IN PRAISE OF A HERO
By Lamont Lilly
Friday, May 20, 2011.
“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”—El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964
Brief, yet exhaustive, the following passage best represents the Malcolm X America doesn’t want you and I to know—the more complete post-Mecca Malcolm who could certainly once again ignite an entire nation if only he were properly revisited. It seems like just yesterday, as a young adolescent, that the life and times of Malcolm Little were resurrected through Spike Lee’s 1992 cinematic production, Malcolm X. Bold, vivid and vulgar, Spike’s production wasn’t only a history book for the hood; it was the artistic catalyst of a new cool: the infamous black “X” hat.
How unfortunate though that such a revival was short lived among a generation of budding hip hoppers who were never lucky enough to meet George Wallace or Lincoln Rockwell—who were never exposed to the White Citizens’ Council. What Spike’s X did impress upon me however, was a martyr of resistance Mr. Charlie somehow failed to mention when I was in school. Not one time was I really taught of Malcolm X. And once I discovered him I clearly understood why. Could you imagine all the Black men America has incarcerated converting into disciples of Malcolm X, all the political prisoners? Why, the oppressed would have their own nation by now!
Malcolm’s teachings were simple: Black is beautiful, love your roots, family and community, feed the mind and atone within—know thyself and the rest will follow. Though quite the humble type and gentle giant you might say, Malcolm was [The Hate That Hate Produced]; he did possess an unwavering commitment to Black liberation. And what’s wrong with that? Was it true that Malcolm openly declared war against imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy? Damn right!! But understand that Brother Malcolm wasn’t just a Negro leader, he was a global figure for the entire African Diaspora, for the working, for the poor and oppressed worldwide—an NOI (Nation of Islam) apostle turned international Pan-Africanist and Human Rights advocate.
Malcolm wasn’t a racist, not even a “reverse racist,” as often depicted, but he did love The People—his people and all people. And as for any institution, organization or government that wasn’t for The People, yes, Malcolm called them out! To Brother Malcolm, one was either [for] the oppressed or [against] the oppressed, regardless of race or social class. He would tell you in a minute, “We got some Black devils running around here, too!” This from a man so complex, that at times, he would even check himself. To Malcolm, NO ONE was exempt from being accountable to the masses. No one was exempt from being accountable to the truth. Malcolm Little was the story of true redemption, a man who hated, learned to love, and then learned to re-love. That was Malcolm, a mercenary for justice unadulterated.
In James Baldwin’s dagger of a memoir, No Name in the Street (1972), Baldwin meticulously dedicates five pages to Minister Malcolm—intimately reflecting upon their few interactions and the qualities of a man he fiercely admired. Even in disagreeing with certain points, one couldn’t help but to marvel at such tenacious and articulate “plain talk,” particularly from the lips of an ex-convict without even a high school diploma. But Malcolm was sharp—so sharp that long time veteran and Civil Rights organizer, Bayard Rustin, eventually refused to publicly debate with him. For not only was Malcolm an avid reader, he was equally the profound listener.
Brother Malcolm would take your own words and hang you with them if you weren’t careful, especially when engaging enthusiastic integrationists as James Farmer (founder of CORE). Yet, unlike many of today’s Uncle Tom Black spokesman, Malcolm never spoke and wrote to impress folk. This self-proclaimed “field negro” would instead communicate in a language all could understand—from the highest to the lowest—from the youngest to the oldest. What most formal academicians fail to realize, or better yet acknowledge, is that Malcolm was The People’s Champ—a street prophet who could relate to Oxford University’s most esteemed professors just as sincerely and effective as with Kenya’s Revolutionary Wing, the [Mau Mau]. Malcolm would extend the common street hustler just as much dignity as he would Jomo Kenyatta, Patrice Lumumba or Kwame Nkrumah.
In examples as these, and in many regards, Malcolm was long before his time. While the majority of Black political figures of this era sought freedom and liberation through social inclusion—through public toilets and white hamburgers, it was Malcolm who charged Human Rights over Civil Rights—Workers’ Rights over capitalism. Why, he even championed Women’s Rights. You see, it was okay that our mothers and sisters march The Edmund Pettus—be sprayed with hoses and bitten by dogs, but to have an opinion and given a microphone was crossing the line at this time. Well, not so to Brother Malcolm. In organizing his OAAU (Organization of Afro American Unity), Malcolm systematically sought strong sisters who could play equal roles in planning and teaching, in helping to build a revolutionary movement. His adoration for women like Fannie Lou Hammer, Shirley Graham Du Bois and elder sibling, Ella Collins, was nothing short of a personal denouncement of male chauvinism. Indeed, Minister Malcolm would have loved Shirley Chisholm. He poignantly articulated upon his return from Ghana, Guinea and Algeria that “Africa will not be free until it frees its women.”
I state the above to say this, brothers and sisters: more so now than ever, it will be critical amidst our mounting struggles that people of all nations thoroughly re-explore the full range of Malcolm’s thoughts and analyses—his actions and his deeds—his personal evolution and stages of development; for many of his ideological building blocks are just as relevant today as they were in February of ‘65. While today we may have a ‘dark man’ in office, there’s far too many in prison. Job loss and ‘Urban Renewal’ continue to wreak havoc; while pig brutality seems to have gone UP in the Black community, at least from Oscar Grant’s perspective. Not to mention, the NAACP is back fighting resegregation, right here in Raleigh, the state capital. This is what Brother Malcolm was trying to get us to understand almost 50 years ago.
The beauty of Malcolm was that only he could represent the truth of the Black experience with such fury and eloquence—only he could dissect the brutality of American hypocrisy with such fearless clarity, with such an impenitent passion. With heart and mind, body and soul, he awoke the dead and led the army…from the front…in the street…in the rain…in the middle of the ghetto…right in front of Mr. Hoover and his COINTELPRO. In the end, Malcolm was me and Malcolm was you. Malcolm was ‘The People’ and the beat of our hearts, the one who came and gave life as he went—our Black Freedom Christ who dared to stand tall. We didn’t lose Brother Malcolm; he gave himself—a shepherd of the sheep who gave himself. Thanks Brother Malcolm…Black lives on. I too am Malcolm X, the oppressed live on.
With thanks to NewBlackMan
Lamont Lilly is a graduate student at North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC.