that he was prescient far beyond his formal education or personal experiences. He warned folks - but particularly African-American folks -- of the serious risks of following down the "officially sanctioned" path of integration as the plan to escape from "hell":
We have observed that the usage of the term "integration" was designated and promoted by those persons who expect to continue a (nicer) type of ethnic discrimination and who intend to maintain social and economic control of all human contacts by means of imagery, classifications, quotas, and manipulations based on color, national origin, or "racial" background and characteristics.Perhaps this level of human and cultural insight is why Malcolm X, and others like him, were marked for death fairly early on in the backlash and they felt that Dr. King - despite the March on Washington, despite his ongoing movement -- could wait to die another 3 years. Malcolm X was so brutally honest and non-compromising about his opinions and his principles no matter who he was talking to, Black or white, that I could imagine it must have been rather threatening. But it was always the case that Malcolm X's chosen strategy to tell the unvarnished truth. And that was not a reassuring truth, where America was concerned:
Careful evaluation of recent experiences shows that "integration" actually describes the process by which a white society is (remains) set in a position to use, whenever it chooses to use and however it chooses to use, the best talents of nonwhite people. This power-web continues to build a society wherein the best contributions of Afro-Americans, in fact of all nonwhite people, would continue to be absorbed without note or exploited to benefit a fortunate few while the masses of both white and nonwhite people would remain unequal and unbenefited.
America is just as much a colonial power as England ever was. America is just as much a colonial power as France ever was. In fact, America is more so a colonial power than they. Because she’s a hypocritical colonial power behind it.Malcolm X realized that embracing a deliberate, bold, in-your-face and most importantly *self-directed* strategy of identifying and unifying African-Americans as a colonized people within the borders of the United States had any hope of actually achieving *permanent* change in the Black collective (as opposed to change for Black individuals.) He realized that Blacks could no longer afford to play politics or patience in the same manner as had been practiced in the 70 or so years since the ascension of Jim Crow, with dashed hopes, generation after generation, that things would improve naturally over time. He knew that collectively, it was dangerous and not productive to think about our cause only within the parameters we were given leave to consider by someone else.
I have to stop and wonder - how many folks who will read this diary really *know* anything about Malcolm X? Besides the pat assessment: "not the right answer", "violent", "hatred"? Have you ever asked yourself why that was your answer, and then *confirmed* that your stated reasons had any factual legitimacy? Most folks sadly do not.
For example, most today point to Dr. King's stirring March on Washington speech (we call it the "I Have a Dream" speech, but considering that the dream part was a codicil prompted only after the speech was over by Marian Anderson, that's clearly not what the speech was called when it was actually given) that turned the tide, starting with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But you decide - can we say that with certainty? The Civil Rights Act passed nearly a year after Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963, the one that everyone on the left points to today as an example of his effectiveness in swaying hearts and minds. Yet the bill spent nearly a year in dormancy after being introduced in 1963, stalled by fierce opposition. It appeared certain to be going nowhere, yet again, after nearly a month of filibuster, the same as the bills that had been brought up in preceding years (but which had more teeth). Folks were just about ready to give up, yet again. And again, folks were told to be patient.
But then Malcolm X gave the speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet" I have been quoting above. It has a significant discussion in it about the Civil Rights Act and the filibuster which by then had been going on for almost a month. During a time when Dr. King's work and movement was focused almost entirely on either getting ready for or trying to control -- depending on whose perspective you take about the feelings between the elders of Dr. King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the youth leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee -- the SNCC brainchild Freedom Summer, trying to draw national attention to the problems in Mississippi and increase voter registration. In other words, the civil rights bill was not Dr. King's focus in his few public appearances in 1964, after he'd already been named Time's Man of the Year. No matter - despite Dr. King's comparable silence, in April 1964 the United States Senate was treated to a well-publicized Black analysis of its conduct in connection with the Civil Rights bill being filibustered with a vengeance:
I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago, while the Senators were filibustering, and I noticed in the back of the Senate a huge map. And on this map, it showed the distribution of Negroes in America. And surprisingly, the same senators that were involved in the filibuster were from the states with the most Negroes. Why were they filibustering the civil rights legislation? Because the civil rights legislation is supposed to guarantee voting rights to Negroes in those states. And those senators know that if the Negroes of those states can vote, those senators are down the drain. The representatives of those states go down the drain.
