On this day in 1925, Malcolm X was born. He was the black man who scared the white folks. And for that, I will always love him. What’s interesting about that is that the Nation of Islam is a conservative group. And if you listen to conservatives today, what they claim that the black community should do is exactly what the Nation of Islam did do and still does. But these very same conservatives are terrified by the group and especially its charismatic leaders. I don’t think it’s at all hyperbolic to say that conservatives want blacks to be separatists but they are terrified that they will be self-actualizing.
The way I see political action, it is necessary to have extremists—or at least those who people perceive as extremists. In the 1960s, whites were afraid of Martin Luther King, but not like they were afraid of Malcolm X. And that gave King more power than he otherwise would have had. As it was, many whites considered King a rabble-rouser and a law breaker. To this day, I read people who claim that he was a communist. But in the end, he became the “good negro” as compared to Malcolm X who was the “bad” or “angry negro.”
(This is why I blame the Democratic Party for the radicalization of the Republican Party. If you want to meet in the middle, you have to give people choices at the edges. All the New Democratic pushing to the center has just pushed the Republicans to the right. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both understood this simple concept that completely eludes the likes of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.)
I don’t agree with racial separation because I don’t believe in race. It is just a construct powerful people created to justify their domination of our shared resources. This is something that Ta-Nehisi Coates has written about eloquently for a long time. But I understand Malcolm X’s belief in it. What’s more, I still think it is a valid way for oppressed minorities to thrive. But I still hold on to what is probably a fanciful notion of all of us breading with each other and turning into one big happy brown skinned “race.”
I think that Malcolm X’s greatest work was in front of him, so that his assassination is even more tragic than King’s. Like King, the man had not even reached the age of 40! And I am constantly struck with the fact that Malcolm X was born on the same day as Pol Pot, one of the great villains of the 20th century who lived to be almost twice the age of Malcolm X and died of natural causes. The universe is unjust and thus so too is our culture.
Happy birthday Malcolm X!