Where would we be without Malcolm?


Yesterday was the birthday of the late El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X. He would have been 84 years old. I often wonder what Malcolm would say about race relations today. Would he think we have come far? Would he feel satisfied that we have a black president? Was Malcolm’s sole motivation the symbolic shifting of race relations in this country or was it the actual change in the material conditions of the black community?
As an up and coming activist there were few books that influenced me as much as the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Not only was his life inspiring and continues to inspire myself and others committed to the movement for social change world-wide, his voice of dissent to mediocrity masked as social welfare to benefit the black community, as opposed to full self-determination and self-actualization, has yet to be replaced. His voice maintains in the background always motivating us for true equality, for basic human rights, and to demand a better world, “by any means necessary” for those that have survived a brutal history of colonization, racism and slavery.
So happy birthday Malcolm X. Your spirit continues to inspire those of us that see injustice and continue to work for a better world. I can’t imagine where we would be without you.
Check out this great video of one of his most influential speeches.

Also, check out Grace Lee Boggs on knowing Malcolm X, Adrienne Maree Brown on the application of Malcolm’s teaching to building power in communities around violence and Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the legacy of Malcolm X.

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120 Comments

  1. Jessica
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    No worries! They don’t really make it clear on the site that that’s the case for sites who don’t sign up for their code.
    We don’t have demographic info for the site, unfortunately…though it’s definitely something I’ll bring up in our Feministing retreat next week since it seems like it’s something people are interested in!

  2. Renee
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    A library card is free. There are paths towards education outside of Academia if one has a true desire to learn. One of the things that amazed my immigrant parents when they came to North America was the public library system. They taught us, their children to recognize what a resource it is and to this day my children and I make weekly trips to pick out our reading material.

  3. sapien
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Ok, cool. My bad. I misinterpretted what you said.

  4. PamelaVee
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    maybe you should quote me with the entire sentence AND in the context that she was clearly baiting and begging for me to say “angry”? She specifically asked because she knows it has racist connotations. I mentioned she was angry because I’ve never seen a more confrontational jump-to-stereotyped-conclusions text on these boards, ever, in any post that I’ve read.
    I am angry because people are saying what she said isn’t racist and that to be offended by it, that I am. No one here said there’s not privilege. And yes, there are things that I do not see because of it. Where do we go from here?

  5. PamelaVee
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism
    I am pretty sure this thread has a fair amount of the 2nd and 3rd definition. Privilege or none. There are racists of all races.

  6. Samhita
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    You know, this thread has passed the point of anything I have ever been trained to deal with (I think this is clear from most of my comments threads, haha). All I ask is that we use compassion when talking to each other and recognize that we all carry our own trauma and baggage and to try in some way to leave that to the side when talking about the late Malcolm X.
    It is only through kindness, understanding and compassion we can possibly understand each other and if we can’t do that, then we should step away until a time that we can.
    I have to say from where I stand, I don’t care who here is or isn’t racist. If I cared about that, I would have stopped blogging a long time ago. What I am more interested in is what can we do to make this a productive conversation where everyone learns something? Is that even possible? Should whites talk amongst themselves, POC themselves? You may laugh but that is a very common practice in non-profits because the pain, grief and ignorance that comes out of uncovering racism stings those who you want to “help.”
    One of the key ways I have survived this long writing in hostile environments has been because I focus on structural racism, as opposed to interpersonal. It is not my job to figure out if you are a racist and help you be less racist. It is my job to write from the margins to the best I know, give voices to the stories I know best, bring light to the organizing efforts. The first 8000 times you may not even realizing it is changing, but over time it will. And it will change and impact feminism.
    Step back, take a deep breath, think, is this the conversation that needs to be happening in order to open our minds to better dialogue around race.

  7. mangotastic1
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow! That was amazing– thanks so much for posting that, you rock.

  8. becstar
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    People who are that poor are too busy working to spend hours in a library reading. Free time is the privilege of the rich.