[I]n the Constitution of this country it has a stipulation wherein wherever the rights...the voting rights of people in a certain district are violated, then the representative who is from that particular district, according to the Constitution, is supposed to be expelled from the Congress. Now if this particular aspect of the Constitution were enforced, you wouldn't have a cracker in Washington, D.C.
But what would happen? When you expel the Dixiecrat, you're expelling the Democrat. When you destroy the power of the Dixiecrat, you're destroying the power of the Democratic Party. So how in the world can the Democratic Party in the South actually side with you, in sincerity? When all of its power is based in the South? These Northern Democrats are in cahoots with the Southern Democrats.
They're playing a giant con game. A political con game. You know how it goes. One of them comes to you, and makes believe he's for you. And he's in cahoots with the other one that is not for you. Why? Because neither one of them is for you. But they gotta make you go with one or the other. . .Lyndon B. Johnson's best friend [Richard Russell] is the one who is the head. . . who is heading the forces who are filibustering civil rights legislation. You tell me - how in the hell is he going to be Johnson's best friend? How can Johnson be his friend, and *your* friend too? . . .
So, it's the ballot, or the bullet. Today our people can see that we are faced with a government conspiracy. This government has failed us. The Senators who are filibustering concerning your and my rights? That's the government. stop saying that it's a Southern filibuster. It's not a segregationist filibuster. *It's is a government filibuster.* Any kind of activity that takes place on the floor of the House or the Senate, that's the government. Any kind of dilly-dallying - that's the government. Any kind of pussy-footing - that's the government. Any type of act that's designed to delay or deprive and you and me right now of getting full rights, that's the *government* that's responsible. And anytime you find a government involved in a conspiracy to violate the citizenship or the civil rigths of a people, then you are wasting your time going to that government expecting redress. Instead, you have to take that government to the World Court, and accuse it of genocide and all of the other crimes that it is guilty of today. . .So those of us whose political and economic and social philosophy is Black nationalism have become involved in the civil rights struggle. And we intend to expand it from the level of civil righhts to the level of human rights. As long as you fight it on the level of civil rights, you're under Uncle Sam's jurisidiction. You're going to his court expecting him to correct the problem. But he created the problem. He's the criminal. You don't take your case to the criminal - you take your criminal to court.
Within a week of this speech, Lyndon B. Johnson and Everett Dirksen -- the Republican without whose herculean and noble efforts the bill simply would not have passed -- pulled together a working group to begin, in earnest, work on a compromise bill that could actualy get passed in the Senate. The filibuster ultimately ended on June 10, 1964 and the Act was signed on July 2, 1964. Shortly thereafter, Johnson made his famous quote about having lost the South for a generation.
Yet it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was invited to the signing ceremony for the Civil Rights Act. Not the man whose fiery articulation to Blacks, in the midst of the filibuster, about what was really going on behind the filibuster, who was responsible, and what should happen if the bill was NOT passed -- that is most temporally connected to the passage, after years of failure, of a barely adequate, vague and definitely modest civil rights bill to guarantee some modicum of citizenship rights to Black folks. Except for one small thing: Malcolm X had already correctly identified the real problem as one not involving deprivation of just civil rights (the rights given by a society), but a deprivation of Black human rights.
Many people do not know that by the end of his life, Malcolm X was actively working to take the cause of American oppression against its Black minority to the United Nations, a strategy never even considered by the civil rights movement. He certainly had good reason to:
Now you tell me how can the plight of everybody on this earth reaches the halls of the United Nations, and you have 22 million Afro-Americans whose churches are being bombed? Whose little girls are being murdered? Whose leaders are being shot down in broad daylight? Now you tell me why the leaders of this struggle have never taken it before the United Nations. So our next move is to take the entire civil rights struggle . . .problem . . .into the United Nations. And let the world see that Uncle Sam is guilty of violating the human rights of 22 million Afro-Americans right down to the year 1964 and still has the audacity and the nerve to stand up and represent himself as the leader of the free world. Not only is he a crook, he’s a hypocrite. Here he is standing up in front of other people, Uncle Sam, with the blood of your and mine mothers and fathers on his hands. With the blood dripping down his jaws like a bloody-jawed wolf. And still got the nerve to point his finger at other countries. In 1964, you can’t even get civil rights legislation. And this man has got the nerve to stand up and talk about South Africa, or talk about Nazi Germany, or talk about Portugal. No. No more days like those.Merely uttering those words in 1964 as a Black man would have been a death sentence, sooner or later. It is only an accident of history that the Nation took him out before the government itself got around to it, IMO. (And given Manning Marable's discoveries, it may well be found out some day that the government *did* in fact get Malcolm X, after all.)
