Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Tribute to Malcolm X on His 85th Birthday

Malcolm X: 1925-1965


Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on this day in Omaha, Nebraska in 1925 and was assassinated at the age of 39 on February 21, 1965 in New York's Harlem. In between those two events Malcolm lived one of the most complex, profound, dynamic, and iconic lives of the 20th century and had--as he continues to have--a tremendous impact and influence on millions of people throughout not only the United States but the entire globe. How he managed to accomplish this massive feat despite the severe and pervasive racist oppression and exploitation inflicted upon all African Americans of his generation-- and the decided lack of official social, economic, and cultural status especially accorded those like Malcolm who fiercely organized masses of people to oppose and resist such treatment--is one of the major accomplishments of modern African American history and marks Malcolm's revolutionary contributions to global political, spiritual, and cultural thought and activism as one of the most important and powerful legacies of any individual in the world during the 20th century. In my view Malcolm remains the most intellectually and socially significant, advanced, and innovative African American political leader since W.E.B. DuBois because he represented and embodied not only a deep, analytical understanding and insight into the myriad dialectical complexities and contradictions of African American life and culture, but he also understood and expressed in a particularly nuanced and organic manner just how the specific ideological and cultural dynamics of race and class in the United States affected the tone and identity of national liberation struggles both here and abroad. In addition Malcolm's deeply rooted disaporic connections to international Third World and Pan African movements in the colonial and postcolonial contexts of European and American hegemony over Africa, Latin America, and Asia--and the pervasive revolutionary anticolonial struggles against such domination and control in these societies--played a major role in also making Malcolm one of the leading global activists on behalf of anti- imperialist movements.In 2002 I published a historical and political biography on Malcolm entitled 'The Life and Work of Malcolm X.' What follows below is the introduction to that text. Further information and texts by and about Malcolm as well as videos of him speaking will also be featured. It is in the spirit of great love and solidarity that we make these gestures in celebration of Malcolm's 85th birthday. May his extraordinary work and stellar personal example continue to lead and inspire us all.


by Kofi Natambu

“I know that societies have often killed the people who have helped to change those societies. And if I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America--then, all the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."
                       --The Autobiography of Malcolm X
                         (as told to Alex Haley), 1965

“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”
                      --Malcolm X
                        Barnard College, February 18, 1965

