Malcolm X’s Teachings Being Revived 50 Years After His Death

| Educate!

Above: Black Muslim leader and Chairman of the Organization for Afro American Unity, Malcolm X, is shown at London Airport, Feb. 9, 1965. AP PHOTO/VICTOR BOYNTON

This weekend, millions of people of African descent in the United States and across the world commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the internationally renowned human rights activist who was also known as Malcolm X.

Throughout much of the week, men, women, and children studied Malcolm X’s speeches at conferences and took to social media to reflect on his influence on their coming of age through the #MalcolmTaughtMe hashtag on Twitter.

Though many of these tweeters weren’t alive during the Civil Rights movement, they said Malcolm X’s legacy has galvanized them during what many consider a tumultuous time.

Malcolm X, an ex-convict who converted to Islam in prison, gained a following among poor urban blacks in the North and returning citizens struggling to find their way after long stints in the penitentiary. His message of self-determination and freedom from the reins of white supremacy “by any means necessary” sounded nothing like Dr. Martin Luther King’s calls for integration and brotherly love with white people, gaining him many enemies within the Civil Rights movement and in the United States government.

Still, Malcolm X confidently soldiered on, determined to unify black people across the United States and around the world against institutions that have levied centuries of injustices against the Diaspora.

“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,” Malcolm X told an audience in Detroit a week prior to his death in 1965.

Black Americans, many of whom have taken to the streets in protest in recent months, have evoked the spirit of Malcolm X by candidly expressing their frustration with what they consider an unfair criminal justice system and later refusing to retreat from the front lines, even when police officers threw tear gas and swatted batons their way. Last year, thousands of people converged on Ferguson, MO – where police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot teenager Mike Brown without consequence – and other major cities in solidarity with victims of police violence and their families as part of the Black Lives Mattermovement, an effort to bring their grievances to the national and world stage.

While the Black Lives Matter protests have largely emphasized nonviolent sit-ins in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., Kymone Freeman, program director at independent DC-based media outlet We Act Radio, argued the movement should embrace some of Malcolm X’s more controversial teachings, like his call for aggressive self-defense.

Freeman, who said he has read extensively about Malcolm X and Dr. King, implored Millennials to study Malcolm X’s life on their own because they won’t learn the true story of the civil rights icon in their classes, particularly his argument that black people have the right to defend themselves against those who try to physically harm them.

“Obey the law and respect everyone but if someone puts their hands on you, send them to the cemetery,” Freeman told ThinkProgress, quoting Malcolm X. “Brother Malcolm talked that straight talk and that’s what is missing from the Black Lives Matter movement. Right now, they all sound like little girls. Police are shooting them in their backs and they got their hands up talking about ‘don’t shoot.’ If we start talking differently, then racist cops will think twice before touching us.”

Bob Williams, a 72-year-old activist and filmmaker, had different thoughts. Today’s movement, Williams said, highlights the importance of young people taking their qualms with the police system to the ballot box. He admits that getting that message through to young activists has been a challenge, saying that many of them are infatuated with Malcolm X’s endorsement of coming to arms against those who threaten their lives.

“I’m sure that Malcolm would have been on board with protecting your community and young ones,” Williams said. “But they have to understand that when it comes to guns, it’s just about self-defense. They won’t make a change with guns.”

He told ThinkProgress that the Black Lives Matter movement has allowed all young people to assume leadership in some form. Williams said he has stood alongside protesters in Ferguson since August 2014, collecting footage for a documentary titled “Mike Brown Movement Justice for All.”

“Something is happening here. The young people are coming off of the white man’s plantation,” Williams said. During his interview with ThinkProgress, Williams recounted his first taste of activism as a graduate student in the 1960s when he helped protect residents of a Cairo, IL housing project against white aggressors who didn’t like their boycott of stores in the region that refused to hire black people.

“I want to educate the young people to vote,” Williams said. “If you control the politics, you control the money. Some of the young leaders of this movement don’t want to register to vote. When you understand electoral politics, you can get on the city council if you want to.”

That message may be hard to swallow for black Millennials, a group that came out in huge numbers for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012. Since the historic election, their support for the nation’s first black president has fallen. In the first two years of his presidency, Obama’s approval rating among young black people fell 8 percentage points. By 2014, 80 percent of young people of color supported the president, 8 percentage points less than that of their counterparts who were over the age of 65. When it came to congressional races, many black Millennials also stayed home. Voter turnout among young people of color during the 2014 midterm election stood at less than 25 percent.

