Malcolm X – El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz: An American Hero Deserves Recognition and Respect

malcolm1Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, like Malcolm himself, evoked controversy before its official release on November18, 1992. Lee added fuel to the film controversy by requesting members of the National Association ofBlack Journalists and Black parents to take their children not to work or attend school on that day but rather go to a theater to see the film. I, for one, have seen the film as part of my work but recommend others see it when their time and resources permit.

The selection of actors Denzel Washington as the character MalcolmX and Howard University professor Al Freeman as the Honorable Elijah Mohammad assured a first rate performance by the two central figures in the film. Huge profits from the film are expected because in life and death Malcolm X has been both
revered and despised by different groups of people. One view,especially among critics of conservative temperament in the United States, is that Malcolm X, a former product of the Nation of Islam, should not be celebrated as a true American hero. The nationally known journalist Carl T. Rowan in the Washington Post (9/4/92) wrote a column entitled “Malcolm X – No Hero of Mine.” In it Rowan argued” the whole Malcolm X phenomenon is a glaring, sometimes dismaying, case of movie makers and others revising history and making a man who had dubious impact in life appear to be a towering social and political figure long after his death.”! Fortunately, Rowan’s opinion of Malcolm X is inconsequential since he only speaks for himself as a journalist and not for African-American people. The real tragedy in Rowan’s commentary is his fundamental ignorance of Malcolm X’s ideological contributions to African- Americans’ struggle for freedom and liberation from mainstream American hypocrisy and racism.

This quest for freedom continues today in the executive offices in both the public and private sector where racism thrives in myriad guises impervious to claims of both merit or mercy.

Malcolm X’s rage was based on a radical clarity of vision of the way American society functioned for Black people. His hostility was directed at changing a political! cultural! economic system aimed at maintaining de facto racial inequalities. Many of the disparities that Malcolm X lashed out against continue to retard the progress ofBlacks and other oppressed people. His message was clear and penetrating: Black people must accept themselves as they are and cease Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, like Malcolm himself, evoked controversy before its official release on November18, 1992.Lee added fuel to the film controversy by requesting members of the National Association ofBlack Journalists and Black parents to take their children not to work or attend school on that day but rather go to a theater to see the film. I, for one, have seen the film as part of my work but recommend others see it when their time and resources permit.

malcolm3

The selection of actors Denzel Washington as the character Malcolm X and Howard University professor Al Freeman as the Honorable Elijah Mohammad assured a first rate performance by the two central figures in the film. Huge profits from the film are expected because in life and death Malcolm X has been both revered and despised by different groups of people. One view, especially among critics of conservative temperament in the United States, is that Malcolm X, a former product of the Nation of Islam, should not be celebrated as a true American hero. The nationally known journalist Carl T. Rowan in the Washington Post (9/4/92) wrote a column entitled “Malcolm X – No Hero of Mine.” In it Rowan argued” the whole Malcolm X phenomenon is a glaring, sometimes dismaying, case of movie makers and others revising history and making a man who had dubious impact in life appear to be a towering social and political figure long after his death.”! Fortunately, Rowan’s opinion of Malcolm X is inconsequential since he only speaks for himself as a journalist and not for African-American people. The real tragedy in Rowan’s commentary is his fundamental ignorance of Malcolm X’s ideological contributions to African- Americans’ struggle for freedom and liberation from mainstream American hypocrisy and racism. trying to emulate Euro- Americans, especially in the area of economic exploitation of non-Europeans everywhere. His ideological, enduring legacy of racial pride, self help, and group solidarity is useful for any oppressed people.

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Contrary to the myopic Carl Rowans of the world, let’s set the record straight as to why I, and millions of people all over the world, consider Malcolm X a hero. First, the raised expectations and failures of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s led many African-Americans to conclude that posi- tive and progressive change in American is not possible via traditional forms of social protest. Malcolm X was especially adept in pointing out the hypocrisy of governmental leaders. For instance, in 1964,in Malcolm’s ”The Ballot or the Bullet” speech he pointed out the perceived conspiracy between the Democra tic and Republican parties on the issue of civil rights. It was his view that the government was responsible for the lack of action on the civil right issue and not political parties. He questioned an immigration policy of permitting northern Europeans (i.e., Italians, Polish, etc.) to immigrate into the society and acculturated, as supporting their immediate and full participation in the American mainstream society. On the other hand, Malcolm observed that Black people have been in America clean up their lives. This work has to be considered as an act of helping them to “lift the level of their lives.”! Malcolm also lifted the level of his vision. It is widely known that at the end of his life, he articulated a unifying vision of Black and White people working together to uplift the human race. Malcolm’s rage was aimed at social misconduct and injustice, at behavior and not color.

