Since Malcolm’s death, he has become quite the iconic figure. His face can be seen regularly adorned across someone’s tee shirt, hoodie, and his X on jewerly, ball caps, and other apparel. His voice is dubbed into countless hip/hop records and the U.S. Post Office even created a stamp with his likeness.
I say none of the previous things to suggest any of that defines for me who Malcolm X was. Its just interesting that this celebrity phenomenon has created the reality where everyone wanted to watch the recently released docu-series on Malcolm’s assassination, but very few people want to seriously examine the assassination plot beyond the tired and limited perspective that the Nation of Islam was solely responsible for killing Malcolm X. As the elders used to say – “the Nation may have fired the guns, but they didn’t buy the bullets.” So, since we know a larger force was actually behind putting everything in place to carry out the assassination, and the Nation of Islam people who participated were simply pawns in that game, the question remains, why was Malcolm assassinated? The people rushing to watch the mediocre at best docu-series aren’t really asking that question.
The mass of people who have never read a single book by Malcolm (speeches) or about Malcolm. I’m talking about the ones who’s primary reference for Malcolm was Spike Lee’s C – movie from 1992. Those people love to watch Denzel and Angela, etc., in that movie, but those folks also never ask why Malcolm was assassinated? What was he doing to provoke people in powerful places to want to see him dead? That conversation remains something not often broached by the multitudes who celebrate Malcolm’s birthday.
The folks in the Nation of Islam love to claim that without them, there would have been no Malcolm, but they, beyond attempting to distance themselves from Malcolm’s assassination, haven’t produced anything of merit over the last 55 years providing an analysis that helps steer people away from looking at them for the assassination. In fact, they have produced nothing talking about Malcolm’s work after he left them in 1964.
I say all of this in concert with the Last Poets lyrics from their 1968 classic “N - - - - r’s are Scared of Revolution” - “N - - - er’s love to hear Malcolm rap, but they didn’t love Malcolm!” What did the Last Poets mean when they dropped those lines? That song, specifically that part, engulfed me when I heard it as a child and its stayed with me ever since.
My basis of analysis here stems from a brief conversation I had with Dr. Betty Shabazz, the late widow of Malcolm X in 1996, just months before her own death. She was the guest speaker at San Francisco State University for the premiere of the re-done Malcolm X mural that adorned the Student Union. That mural had been defaced by Zionists and so a huge ceremony was instituted to celebrate its rebirth with Dr. Shabazz as the keynote. I served as one of her security people that day. After the program, as we ate, comrades – knowing my life long dedication to Malcolm as my ideological father (a role he still continues to play today) encouraged me to talk to her. I was hesitant. She had a reputation for letting you know if she didn’t want to hear from you and I just didn’t feel like it was my place to talk to her, but eventually I did approach her to tell her how much her husband meant to me. I’m sure I rambled, but I communicated clearly the impact his work has had on my life. And, more importantly, I tried to convey how much I worked to live my life in contributing and building upon his work. She finally smiled and told me “yeah…He is your spiritual father!”
The point is so many people today think its cute to make sure you know it was said that Malcolm was gay. They want to let you know that Manning Marable wrote in his trash 2011 book that “Fifi” the Swedish woman went to Malcolm’s room in Egypt at midnight. They are clear about Marable’s claim in that same book that Dr. Shabazz had an affair with Malcolm’s post Nation of Islam comrade Charles 37X Kenyatta. They wish to tell you that Malcolm didn’t really start “Muhammad Speaks” by himself. That he was disobedient to Elijah Muhammad when he spoke, eloquently and correctly, about Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Well, on his birthday, after spending 40 years being heavily influenced by his ideas and actions, I want to let you know whether he was gay or not. Whether he was with Fifi or not. Whether he started the paper or not. Whether he was jealous about one of the women who allegedly had a baby with Muhammad (whom Malcolm had an earlier brief relationship with) or not. None of that matters one bit to me because none of that had a bearing on why I chose in 1979 to try and emulate Malcolm’s model. And, why 40+ years later I’ve done as good as job as anyone in trying to live up to those principles.
The question for me has always been simple regarding Malcolm. He wasn’t our shining black prince as Ossie Davis eulogized him. He was our Pan-Africanist revolutionary who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what our people needed which was independence and dignity. He was a person who grew to understand that Africa’s liberation was central to achieving that freedom and dignity. Just because you may not have grown to understand that reality, don’t try and diminish what Malcolm was doing that served as the real reason he was killed.
In 1964, when Malcolm was visiting with Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, another significant element of Malcolm’s life that is still very much undiscussed, Nkrumah told him in confidence some critical information that had been discovered. Nkrumah informed Malcolm that Ghanaian intelligence forces had intercepted a communique indicating the plans by U.S. intelligence to ensure Malcolm was permanently silenced by a certain time period. Nkrumah relayed this information to Malcolm and asked him to consider staying on in Ghana to continue to help building the Pan-African work they and others were fervently working on. According to Nkrumah’s letters, Malcolm listened and told him he had to come back to the U.S. Nkrumah knew Malcolm’s time was limited. Nkrumah probably knew his time was limited. The important thing about that to me is Malcolm continued on because he knew that work was essential. He knew that imperialism would use the Nation of Islam to stop him from carrying out the Pan-African vision he was never permitted to articulate at that meeting on February 21, 1965.
For some of us, he didn’t need to say it from that podium where he was gunned down. His actions that previous year had already told us what direction he was traveling in. If we accept the correctness of his vision, which we do, all we have had to do is jump in and carry out that work. We are not perfect. In fact, we have made countless errors and we will make countless more. Still, what cannot be said about us is that we abandoned Malcolm’s vision and instead view him as an icon on a pedestal. As we watch all the people saying today how much they love him, we wonder where those people are on a daily basis? Malcolm was no bourgeoisie hero. No reformist. He was a revolutionary so if all these people love him, where is their revolutionary work? You won’t hear me saying I love Barack Obama because I don’t. Nothing he did motivates me to do anything except continue to organize against the system he represented at its highest position. So, if everyone loves Malcolm, where are the people continuing his work?
We don’t just wear his image and commemorate him on certain days of the year. We live out his vision every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year of our lives. We err, but we keep working because that’s the only way you demonstrate love for anyone. So, we feel like we are justified to ask, if you love him, show him some love by doing what he did. Malcolm started two organizations when he left the Nation of Islam while most of these people claiming to love him don’t even belong to one. We have to do better otherwise Malcolm will never be more than just a simple icon who’s meaning will diminish like everything else in this commodified society.