While Malcolm’s X movement has become stuff of legend, little has changed about the economic and social condition of black people in the United States half a century after his brutal assassination, even with a black president in office and a black man heading the Justice Department.

The disillusionment among black people of all ages, career fields, and economic classes has been decades in the making. Since Malcolm X’s time in prison, mass incarceration has exploded, disproportionately targeting African Americans. Today, black Americans account for more than 40 percent of the prison population. In the aggregate, black people haven’t fared well economically either. Even with post-recession gains, the black unemployment rate currently stands at more than 13 percent, far above the national average of 8.1 percent.

If black America stood as its own country, its poverty level – more than 27 percent – would eclipse that of war-torn Iraq. White wealth is eight times greater than that of blacks, primarily because of family inheritances and the seizure of land from blacks during the Reconstruction Era and decades to follow. The most well-to-do black people most likely have their assets tied into their home, a shaky investment as the 2008 mortgage crisis has shown.

Segregation, legally defeated by civil rights leaders, also remains a reality for many communities. Despite the passage of the Fair Housing Act, many black people have been relegated to dilapidated, low-income housing units located in food deserts across the country. Life in low-income enclaves in tandem with other factors has created dismal health outcomes for black people. Rates of obesity and hypertension among black people surpass 30 percent. Heart disease, cancer, and stroke count among the leading causes of death for people of color.

Salim Adofo, the national vice chairperson of the National Black United Front, a coalition of organizations working together to advance the cause of people of African descent, argues that part of lowering the black unemployment rate and securing black America’s future requires people of color to spend their dollars within their communities. The numbers support his conjecture. A 2014 NAACP report found that despite having $1.1 trillion buying power, black money circulates in the black community for just six hours. The report also said that only two cents of every dollar that a black person spends goes toward a black-owned business.

Adofo said that black people in the United States and across the world need to heed Malcolm X’s messages of black love and unity by supporting black businesses and providing services that aren’t often found in communities of color. He did acknowledge, however, that black entrepreneurs face hurdles of their own. Research shows black small business owners have a harder time than any other minority group accessing low-interest bank loans, which can be crucial for a new business getting off its feet.

“When you’re a black business, you’re black first, so we’re not dealing with the same circumstances as other businesses,” Adofo told ThinkProgress. “We bought into the concept that other communities are better than us. We never learned how to do things for ourselves. The propaganda has been that ideas of black business ownership are racist. It’s not racist. If we want to have a little Africa, we have to understand the propaganda. Children in other communities are groomed to run their family business.”

At the height of his career, Malcolm X encouraged poor blacks in urban cities to become financially self-sufficient. For nearly 14 years, he mobilized legions of African-Americans frustrated with institutional racism as the national spokesman of the Nation of Islam, a religious movement centered on improving the economic, social, and spiritual condition of black Americans, and later founder of Muslim Mosque Inc. and the Organization for Afro-American Unity.

No matter his organizational affiliation, Malcolm X represented the idea of a man that many aspired to be, in life and especially in death. Subsequent movements, including that of the Black Panther Party and early hip-hop were influenced by the late civil rights leader.

“Malcolm X represented black manhood,” Anonamas, a singer and songwriter from the D.C. metropolitan area, told ThinkProgress. In 2009, Anonamas released “Us,” a track inspired by the unique history of African-Americans. She said that Malcolm inspired her to be a better spiritual being. “Malcolm’s words shaped minds, which threatened many people. It was for our betterment. Malcolm was trying to show us that we were beautiful. He pointed out our flaws in love so that we could get it together. Self-love, accountability, and respect were the foundation of his movement.”