Too many on the left who claim to be friends of African-American interests insist on spending all their time distancing themself from the profound insight, truth and wisdom of the man who was born Malcolm Little, lived most of his adult life as Malcolm X, and died as El Hajj Malik el -Shabazz. This is usually accomplished by comparing Malcolm X to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These comparisons most often come in two forms: (a) arguments that Malcolm X was violent and a hater whereas Dr. King cared about "humanity"; and (b) Dr. King was "more effective" at achieving actual changes.
With regard to the first claim, the truth is that Malcolm X was not the hater both the right AND THE LEFT have spent so much effort trying to paint him as. He was, instead, a living example of the great wisdom of Che: "A true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love." Malcolm X's great love was for his people. There is no question that Bro. Malcolm loved Black people. But most importantly, he loved them at their lowest condition, in the ghettos, as much as he loved the women in the mosques. He did not demand that they be made over into someone else's image of what was "appropriate" as a condition of fighting for them and with them. If anything, he called for us to remake ourselves, first and foremost - so that we could take care of ourselves and stand as equals, without having to rely on larger American society for anything, let alone without having to plead or beg for anything. And without regard to the opinions of others about what was best for us.
But few outside the Black community focus on the unswerving love and dedication that Malcolm X had for all people by the end of his life. Even those who acknowledge subconsciously minimize it - by focusing on how much Malcolm had "changed", somehow, by the end of his death. It is true that he had changed in at least one sense. Malcolm X, at his death, no longer believed that whites were the devil, the twisted experiment of a mad scientist gone awry, a history of man that he had been taught by the Nation. He died seeing American whites as human beings -- or at least in their human potentiality, if the racism was stripped from their eyes and hearts. As he wrote in his letter from Mecca:
For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors. . .(I cannot help but note the painful irony of how most of America sees Islam post-9-11. As a religion of violence. Despite these words about Islam written 42 years ago by a man who never committed a violent act in his life that anyone can find.)
There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue eyed blonds to black skin Africans. But we were all participating in the same rituals, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had lead me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white.
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have considered 'white' -- but the 'white' attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions. This was not too difficult for me. Despite my firm convictions, I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experiences and new knowledge unfolds it. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed, (or on the same rug) -- while praying to the same God -- with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the same words and in the actions and in the deeds of the 'white' Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana.
We were truly all the same (brothers) -- because their belief in one God had removed the 'white' from their minds, the 'white' from their behavior, and the 'white' from their attitude.
I could see from this, that perhaps if white Americans could accept the Oneness of God, then perhaps, too, they could accept in reality the Oneness of Man -- and cease to measure, and hinder, and harm others in terms of their differences in color.
With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called 'Christian' white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster -- the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.
Each hour here in the Holy Land enables me to have greater spiritual insights into what is happening in America between black and white. The American Negro never can be blamed for his racial animosities -- he is only reacting to four hundred years of conscious racism of the American whites. But as racism leads America up the suicide path, I do believe, from the experience that I have had with them, that the whites of the younger generation, in the colleges and universities, will see the handwriting on the wall and many of them will turn to the spiritual path of truth -- the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.