We live in an age of profound dishonesty, fear, hatred and timid equivocation. A dangerously facile cynicism, coupled with a soul-numbing infantilism has infected our society, rendering us seemingly powerless to productively affect or direct our lives. Too often ignorance and a smug reliance on easy orthodoxies of all kinds lend an illusory quality to our collective despair, lost as we often are on the beaches of loneliness and indecision. What’s worse is that so many of our so-called “leaders” lack any genuine intellectual, political, or moral energy to propose directions, methods, and ideas that require much more than adolescent posturing or punitive edicts. Opportunism and careerism rule the day, informed as they are by the insipid “pay me” principle, which ensures that ‘incidental’ things like integrity, discipline, compassion, generosity, and intelligence--the kind that gives one the opportunity to think, reflect, and act instead of foreclosing those possibilities—won’t inform and provide ballast for our insights and desires.Which brings me to Malcolm X, also known as Malcolm Little, ‘Detroit Red’, ‘Satan’ and finally, El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. The black man with many names, green eyes and red hair who didn’t live to see the age of forty but who lived a multitude of lives anyway. The black man from Omaha, Lansing, Detroit, Boston, and New York who lived to befriend, work with, inspire, confound, educate, learn from, and transform people and cultures and political and economic and cultural and religious systems and values on three continents, and who lived to tell his/their/our stories. The black man who spoke a bewildering number of languages from African American swing, bebop, and blues tonalities, in all of their ultra hip vernacular modes and dimensions to the mellifluously flowing nuances & inflections of Arabic, Creole, Yoruba, and Chinese stews fermenting with the ancient elixirs of their myriad linguistic, spiritual, and cultural traditions.You see, Malcolm sought at all times and under every conceivable circumstance to know, and so knowledge returned the favor. Knowledge, whose handmaiden is faith, is something Malcolm “knew” well because experience was valuable to him, and he never took what it could reveal to him for granted. Even in the ugly basement of his own temporary confusions and stupidities, frustrations and disappointments, Malcolm always sought to know, to “truly understand and examine” that which he had been told was (or was not) “real.” He wasn’t content to find an easy niche and lie there, swatting flies and muttering everyday homilies. He understood, which is to say, appreciated the effort, time, and commitment that it took to “know” and “understand” anything, anyone, anywhere. He wanted always, to know more, and think more, and express more, and give more, and create more and expect more, and feel more, and experience more. It wasn’t enough for him to merely embrace an idea, action, or stance. He “knew” better. He had been taught by everyone and everything he had ever encountered to always critically question what he was “being told.” Not in order to checkmate some hapless opponent ‘Homer Simpson’ style, but to ask, endlessly and creatively, and forcefully, and quietly and loudly and gently and brusquely ASK not merely who, what, when, where, and how, but the “heavy duty” WHY(?)Malcolm realized it would always take more than he was able or willing to give but he freely gave anyway, knowing that his ego or his pain or his ignorance or his fear would be inadequate. But because he gave, and believed in giving, and knew the limitations of fame, money, “suckcess,” and “identity” he was able, always, to supplant his former achievements and establish, build, work for, and embody still higher and different accomplishments. Malcolm wasn’t ‘hemmed in’ by politics or religion or ideology. He understood that in order to “live what you teach” and aspire to learning more required that one become a student of life. What made Malcolm so important is that he never lost faith in his ability to change, and be changed by, the world. But not merely the world we inherit but the world(s) we make and change and know and then (re)make again and again. Malcolm represented what Amilcar Cabral, the West African revolutionary meant when he said “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.” He also knew why Frantz Fanon added “Every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it.” And oh yeah, this one: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Malcolm also knew that what is “true” is not necessarily “real” or vice versa. No “virtual realities” for him. No ‘Survivor’-induced lies from the jungles of corporate gangsters & advertising executive suites for him. Only the “true” and the “real” in an exquisitely dialectical and yes yall, dialogical dance would ever suffice for Malcolm X, the known, but unknown one. As Miles Davis once said “Hate is like Love--they both build momentum.” The ‘X’ in Malcolm’s life was the algebra of possibilities to know and then gradually, inevitably “not know” so that knowledge and activity could find some new and fresh ways to connect and reconnect, combine and recombine in finally more useful and interesting ways. The ‘X’ is the African American in the diaspora finding his/her way “back home” to the selves that were always already “black” and will be again and again no matter what ‘colors’ we’re compelled to be. That, for Malcolm and his ‘X’ is what made it possible for him to insist on the eternally real and true core of the matter, which was and is and always will be our ‘Human Rights’, our Human Being Hood. He didn’t mean this in any pollyanna, namby-pamby, let’s-all hold-hands-and pretend-we’re-all-the-same-suckers-singing-songs-together manner either. No. His aim was simultaneously much higher and deeper than that. ‘Freedom is for the Free’. Which is to say, for those willing to pay the price. The price is always our very lives as in “You know the stakes is high.” Malcolm told us over and over again. And no man or woman can possibly give or take that freedom--unless we “allow” them to.That is the TRUE genius of Malcolm X. He realized the sheer simplicity, which is to say, bone-crushing difficulty of what it means to be a “genius” and share that great capacity for love, thought, and action with the world/whirl. Malcolm looked & saw that genius is not something we are but something we do. That is his profound legacy to “his people” which is finally anyone who “really & truly” wants to be free & is more than willing to “pay the price.” The last words of his Autobiography quoted at the start of this soliloquy remind us so eloquently of his actual legacy to those of us who are not afraid to make a contribution to not merely the ‘concept’ of liberation, but the living, breathing necessity of it. That’s real & Malcolm himself. This book is an attempt to recognize and express that fact.

Kofi Natambu
May 23, 2001
Oakland, California

MALCOLM X QUOTATIONS:Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.

I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won't let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion.

I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.

I don't even call it violence when it's in self defense; I call it intelligence.

I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it's for or against.

If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything.

If you have no critics you'll likely have no success.

If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary.

In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure.

My Alma mater was books, a good library... I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you're a man, you take it.

Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate. Being here in America doesn't make you an American. Being born here in America doesn't make you an American.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

Usually when people are sad, they don't do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.

