“I Hate Malcolm X.” These are the words that circulated in my subconscious. And to be honest, the extent of my knowledge of his contribution was scant. But I knew that I hated him. So a week prior to his birthday, I was in dismay when I saw some friends from Lambda Theta Phi post up on their FB that May 19 was his birthday and that they were encouraging people to circulate more information about him. I actually had to restrain myself before I conveyed my dissatisfaction directly to any one of them. I thought so lowly of him that I had Spike Lee’s Malcolm X on my Netflix Instant Queue for weeks, if not months, without touching it.
You see, I’ve probably listened to the “I Have A Dream” speech so many times that I could not help but regurgitate fragments or use similar metaphors during speaking opportunities. I had also heard many of Malcolm’s speeches. It was about two years ago when I read “Great Speeches by Malcolm X” (or something like that). Talk about a serious awakening! I listened to find a brilliant scholar intertwine legitimate gripe with hate and anger. Even having felt that same ire and rage, I still felt distant from him. I could not bring myself to condone the vitriol. After listening to those speeches filled with explicit condemnation of people (white or Jewish) as a whole made him a far cry from anyone that I aspired to emulate.
So, when I saw my friend Aaron Ammons and a few others from Ubuntu organized an event on May 19 to commemorate Malcolm X’s legacy, I was again taken aback. However, I thought to myself, let me attend this event with an open mind to hear these scholars contribute in a meaningful way to the definition of Malcolm. I was looking for insight into his life and why they thought he was an important figure.
The event consisted of a few clips, followed by critical analysis of the new biography by Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, along with a reading of one of Malcolm’s speeches from his book about MLK’s March on Washington. I sat quiet the whole time and tried to internalize everything.
The role of Islam in Malcolm’s progression was discussed along with why he was never fully embraced by America. It was then that I heard first hand the discrimination that Aaron’s son Jelani had experienced at school because he is a Muslim. When Osama Bin Laden had been executed by Navy Seals, Jelani’s peers had turned to him to inquire how he felt about that circumstance. Apparently, they had to know on what side he stood―Islam or America. It broke my heart to hear the words of bewilderment uttered to his father. Having seen him grow from a young boy to a future leader of America, I could feel a piece of his humanity lost when he was estranged by his own friends and colleagues in that way. And I became more convinced of the reality that Islam assuredly played a role in Malcolm’s rejection in the United States.
Another thing I learned was that Malcolm X parted with the Nation of Islam due to the infidelities of the Prophet Elijah Mohammed combined with his awakenings from his trip to Mecca. The net result was a philosophical fracture with those who nursed and cultivated Malcolm’s religious awakening.
Lastly, I learned that MLK’s March on Washington was a farce from Malcolm X’s vantage. He iterated how the US government had staged the whole scene simply to prevent Black America from exploding. MLK was utilized to get every single Black person to calm down. My world was shattered. A man who I had studied as a rhetorician was immediately cut down to the lowest form. And I was strangely okay with it.
I returned home that night resolved to watch the three-hour Spike Lee saga knowing full well how tired I was. It didn’t matter. I was wide awake with each scene, from Detroit Red working as a pimp, to Malcolm X speaking at the press conference podium after being silenced by the Nation of Islam. It was then that I realized his words about the assassination of JFK (“The chickens came home to roost”) were not so much a condemnation of JFK and America as much as they were a direct intellectual assault at the Prophet Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam. Having done this myself and mistakenly enraging the wrong people for being so misguidedly poignant with my words, I could immediately understand Malcolm in a way that I never had.
I further learned that, after he parted with the Nation Of Islam, his disposition towards whites, Jews, non-Muslims and the world was dramatically different. It was as if he had a second epiphany. He was no longer beholden to the rhetoric of the organization. He was a human being with his own mind and able to draw his own conclusions. I quickly thought how leaving NYC to go to school and my comfort zone had given me the same space. All the norms that had been subconsciously imparted were all challenged at various junctures. Many remain. But there were more than a few that were glaring flaws such as the prolific use of the word N***a and B****. You simply can’t imagine what it’s like to be in The South Bronx at home, on the block, on the train or wherever I was and to not hear those words at least every few minutes either from my own mouth or those around me.
I started to think about what all this meant. MLK went from being an icon to a farce. Malcolm had gone from being a hate monger to a serious thinker.
Many people do not know this, but over the years I repeatedly challenged members of the U of I College Republicans, Daily Illini and the Orange & Blue Observer staff, among others, to come on my radio program The Show after seeing or hearing them make some vitriolic speech. Each time, they ran. I extended invitations so many times that I got tired of hawking them and gave up. And yet, it was I who was labeled the “angry minority” or fear monger. I had simply longed for someone of a seemingly contrary position to sit across from me on the stage as they had with Malcolm to sharpen my intellectual wits and let listeners decide for themselves.
For that reason, at a ripe old age of 30, I finally realized that we have all been hoodwinked. We have all been bamboozled and brainwashed. One of the greatest advocates for Human Rights has actually been painted in a manner far from his intellectual contribution. And for that reason, I say to you, as I have said to many others, I will not succumb to the same fate as Malcolm X whose image has been tarnished, or MLK whose legacy has been whitewashed. In fact, history will be kind to me, for I intend to write, direct and YouTube it.