Of course, as soon as he got home and did not immediately take up with the existing civil rights movement, and refused to create an integrated movement, continuing to insist on a separate movement for and by African-Americans, the cries of "hater" started right back up again. It is a sad comment about America and how little that it understands the issues that in his last speech outside of the OAUU before his death, Malcolm X spent valuable time taken from discussing the practical platform trying to help people understand his true racial views, and the hypocrisy of the "racist" and "violent" charges against him even after the Letter from Mecca:
Before I get involved in anything nowadays I have to straighten out my own position. And…which is clear. I am not a racist in any form whatsoever. I don’t believe in any form of racism. I don’t believe in any form of discrimination. Or segregation. I believe in Islam. I’m a Muslim. And there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim. Nothing wrong with the religion of Islam. That just teaches us to believe in Allah as the God. And those of you who are Christians probably believe in the same God.Someone on MLW referred to Malcolm's "time of clarity" in Mecca, his spiritual enlightment, as Malcolm X becoming more "peaceful". I hope they read this quote with open mind, and ask themselves: what did they really feel, claiming that Malcolm became "more peaceful" when (a) there is no evidence that Malcolm X was ever involved in a single violent event or act; and (b) Malcolm X's demand that Blacks preserve their right to self-defend against racist violence never wavered, right up until the last week of his life, so this is not something that Mecca changed?
Because I think you believe in the God who created the universe. And that’s the one we believe in, the one who created the universe. The only difference being that you call him God and we call him Allah. Jews call him Jehovah. If you could understand Hebrew, you’d probably call him Jehovah too. If you could understand Arabic, you’d probably call him Allah. But since the white man, your friend, took your language away from you during slavery, the only language you know is his language, your friend’s language. So you call for the same God he calls for. When he’s putting a rope around your neck, you call for God, and he calls for God. And you wonder why the one you call on never answers you.
But when I was in the Black Muslim movement they did not have the real religion of Islam in that movement – it was something else. But the real religion of Islam doesn’t teach anyone to judge another human being by the color of his skin. The yardstick that is used by the Muslim to measure another man is not the man’s color, but the man’s deeds, the man’s conscious behavior. The man’s intention. And if you use that as the standard of measurement or judgment, you never go wrong. . .
So when I got over there and went to Mecca and saw these people who were blond and blue eyed and pale skin I said “Well!” But I watched them closely. And I noticed that though they were white, and they would call themselves white, there was a difference between them and the white one over here. And that basic difference was this: in Asia or the Arab world or in Africa, where the Muslims are, if you find one who says he's white, all he's doing is using an adjective to describe something that's incidental about him, one of his incidental characteristics; so there's nothing else to it, he's just white.
But when you get the white man over here in America and he says he's white, he means something else. You can listen to the sound of his voice -- when he says he's white, he means "He's boss". That's right. That's what "white" means in this language. You know the expression, "Free, white, and twenty-one?" He made that up. He's letting you know all of them mean the same. "White" means free, boss. He's up there. So that when he says he's white he has a little different sound in his voice. I know you know what I'm talking about.
This was what I saw was missing in the Muslim world. If they said they were white, it was incidental. . .
But despite the fact that I saw that Islam was a religion of brotherhood, I also had to face reality. And when I got back into this American society, I'm not in a society that practices brotherhood. I'm in a society that might preach it on Sunday, but they don't practice it on no day -- on any day. And so, since I could see that America itself is a society where there is no brotherhood . . .they exercise the same forms of brutal oppression against dark-skinned people in South and North Vietnam, or in the Congo, or in Cuba, or in any other place on this earth where they're trying to exploit and oppress. This is a society whose government doesn't hesitate to inflict the most brutal form of punishment and oppression upon dark-skinned people all over the world.
To wit, right now what's going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But for all of that violence that they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we're supposed to be non-violent. They're violent. They're violent in Korea, they're violent in Germany, they're violent in the South Pacific, they're violent in Cuba, they're violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be non-violent.
That's a shame. Because we get tricked into being non-violent, and when somebody stands up and talks like I just did, they say, "Why, he's advocating violence!" Isn't that what they say? Every time you pick up your newspaper, you see where one of these things has written into it that I'm advocating violence. I have never advocated any violence. I've only said that Black people who are the victims of organized violence perpetrated upon us by the Klan, the Citizens' Council, and many other forms, we should defend ourselves. And when I say that we should defend ourselves against the violence of others, they use their press skillfully to make the world think that I'm calling on violence, period. I wouldn't call on anybody to be violent without a cause. But I think the Black man in this country, above and beyond people all over the world, will be more justified when he stands up and starts to protect himself, no matter how many necks he has to break and heads he has to crack. . .