  • Jon

    Leveraging power: Recall the lunch counter sit-ins that forced proprietors to accept black people as customers? Well, since we all know that the real power rests with the bankers who pull the strings of their “employees” in political office, consider this strategy: Suppose 250 Black Lives Matter demonstrators calmly walked into a major bank (you know the ones I mean) and made their presence felt with signs and chanting, with the direct demand: a public statement from the corporate office denouncing in unequivocal terms the epidemic of black deaths via police departments, along with the gross dishonesty of the courts system that manipulates evidence to incarcerate uncounted numbers of innocent non-white people. This crowd remains for a specified time and then leaves voluntarily, but return the next day at an unspecified time, and the next, until they win. The next stage would be to demand a meeting with the executives on how to implement such a declaration with the relevant mayors and police force until concrete results are made. Both restaurant owners and bankers do what they do for money, and a daily boisterous crowd demanding justice might not help their business.

  • AlanMacDonald

    Blacks have always been the most politically conscious people
    within the Disguised Global Capitalist Empire ‘posing’ as, and HQed
    in, our former country.

    In a recent article titled, “Obama’s Legacy: Permanent War
    and Liberal/Radical Accommodation?” Ajamu Baraka, clearly
    demonstrates his own political consciousness and diagnostic skills in
    unearthing this ‘Disguised’ Empire when he identifies that: “The
    disappearance of anti-imperialism among the cosmopolitan left in the
    U.S. and Western Europe is reflective of a monumental ideological
    accomplishment by the propagandists of empire.”

    The author goes on to accurately critique that, “The human
    consequence of this collaboration with U.S. and Western
    militarization by progressive forces in the U.S. and Europe has
    translated into unrestrained violent interventions” abroad, and
    he connects such expected behavior of ‘acting like an Empire’, with
    a growing awareness in the oppressed, but politically conscious Black
    community who know “that the slogan ‘to protect and serve –
    capital’, not only applies to the occupation forces that police the
    radicalized colonies inside the U.S. but also the role of the U.S.
    military abroad.”

    Thus Baraka clearly shows the lasting 21 century truth of Hannah
    Arendt’s prescient warning from her experience with the earlier Nazi
    Empire that, “Empire abroad entails tyranny at home”.

    Coincidentally, in the wee last week I was listening to a BBC
    interview show, “Hard Talk”, on our Maine NPR station, and
    had the opportunity to hear a very articulate and insightful young
    Black man, Tef Poe, talking very aggressively about Ferguson
    describing it with exactly the same scenario of “imperialist
    wars abroad”, being similar to the oppression, and police
    shooting of unarmed young black men like Michael Brown.

    Poe went on to answer the woman interviewer’s questions about what
    was needed, and why there couldn’t be more ‘conversations’ to address
    this repressive situation in the US (while ignoring the killing in
    the Middle East), and perhaps get him to advocate for a violent
    reaction. This “Hard Talk” baiting for a pat answer of
    “what’s the agenda”, and “what are the demands”
    — reminded me of the same US MSM technique employed to interview
    “Occupy” leaders 4 years ago. However, Tef then answered
    that instead of violence he was only recommending that “aggressively
    radical” actions needed to be taken.

    In any case, the core of both this article by Ajamu Baraka and Tef
    Poe’s accurate diagnosis of the deadly impact and deceit of Empire
    abroad in overt ‘wars’ on ‘subjects’ of oil territories (disguised as
    humanitarian intervention/R2P) and domestic ‘tyranny’ and oppression
    of less powerful domestic ‘subjects’ in the homeland, struck me as
    very much akin to Dr. Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967 Riverside
    Church speech, “”Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”,
    in which King publicly ‘call-out’ the very same disguised (but highly
    integrated) Empire of; militarism, corporatism, financial greed,
    capitalism, media/propaganda, extra-legal, and dual-party political
    deceit that was the nexus of wars abroad against Vietnamese and
    tyranny at home against Blacks.

    Naturally, today’s article in “Popular Resistance” regarding
    the thoughts and strategy of Malcolm X also demonstrates and proves
    that multiple Black ‘thought leaders’, ‘opinion makers’, and
    “aggressively revolutionary” (as Poe says) revolutionary, but
    today non-violent, leading intellectuals — who have “adequately
    diagnosed” the imperialism of this Empire posing as our former
    country — are in full agreement of the disease of Empire, and most
    of them recommend the same aggressively revolutionary popular
    resistance, and aggressive self-defense (as Malcolm held).