“I no longer subscribe to racism.
I have adjusted my thinking to
the point where I believe that whites are human beings as long as this is born out of their
humane attitude toward negroes/”

malcolm2Malcolm X changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El Shabazz to further highlight his conversion from a Black Muslim to a Muslim, without a racial label. As one white participant in the civil rights movement, Ed Lahn, pointed out in an essay in the Washington Post (9/12/92) “…I believe that Malcolm X deserves respect. It is true that he preached anti-white racism atone time in his life – but also true that he stopped preaching it.Early life experiences caused Malcolm to hate white people. For instance, he witnessed one of his brothers lynched and two others also slain by whites. In Lansing, Michigan whites burned down his family’s first home an constantly harassed his family because his father since 1619 and must have constitutional amend- ments and civil rights legislation to make them functional Americans.” Things have not changed all that much in the 28 years since Malcolm X was assassinated. The Executive Director of TransAfrica, Randall Robinson and the late former tennis star, Arthur Ashe, before his death for example, made the same point in highlighting governmental hypocrisy. They correctly contend that the Bush administration’s hypocrisy was reflected in its refugee policy which is inconsistent when it deals with Haitian versus former Soviet and Eastern European refugees seeking political asylum. This hypocrisy not only applied to immigrants but also to the racial stock of countries seeking foreign aid. o.c. shadow Senator Jesse Jackson highlights this ethnic bias in public policy when he compares the Reagan and Bush financial support for the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe with Angola, particularly since the United States is the largest trading partner with a new democratic elected government in Angola.’

Second, Rowan and others have chosen to judge Malcolm solely by the depths he fell to as a young hustler and not by the heights to which he ascended as an international spokesperson. To do this is not only infuriating but also an overt act of disrespect for Malcolm’s work for which he paid the ultimate price with his life. Malcolm X detractors do not recognize and respect his work, along with the Nation of Islam organization, in redeeming one of the most alienated segments of the Black community, victims of drug and alcohol abuse. Their efforts helped tens of thousands of people regain their self respect and was a follower of Marcus Garvey. His mother suffered a nervous breakdown and after a white insurance company refused to pay after his Father’s death. While in elementary school a white school teacher’s encouragement of young Malcolm to be- come a carpenter rather than the “unrealistic” expectation of becoming a lawyer).” Nevertheless, “later experiences enabled him to give up his hatred. How many convinced racists are capable of giving up their racism? Not many …Those who do deserve respect.”?

Third, and most important of all, Malcolm’s transformation from an underworld opportunist to transcendent leader respected in many quarters in the world is indeed an accomplishment to be emu- lated. Specifically, Malcolm’s mature life is truly representative of the three elements of the strong black male identity: a provider for his family, a soul mate for his wife and a warrior for his race. Seen as a warrior against injustice, Malcolm X could be counted upon to confront this country for its hypocrisy and racism. Malcolm X’s life provides a clear example and a challenge to all of us to decide whether we shall remain mute and victimized or engender our own resurrection by accepting the challenge to reform ourselves, our people, in this increasingly dangerous nation.

Malcolm X, for many, joins a cluster of Black warrior leaders initially disrespected by the establishment when alive but subsequently revered after death. Frederick Douglass, for example, was born into slavery but overcame his origins to become a spokesperson for African American liberation. Douglas, in 1847 asked ”What country have I? 120 years later Malcolm X raised the same troubling question …”I am one of the 22 million victims of Americanism.:” Marcus Garvey, often called “Black Moses” was able to organize over a million Black men and women towards self-determination when established institutions like the NAACP and Urban League were not able secure the support of many Black people at the bottom of the economic and social ladder. Dr. W.E.B. DuBois was called a communist and considered as an undesirable American by the establishment because of his unwavering commitment to the liberation of African-American people. Recently, the U.S. Postal Service honored DuBois’ legacy with an official stamp recognizing his contributions to American society. His legacy includes 23 books, hundreds of essays and co- founder in 1910 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP). In 1903, in DuBois’ Soul of Black Folks he correctly argued that the problem of the 20th Century will be the color line.9 Paul Robeson, Phi Beta Kappa scholar,” All- American” athlete, lawyer, actor, singer and movie star in the 1920s-194Os spoke out against Jim Crow laws believed that Black Americans would not fight for racist America against what he saw at the time as nondiscriminatory Soviet Russia. His career was ruined. The State Department canceled his pass- port, cutting him off from lucrative European appearances. It took 10years for the Supreme Court to restore his passport.” Drs. Bill and Camille Cosby recently donated a commissioned bronze bust of Paul Robeson by sculptor George Carlson for the entrance to the Paul Robeson Cultural and Perform- ing Arts Center at Central State University in recognition of Roberson’s accomplishments.

malcolm4Today, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and Rev. Jessie Louis Jackson are two contemporary examples of Black men who have challenged the system on behalf of African-American people. Unlike these warriors many middle class blacks must rely upon the critical element of financial support to dictate to them how to behave and what strategies to call upon in specific situations.” In the past and today many Black actors, scholars musicians, athletes, entertainers, journalist, academics, preachers, secretaries, administrators, executives and others sometimes bit their lips and endure insults and lack of respect silently, hoping that their performances will win friends and gradually break down prejudice. Malcolm X as a warrior rejected this “good behavior” philosophy. He felt that the goal of liberation called for forthright, upfront action.