Brothers and sisters, if you and I would just realize that once we learn to talk the language that they understand, they will then get the point. You can't ever reach a man if you don't speak his language. If a man speaks the language of brute force, you can't come to him with peace. Why, good night! He'll break you in two, as he has been doing all along. . . And once you know his language, learn how to speak his language, and he'll get the point. There'll be some dialogue, some communication, and some understanding will be developed.
You've been in this country long enough to know the language the Klan speaks. They only know one language. . . Learn the language that they understand. And then when they come up on our doorstep to talk, we can talk. And they will get the point. There'll be a dialogue, there'll be some communication, and I'm quite certain there will then be some understanding. Why? Because the Klan is a cowardly outfit. . . One of them will never come after one of you. They all come together. Sure, and they're scared of you. And yet sit there when they're putting the rope around your neck saying, "Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do." As long as they've been doing it, they're experts at it, they know what they're doing!
No, since they federal government has shown that it isn't going to do anything about it but talk, it is a duty, it's your and my duty as men, as human beings, it is our duty to our people, to organize ourselves and let the government know that if they don't stop that Klan, we'll stop it ourselves. And then you'll see the government start doing something about it. But don't ever think that they're going to do it just on some kind of morality basis, no. So I don't believe in violence -- that's why I want to stop it. And you can't stop it with love, not love of those things down there, no. So, we only mean vigorous action in self-defense, and that vigorous action we feel we're justified in initiating by any means necessary.
Now, the press, behind something like that, they call us racist and people who are "violent in reverse." This is how they psycho you. They make you think that if you try to stop the Klan from lynching you, you're practicing "violence in reverse." Pick up on this, I hear a lot of you all parrot what the [white] man says. You say, "I don't want to be a Ku Klux Klan in reverse." Well, you - heh! -- if a criminal comes around your house with his gun, brother, just because he's got a gun and he's robbing your house, brother, and he's a robber, it doesn't make you a robber because you grab your gun and run him out. No, see, the man is using some tricky logic on you. . .
Don't struggle -- only within the ground rules that the people you're struggling against have laid down." Why, this is insane. But it shows you how they can do it. With skillful manipulating of the press, they're able to make the victim look like the criminal, and the criminal look like the victim.
I bring up this person's comment not to focus on her and I hope its' not taken that way. But it does raise a point: how many really progressive folks who are white see and remember El Hajj-Malik el-Shabazz is not all that much different from how mainstream whites, or conservative whites, choose to remember him: violence and hate are always in the picture. Even as progressives have, often, far more sympathy for his viewpoint (since it was quite socialist and revolutionary) than the average man/woman on the street. I would argue that despite this sympathy of cause, the manner in which his "hate" and "violence" are always remembered is for the same reasons that others bring it up all the time. IMO, its a subconscious reaction to, and memory of Malcolm X as someone who, unlike Dr. King, did not feel that whites had a role in the struggle (i.e. as someone who rejected, and therefore emotionally hurt, them.) The differences in how Dr. King and Malcolm X saw white people's role in the cause of Black liberation/civil rights is, IMO, the single greatest reason for the that Dr. King is culturally revered by America and Malcolm X is not. Even though they spent their lives fighting for the same thing, one man always kept at least part of his focus on what whites thought, how whites would react, and limited his methods accordingly. The other made clear that he did not care at all what whites thought about either his opinion or his methods, so long as the work he perceived needed doing actually got done. In other words, in Dr. King's vision, white cooperation was central to Black liberation - they were still "needed" and nothing couldn't work without them. In contrast, in Malcolm's vision whites were not needed at all - they were irrelevant (except as possibly violent actors trying to get in the way). Even if, when the basic work was done, they could be *allies.*
If there is one thing about white supremacy, and racism, it is a disease of deep insecurity and sense of worthlessness. When you know that, it becomes clear why culturally it has been so important to America that Blacks diss/write off/diminish and hopefully *forget* Malcolm X and embrace Dr. King's vision.
Well, the good news is that even though Dr. King and others spent a lot of effort avoiding Malcolm X, he spent his career reaching out to those of his own people who were working on the cause of Black liberation, even as he did not make a priority out of reaching out to whites. But how can any rational person really argue with his reasons? "There can be no Black-white unity until there is first some Black unity."