    Both this “Think Progress” article and Ajamu Baraka’s
    article, “Obama’s Legacy: Permanent War and Liberal/Radical
    Accommodation?” recognize that there is a more powerful hidden
    force of imperialist behind the supposedly ‘most powerful man in the
    world’ and behind the facade of this dual-party Vichy political
    charade that the Disguised Global Empire has perverted: “While
    Malcolm’s X movement has become stuff of legend, little has changed
    about the economic and social condition of black people in the United
    States half a century after his brutal
    assassination, even with a black president in office and a black
    man heading the Justice Department.”

    However, in the case of the supposedly activist leftish
    progressivist movement for all but the Black population of the area
    of the world previously known as America, there certainly appears to
    be a striking absence of understanding, comprehension, diagnosis, and
    action against the core cancer of the Disguised Global Capitalist
    Empire — which is the singular CAUSE of all our subordinate
    “issues”, ‘symptom problems’, and oppression of this Empire.
    This lack of understanding or will to face the underLYING cancer of
    Empire is as if all the doctors just spent their time saying, “Oh,
    this rectal blood means I should suture this patient’s colon”, or
    “this blood in the urine should be treated with diet”, or “this
    hacking cough must be just a bad cough for this smoker” — and as
    if there were no such diagnosis and treatment of the underLYING
    cancer by any doctors who ever heard of diagnosis or oncology. If
    such unaware doctors merely held conferences and talked to each other
    about the many papers and articles they wrote about the ‘symptoms’
    they had treated, but never gave a though to whether there could be
    ‘some deeper disease’, or hidden cause, of all the symptoms they
    treated — then such doctors would be much like most of the leftish,
    progressive, alt media movements, protests, articles, and various
    distractive array of efforts that are occurring today — and neither
    the hidden disease of Cancer nor the hidden disease of Empire would
    ever have to worry about being ‘excised’, but could continue to run
    their course as cancer and Empire.

    As Professor Zygmunt Bauman hauntingly puts it, “In the case of
    an ailing social order, the absence of an adequate diagnosis…is a
    crucial, perhaps decisive, part of the disease.”13

    Berman, Morris (2011-02-07). Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of
    Empire (p. 22). Norton. Kindle Edition.

    I certainly agree with Baraka and Poe in their diagnosis of the
    proximate CAUSE of all our “ailing social order”, and
    ‘symptom problems’ (sometimes called “issues” by the
    leftish media), but beyond diagnosing the underLYING cancer of Empire
    abroad and tyranny at home, I strongly believe that this newer and
    better disguised Global Capitalist Empire is actually very vulnerable
    to the same weaknesses that the earlier Empire was — despite being
    disguised by dual Vichy parties rather than just a single Vichy
    government in France.

    Ultimately, the calibration of the ‘torturable’ vs.
    ‘non-torturable’ will not only need to be ‘dialed-up’, but the
    increasing citizens (who are being oppressed, tyrannized, and treated
    like ‘subjects’ in the homeland) will understand what was clear to
    Martin Niemoller, and the 99% will ‘call-out’ expose, and confront
    this disguised global Empire — which can not suffer being clearly
    diagnosed as the cancer that it is:

    First they came for the Muslims, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a Muslim.
    Then they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a Black.
    Then they came for the Poor and Working Class, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not Poor nor Working Class
    Then the EMPIRE came for me—
    and there was no one left to speak for me
    (because I had not realized that it was an Empire that was doing
    this to all of us).

    Fortunately, ‘Empire-thinking’ and Empire represent a very small
    minority in a hierarchical sociopathic structure, and in the 21st
    century a Disguised Global Capitalist EMPIRE can not suffer being
    uncovered, exposed, and confronted as a visible and naked EMPIRE
    today.

    Or as William Robinson properly diagnoses the extant, but
    disguised, global capitalist Empire:

    “The U.S. state is a key point of condensation for pressures
    from dominant groups around the world to resolve problems of global
    capitalism and to secure the legitimacy of the system overall. In
    this regard, “U.S.” imperialism refers to the use by
    transnational elites of the U.S. state apparatus to continue to
    attempt to expand, defend, and stabilize the global capitalist
    system. We are witness less to a “U.S.” imperialism per se than
    to a global capitalist imperialism. We face an EMPIRE of global
    capital, headquartered, for evident historical reasons, in
    Washington” [caps added]

    Robinson, William I. (2014-07-31). Global Capitalism and the
    Crisis of Humanity (p. 122). Cambridge University Press. Kindle
    Edition.