In conclusion, Malcolm X, for many of his admirers, provides a shining example of the requirements of true warrior-like African American male leadership. Malcolm X and other Black leaders caused this nation to search its soul and question its practices. For many others beyond the Carl T. Rowans,smacking their lips in satisfaction with the status quo, Malcolm X’s deeds bring to mind qualities that are essential to human progress: hope, aspiration, courage, perseverance and faith, Hope for example, is essential to man’s well-being. Man’s sanity, if not his survival, and his commitment to long range planning, is predicated on hope that events are moving towards an ultimate good. When young black men lose hope in their abilities to change their realities, they often develop passive or overly aggressive life styles which reflect a sense of helplessness, despair and desperation. In this country, too often dreams, ambitions and beliefs are assassinated by despair. Many young African- American males are dying mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, buried in inappropriate lifestyles heedless of the admonition to “train up a child in the way he should go: so when he is old, he will not depart from it”12Malcolm realized the power and importance of role models as well as perspectives like economic and social justice long before they became the watch words of the leader- ship community. He devoted most of his adult life attempting to improve the quality of the moral and mental life in the Black community by trying to convince his people to remove the shackles from their minds as their initial liberating step in the process of self help. He taught Black men that manhood is not proven through violence, taking drugs, or impregnating women. He instilled in Black people, many of whom were trapped by ignorance, abuse, lack of appropriate nurturing and low self-esteem, a sense of self-worth and responsibility both to themselves and others. Malcolm X’s legacy represents one important chapter in a continuing struggle to challenge the nation to live up to its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal …” For these deeds and others not discussed in this essay Malcolm X de- serves both recognition and respect as a true American hero who believed like the old stone cutter during slavery days, that it is neither the first blow nor the last blow that splits the stone, but a constant succession of blows that achieve the desired result.

He paid the ultimate price for his convictions and I have seen the 3 hour and 20 minute film it is truly important for Ml Americans to see and sup- port the film because it tells the story of one of America’s great heroes who attempted to help liber- ate his people from the negative consequences of racism and hypocrisy. The film also helps to illuminate why racial tension continues to exist today even after the technical end of slavery in 1865. Finally, Malcolm X’s life clearly demonstrates how people can change their world view to accept the diversity that exist in the United States and through- out the world and thus he was able to rid himself of a narrow perspective. With the dawning of the Bill Ointon Administration, America might be able to free herself from the shackles of its past and move towards valuing diversity and utilizing the strengths of all its people as the United States of America attempts to lead the world into the 21st century and beyond. Malcolm X’s life can be viewed as a model of how to accomplish this feat and for this reason alone, he deserves recognition and respect as an African-American and an American hero for demonstrating to all of us how we can overcome our own internalized oppression .•

Micheal Frazier, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Howard University. 

Endnotes
1. Carl T. Rowan, “Malcolm X-No Hero of Mine” Washington Post, 4 September 1992.

2. George Breitman, ed. “The Ballot or Bullet” in Malcolm X Speaks New York: Grove Press, 1965.

3. Michael Frazier, “Jesse L. Jackson’s State of Black Africa Report: South Africa-The Evil Empire,” The Men of Shiloh Newsletter, Vo1.2,No.2 Washington, D.C. 1987.

4. Timothy Bodor, “What We Can Learn From Malcolm X,” Washington Post, 12 September 1992.

5. Alex Haley. 1985. The Autobiography York: Ballantine Books.

of Malcolm X. New

6. Edgar A. Toppin. 1985. A Biographical History of Black Americans in America Since 1528. New York: David McKay Company.

7. Ed Jahn, “What We Can Leam From Malcolm X,”Washington Post, 12 September 1992.

8. Milton D. Morris. 1975. The Politics of Black America. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.

9. W.E.B. Dubois. 1969. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: New American Library.

10. Edgar A. Topin. Opt. Cit.
11. James E. Blackwell. 1985. The Black Community. New

York: Harper& Row.

12. American Bible Society. 1978. Good News Bible: Todays’s English Version. New York.

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