That's why I love the picture above, so much. You see, the picture -- part of a series -- was not an accident. It was planned. It was confronting Dr. King, after Dr. King had spent months avoiding communication with, or alliance with, Malcolm X.
And yet once cornered, once Dr. King had no choice, by all accounts that brief stairwell meeting between Dr. King and Malcolm X from which this and a few other photos were taken, was gracious and friendly. The laughter and smiles were by all accounts sincere.
Perhaps because both men were so profound that they always knew what history tries to avoid: both men's primary mission in this life was obtain freedom and equality, across all measures of life, for African-Americans. And thus, perhaps each had a far better understanding of, and appreciation for, the methods chosen by the other, than anyone today, including most of the progressive left, gives them credit for. One thing is clear: each was not as oppositional to the other as the history books teach us. For example, as Malcolm X said about Dr. King and the commonality between their missions:
The strategy of the white man has always been divide and conquer. He keeps us divided in order to conquer us. He tells us that I am for separation and you are for integration and keeps us fighting each other. No, I'm not for separation and you're not for integration. What you and I are for is freedom. Only you think that integration will get you freedom, I think separation will get me freedom. We've both got the same objective - we've just got different ways at getting at it.Perhaps because Dr. King was indeed so wise, he always therefore kept an eye on the progress of Malcolm X -- even if he never admitted either interest or solidarity with him until Malcolm was assasinated:
...While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem.(Anyone who needs to believe that this was Dr. King "just being polite" at a death, you might wish to read Dr. King's words in his last published essay, included now in a compilation of his works published 25 years after his death called Testament of Hope, in which it becomes clear that Dr. King understood well the positive role that something more than just passive victimization at the hands of brutality played in the larger cause of Black liberation:
The nation waited until the black man was explosive with fury before stirring itself even to partial concern. . . I am not sad that black Americans are rebelling; this was not only inevitable but eminently desirable. Without this magnificent ferment among Negroes, the old evasions and procrastinations would have continued indefinitely.In other words, it doesn't take much study of either Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. to know with certainty that each was moving towards the other in terms of both philosophy and acceptance of alternative methods of struggle as being valid despite their personal philosophies. As my Freshman English professor (and official archivist of Dr. King's papers), Clayborne Carson, wrote in Emerge a few years ago, their deaths meant a missed opportunity for a common solution that did not presume the "rightness" or "wrongness" of either man's approach, all public *rhetoric* about each other notwithstanding. They were clearly both fighting the same fight, for the same reasons. Just with a different choice of method. And they apparently knew that each of their approaches was needed -- and that one could not really succeed without the other. When it comes to liberation, the history and present of anti-Black racism in this country demonstrates that one must present both the carrot and the stick simultaneous options.
I know by now folks are going: Why, Shanikka? Why have you done this to us? Why have you kept going on and on? What is the POINT, girlfriend? Girl can't you please just SHUT UP?
Well there are a lot of points I've made already, and I'm assuming that careful thought will make them clear. Just in case they don't, I'll spell them out in Part III. But here is one, in a nutshell:
Developing a political strategy for 2006 and 2008, particularly as it involves mobilizing the African-American vote, liberals/progressives are well advised to consider the lessons of Malcolm X aka El Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. Because I promise you, the sorry collective condition of millions of Black people in America at the present time, and the utter lack of political will to actually *do* something about it that liberals and progressives are displaying, will make a difference. And not a good one.
That's because, you see, contrary to politics and politicians, the grassroots haven't actually forgotten Malcolm X. Nor what he had to say about party politics. Here is what he said, but I've taken the liberty of slightly modifying/updating some of his words so that the present relevance of his 42-year old comments (they were also relevant in 2004, but set aside for a larger goal that failed - elimating George W. Bush from the White House.)