  9. yahoo
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    you say this:
    “His advocation of total separation from whites was so that blacks could protect themselves from the physical, psychological, and social terrorism of a white supremacist system. I have always found that VERY reasonable considering the circumstances. I use my feminism to understand that perspective.”
    thank you so much for that very clear explanation. the words in my head dont seem to look the same way yours do.
    today a white lady said to her friend in passing, “that colored girl has her manners. they mostly don’t have manners, you see”
    the south …its thick down here.

  10. Tracey T
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    Spare time is a priveledge but self-education is an absolute neccesity. Huey P. Newton made time to educate hisself after the scool system failed him and Fred Hampton hosted a political education course for black peopl at 6am, one to which people showed up. Yeah it’s tough, but working can not be used as a reason for not self-educating. Even if it’s only twenty minutes a night three times a week. Yeah it’s hard, but it is absolutely necessary that black people become educated on our history and the system that oppresses us.

  11. yahoo
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    everyone’s been real nice to me when i’ve posted.
    and i’ve learned alot.
    more importantly, i’ve been inspired to learn more.
    what hositility?

  12. liv79
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Hey Sherlock, did you not read my earlier comment?
    “…the majority of americans are white or some mix thereof, so it makes sense that a lot of the readers of feministing are white.”

  13. ghostorchid
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for taking so long to respond, hope you’re still reading!
    Thank you for treating me like a human being and not resorting to undeserved assumptions about me, or personal attacks/name calling (“pearl clutcher”. wtf.)
    Hmm. I’d say “you’re welcome”, but I don’t feel that Renee treated you inhumanely. I also don’t think the assumptions she came to were undeserved – although you probably had no idea, several things you said happened to fall into a negative pattern of white feminist behavior that women of color have had to deal with time, and time, and time, and time again. More importantly, I don’t think she was making personal assumptions about you so much as calling you out on that problematic behavior. I know it’s hard, but sometimes you have to resist taking it as a personal attack, and see it instead as a political resistance.
    What I want you to realize is that you made some mistakes up there on “how to deal with a woman of color when you’re talking about race” (which I basically outlined in my previous comment; things you said unaware of the larger context) and she reacted accordingly. When I say “you made some mistakes”, I am not suggesting that you’re racist, that you’re evil or that you’re stupid – just that while it might seem like she was being hostile and unfair, she was having a perfectly legitimate response. I know she wasn’t “polite” or “nice” about it, but she’s not obligated to be.
    Although I know you feel like just you, PamelaVee, a unique individual (which I’m sure you are!) the nature of privilege is that sometimes, without even knowing you’re doing it, you’ll act more like a textbook demonstration of some women of color’s complaints about white feminists. And that can really wear on their inclination to “play nice”.
    As an example of this, I find that after a few days of talking to 101-level beginner male feminists, I get the same way – I just start feeling like the whole thing is just fucking ridiculous, and it shows in my writing. Generally that’s when other commenters tell me I’m clearly “not interested in being civil” or whatever. The problem is that I can see them playing out old, tired tropes of discourse like damn wooden puppets, and it’s stupid and hilarious and sad at the same time, but they can’t see it. They can’t see that their comments are part of a privilege machine.
    It’s like there’s no good answer. What should be the outcome?
    I just want to say that I empathize with the struggle many white feminists have (having had it myself!) of feeling like nothing they do is right, that they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
    I think that whenever you’re in a privileged position and you’re trying to figure out what the right thing to do is, it’s crucial to do some hardcore self-education on how marginalized people feel about the issue. Read their comments, read their blogs, ask very open-ended, non-loaded questions (like “How do you feel about Malcolm X?” not “Aren’t you advocating violence?”)…it’s really a bad time to do “trial or error”; you’ll end up pissing someone off. Listen, listen, listen.
    I feel like we NEED to talk about race, privilege, etc. We need to understand one another. This topic is always hard to talk about, there’s so much in the past. I just don’t see that getting done with this other type of language and assuming. I don’t see that happening when someone is jumping all over my ass, putting words in my mouth.
    First, it’s important to note that for the most part, women of color don’t need white feminists. God knows they’ve made it this far without much of an alliance with white feminists. Although white feminists tend to think in terms of numbers – “you’re a minority and therefore you need us” – some women of color activists have found that it’s actually more fruitful for their cause to ignore white feminists and stick with the allies they already have, than to try to recruit and educate non-allied white feminists.
    Second, you can have amazing discussions about race – but sometimes you can only be ready for that when you’ve really been silent for awhile and listened a lot. If you’d like to see some great examples of these discussions, there’s a WOC blogger and white blogger who are having an amazing series called “Rethinking Walking” that I strongly recommend reading:
    http://flipfloppingjoy.com/category/rethinking-walking/
    It WAS an angry post. Name calling and “your whiteness is showing!” just isn’t appropriate.
    You know, I think white feminists often perceive women of color as being mad, when they’re actually amused, frustrated, sad, or simply making a point or protest. We tend to jump right to the assumption of “anger” because it feels like we’re being attacked; actually, we’re usually just being corrected and it’s our sensitivity and defensiveness that makes us feel like we’re getting raged at. Especially because many WOC don’t feel obligated to coat their protests in deceptive politeness. Consider that when a WOC is getting angry, it might be anger at a greater system at work – like those “Friday Feminism Fuck you!” posts – and not just random personal anger at you.
    Anyway, if you take this sort of reaction as a personal affront instead of a correction, you’ll prevent yourself from getting anywhere because you’ll be too busy stewing and defending and not enough time introspecting and self-critiquing.
    Also, you’ve got to throw out your ideas of what’s “appropriate” for WOC responses.
    I don’t think the anger is unreasonable- I just think it shouldn’t have been directed at anyone here in this thread.
    Hmm, I think that’s a problem. You believe it’s okay for Renee to get angry, so long as it’s a sort of general, directionless (i.e., non-threatening) anger. Unfortunately, if you make a mistake, they might address you directly, and they might very well be mad.
    Again, try to not take it personally. Take it politically.

