This week (5/19) Malcolm X would have turned 89 years old. Unlike on Martin Luther Kings birthday my timeline was not flooded with timeless quotes from the birthday icon despite being one of the more poignant orators of not only his era, but the 20th century. I rhetorically ask why?
When we think of the Civil Rights period and the forces behind the dramatic and dynamic societal paradigm shifts that took place we often think of and credit Martin Luther King and the mostly pacifist, Gandhi inspired peaceful resistance movement as the impetus responsible for much of that change–and rightfully so.
We however tend to forget and under-appreciate the role played by Malcolm and the movements that he joined and inspired. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeding into the false dichotomy of Malcolm vs Martin or devaluing the work of Dr. King, nor do I believe that any of the posthumous praise and adulation that he garners is unwarranted. What I do believe is that brother El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz should be given more recognition to match his major contribution to the ongoing struggle of the black family in America. I’m also a disbeliever in the idea that these two men even before they began to overtly meet in the middle were as ideologically and diametrically opposed to one another as history and even their own musings might suggest. Their overlapping movements in many ways worked in concert. They were both equally effective and neither one of them would have been successful leaders had they employed their style of leadership/protest in the other persons region. i.e if King was leading a movement in the north his early pacifist style would not have played well. At best he would have simply been another Harlem store front street preacher. For Malcolm’s part if he were leading a protest movement in Montgomery or Selma, the first time he called Bull Conner a white devil he would have had a silver bullet in his black ass. I say that to say that even though they may have publicly quibbled with the others respective leadership style, they were both deep enough thinkers and anti-myopic enough to know that the nature of the beast that they opposed largely dictated the style of fight that they employed. Both men made skillful use of the press and they leveraged their ability to create headlines to greatly improve the lives of not only black people but poor folks below and above the Mason-Dixon line.
A worldwide movement was burgeoning before both Malcolm and Martin were gunned down at the tender age of 39. They both in their own unique way successfully conveyed to the world that the American Negroes fight for civil rights was part and parcel to the global struggle of all oppressed people for human rights. By changing the goal from Civil Rights, (something that could be both granted and restricted by the man made powers that be), to the fight for human rights–something that only the creator is recognized as being endowed enough to give or take. Both Malcolm and Martin became international and more importantly interracial leaders of a global movement once they expanded their respective visions. That made them both a threat to the status quo. Hence they left us much sooner than we were prepared for.
Some 50 years after their deaths the Status quo has made a major comeback in the area of controlling, manipulating and confusing the hearts and minds of the majority populace. I was asked the other day where is today’s Malcolm X for this generations lost tribe of Shabazz. More or less the query rhetorically was suggesting one, that we needed another Malcolm, and two there are no more Malcolm’s in the ether to cultivate into an El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. My answer was that I don’t think it’s a matter of leadership that’s lacking so much as there is a lack unity among the people and a lack of an ability to humble ourselves before one another to achieve a common cause while furthering the objectives as posited by men like Malcolm.
In Malcolm and Kings day it really was not hard for them to find a common cause. Far too many of us are too comfortable with our own status quo to identify with a common revolutionary cause today. It is a lot harder to create an effective and sustainable movement for the masses to follow–even with the advent of social media . In many ways it has to get collectively and exponentially worse in order for the requisite critical mass to build up high enough to birth the kind of public angst potent enough to prop up leaders like Martin and Malcolm because make no mistake about it, the genius that went into the making of those great men is not obsolete and exists to this day. It runs through the collective unconscious of more of our people today than many of us are willing to admit. We are simply too comfortable as a collective. So in the absence of wishing for more dire straits to visit our people (I prefer to think that the worst is behind us)instead of wishing for another Malcolm or Martin to come back I will simply remain thankful for the myriad lessons that they imparted in the truncated lives that they lived. King showed America what the black man was capable of when properly resourced from birth. And Malcolm showed the world that a rose really could grow from the concrete. Happy birthday sir!