Why does this loom to be such an explosive political year? Because this is the year of politics. This is the year when all of the white politicians are going to come into the Negro community. You don't see them until election time. You can't find them until election time. They're going to come in with false promises. And as they make these false promises they are only going to feed our frustrations - and this will only serve to make matters worse.In the end, reasonable people can (and do) debate Malcolm X's contribution to the Civil Rights Movement, and the ongoing relevance of his role and philosophy today. But given what is happening to more and more African-Americans today in America, particularly the Black poor, a and given what anyone honest must acknowledge is the slow, yet undeniable erosion of many of the hard fought gains of the civil rights movement including the racial civility aspects (i.e. folks are even now not even taking care to talk about Black people with a basic level of respect, let alone an assumption that they have any intelligence; see this so-called liberal contribution to the blogosphere) it remains to be seen what history-yet-to-be lived will teach us. About Malcolm X, Dr. King and ourselves.
I'm not a politician. I'm not even a student of politics. I'm not a Democrat. Nor a Republican. Nor an American - and got sense enough to know it.
I'm one of the  million Black *victims* of the Democrats. One of the  million black *victims* of the Republicans. And one of the  million Black *victims* of Americanism. And when I speak, I don't speak as a Democrat. Or a Republican. Nor an American. I speak as a victim of America's so-called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy - all we've seen is hypocrisy.
When we open our eyes today and look around America, we see America not through the eyes of someone who has enjoyed the fruits of Americanism. We see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don't see any American dream. We've experienced only the American nightmare. We haven't benefitted from America's democracy. We've only suffered from America's hypocrisy. And the generation that is coming up now can see it and are not afraid to say: "If you go to jail, so what? If you're Black, you were born in jail. " In the North as well as the South. Stop talking about the South. As long as you're south of the Canadian border, you're South. . .
It was the fact that you threw 80% of your votes behind the [Democratic Party] that put the Democrats in the [House and Senate]. When you see this, you can see that the Negro vote is the key factor. And yet despite the fact that you are in the position to be a determining factor, what do you get out of it? The Democrats have been in Washington DC only because of the Negro vote. They've been down there 4 years. And all the other legislation they wanted to bring up they've brought up and gotten it out of the way - and now they bring up you. And NOW they bring up you. You put them first and they put you last. Because you're a chump. A political chump. . .Anytime you throw your weight behind a political party. . and that party cannot keep the promise it made to you at election time, and you're dumb enough to still walk around continuing to identify yourself with that party, you're not only a chump, but you're a traitor to your race.
The late Ossie Davis' 1965 eulogy for Malcolm X, which he read as voiceover at the end of Spike Lee's movie X, is still one of the most moving tributes I've ever heard:
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times.In the end, we all have a choice, thinking about Bro. Malcolm . About what we see, when we think of him, and the value that we ascribe to his complex thought today. All of us. Will what we choose to emphasize? Will it be this?
Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man; for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them:
Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did, you would know him. And if you knew him, you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood!
This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend:My journey, he says, is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our human rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a united front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.
However we may have differed with him—or with each other about him and his value as a man—let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.
Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us.
And we will know him then for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.
(Malcolm Little, Age 18 - Mugshot)
(Malcolm X, 1963)
(El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Africa, 1964)
(El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, Temple of a Thousand Lights, Egypt, 1964)
Or are folks, deep down in the heart, so focused on and scared of mental images like this
(Malcolm X, 1965)
that they are nothing but grateful that the next to last image we all saw of him was this?
(Malcolm X, February, 1965 - Faith Temple Church of God)
And that the last image anyone (his wife and Iman) ever saw of him was this?
(Consecrated/Ritually purified body of El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, immediately before burial.)
For me, I hope everyone sees them all. Because in seeing them all, you are seeing the entire of the diaspora. The grassroots. The people who you seek to politically persuade to turn this country around from the abyss.
Anyhow I hope that Brother Malcolm, on his birthday, was able to continue to rest in peace. Even as part of me suspects, if his spirit is still watching what is happening to his people right now, that his is turning over in your grave seeing the clear evidence of the systematic undoing of the so-called "progress". Evidence that only an idiot wouldn't see happening at this point. Including the evidence that Black men (and thus, Black people) all over the world, but especially in America, are being written off entirely by our society and our own so-called political allies. Except as votes to be counted at election time.
BTW, I did a search after it was suggested to me that I write this diary. On Friday night, at the largest left-wing/progressive blog in the world, the blog that claims it truly represents the left-wing of the party and the vanguard of political action going forward for the Democratic Party, there was not a single diary about El Hajj Malik el Shabazz. Nor about Malcolm X. Not even Malcolm Little.