Malcolm X, Malcolm X Speaks, 1965

BIBLIOGRAPHY OF BOOKS BY AND ABOUT MALCOLM XCarson, Clayborne (1991). Malcolm X: The FBI File. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-88184-758-5.
Clarke, John Henrik, ed. (1990) [1969]. Malcolm X: The Man and His Times. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press. ISBN 0-86543-201-5.
Clegg III, Claude Andrew (1997). An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 0-312-18153-1.
Cone, James H. (1991). Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books. ISBN 0-88344-721-5.
DeCaro, Jr., Louis A. (1996). On the Side of My People: A Religious Life of Malcolm X. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-1864-7.
Dyson, Michael Eric (1995). Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509235-X.
Evanzz, Karl (1992). The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-049-6.
Helfer, Andrew; Randy DuBurke (2006). Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography. New York: Hill and Wang. ISBN 0-8090-9504-1.
Karim, Benjamin (1992). Remembering Malcolm. with Peter Skutches and David Gallen. New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0-88184-881-6.
Kondo, Zak A. (1993). Conspiracys: Unravelling the Assassination of Malcolm X. Washington, D.C.: Nubia Press. ISBN 0-9618815-1-13.
Lincoln, C. Eric (1961). The Black Muslims in America. Boston: Beacon Press. OCLC 422580.
Lomax, Louis E. (1987) [1968]. To Kill a Black Man. Los Angeles: Holloway House. ISBN 0-87067-731-4.
Lomax, Louis E. (1963). When the Word Is Given. Cleveland: World Publishing. OCLC 1071204.
Malcolm X (1992) [1965]. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. with the assistance of Alex Haley. New York: One World. ISBN 0-345-37671-4.
Malcolm X (1989) [1970]. By Any Means Necessary: Speeches, Interviews, and a Letter by Malcolm X. George Breitman, ed. New York: Pathfinder Press. ISBN 0-87348-150-X.
Malcolm X (1989) [1971]. The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. Benjamin Karim, ed. New York: Arcade. ISBN 1-55970-006-8.
Malcolm X (1990) [1965]. Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements. George Breitman, ed. New York: Grove Weidenfeld. ISBN 0-8021-3213-8.
Malcolm X (1991) [1968]. The Speeches of Malcolm X at Harvard. Archie Epps, ed. New York: Paragon House. ISBN 1-55778-479-5.
Marable, Manning (2009). "Rediscovering Malcolm's Life: A Historian's Adventures in Living History". in Marable, Manning; Aidi, Hishaam D. Black Routes to Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-4039-8400-X.
Natambu, Kofi (2002). The Life and Work of Malcolm X. Indianapolis: Alpha Books. ISBN 0-02-864218-X.
Perry, Bruce (1991). Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America. Barrytown, N.Y.: Station Hill. ISBN 0-88268-103-6.
Rickford, Russell J. (2003). Betty Shabazz: A Remarkable Story of Survival and Faith Before and After Malcolm X. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks. ISBN 1-4022-0171-0.
Sales, William W. (1994). From Civil Rights to Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Boston: South End Press. ISBN 0-89608-480-9.
Terrill, Robert (2004). Malcolm X: Inventing Radical Judgment. Lansing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press. ISBN 0-87013-730-1.
Further reading

Alkalimat, Abdul. Malcolm X for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1990.
Asante, Molefi K. Malcolm X as Cultural Hero: and Other Afrocentric Essays. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1993.
Baldwin, James. One Day, When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based On Alex Haley's "The Autobiography Of Malcolm X". New York: Dell, 1992.
Breitman, George. The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1967.
Breitman, George, and Herman Porter. The Assassination of Malcolm X. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1976.
Carew, Jan. Ghosts In Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean. Chicago: Lawrence Hill, 1994.
Cleage, Albert B., and George Breitman. Myths About Malcolm X: Two Views. New York: Merit, 1968.
Collins, Rodney P. The Seventh Child. New York: Dafina; London: Turnaround, 2002.
Davis, Thulani. Malcolm X: The Great Photographs. New York: Stewart, Tabon and Chang, 1992.
DeCaro, Louis A. Malcolm and the Cross: The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, and Christianity. New York: New York University, 1998.
Doctor, Bernard Aquina. Malcolm X for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1992.
Friedly, Michael. The Assassination of Malcolm X. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Gallen, David, ed. Malcolm A to Z: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Gallen, David, ed. Malcolm X: As They Knew Him. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1992.
Goldman, Peter. The Death and Life of Malcolm X. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.
Jamal, Hakim A. From The Dead Level: Malcolm X and Me. New York: Random House, 1972.
Jenkins, Robert L. The Malcolm X Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Kly, Yussuf Naim, ed. The Black Book: The True Political Philosophy of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El Shabazz). Atlanta: Clarity Press, 1986.
Leader, Edward Roland. Understanding Malcolm X: The Controversial Changes in His Political Philosophy. New York: Vantage Press, 1993.
Lee, Spike, with Ralph Wiley. By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of The Making Of Malcolm X. New York: Hyperion, 1992.
Maglangbayan, Shawna. Garvey, Lumumba, and Malcolm: National-Separatists. Chicago, Third World Press 1972.
Marable, Manning. On Malcolm X: His Message & Meaning. Westfield, N.J.: Open Media, 1992.
Shabazz, Ilyasah. Growing Up X. New York: One World, 2002.
Strickland, William et al.. Malcolm X: Make It Plain. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
Terrill, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Malcolm X. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
T'Shaka, Oba. The Political Legacy of Malcolm X. Richmond, Calif.: Pan Afrikan Publications, 1983.
Wolfenstein, Eugene Victor. The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution. London: Free Association Books, 1989.
Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

External links

The Official Web Site of Malcolm X Malcolm X: Make It Plain malcolm-x.orgMalcolm X: A Profile The Malcolm X Project at Columbia University Malcolm X Reference Archive Malcolm X: A Research Site
Interview with Louis Lomax, from When the Word Is Given (1963) Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, Spring 1963
Video interview with Herman Blake,
October 1963 Interview with A.B. Spellman, May 1964
CBC television interview, January 1965
"By Any Means Necessary", June 1964 (Video) Other links Malcolm X's FBI file