  14. whatsername
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I quoted it in it’s entirety already, do you need reminding of your own words only two posts later?

  15. Renee
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Really so the time my poor immigrant parents spent in libraries getting books to educate themselves was just something I imagined. Wow a life long delusion. All the people I see of lower economic status in my library are a figment of my imagination as well.. Good to know, perhaps I should tell my doctor I have spent a lifetime having visions.

  16. SaraLaffs
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, I feel like I really have learned a lot from this thread, in a very positive way.

  17. battle angel alita
    Posted May 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    “It would make more sense to talk about the problematic nature of Islam’s treatment of women (as that seems to the an issue of focus with MX on a feminist website)”
    i hope in what you say that you are referring to how certain countries have abused the teachings of islam and not about islam itself as you would be proving a point a few posters have said on here about how western white patriarchal society coats anything that disagrees with its beliefs as evil and bad and a threat. just how its has Malcolm X. i remember in my high school when we were told to do projects on famous people who changed history before anyone asked out teacher said we could not cover malcolm x because he started violence, but it was also hinted because he was a muslim and our RE teacher only wanted us covering christians. i feel really stupid for believeing it too! but as a young kid i relied on my teachers for telling me the truth-now i’m an adult i understand that history thats taught is not completely truthful and tends to be very objectional. you wonder who’s history your being taught.

  18. Ariel
    Posted May 23, 2009 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    After reading this post and thread, I’ve learned a lot about Malcolm X and will try to read his autobiography. I, too, was given the history of privileged white men and was mystified into thinking Malcolm X was violent and racist. I now understand his impact in American History and how his voice inspired empowerment to the black community. I will continue to shut up and listen and educate myself.

  19. Napalm Nacey
    Posted May 23, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    I don’t mind people of colour being angry with anything I might say that angers them. I’ll shut up and I’ll listen. It’s the least we could damned well do.

  20. Napalm Nacey
    Posted May 23, 2009 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I am inspired to read more about Malcolm X. I am from Australia, though, and a lot of the focus I had in school was on our own Indigenous people. I just hadn’t got to learning about the struggle of African Americans. I guess I feel hopeless cause being in another country, there’s not a lot I can do. I can vote and write letters and make some noise here in Australia about the Indigenous Australians. But I care about you guys too.

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