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Malcolm’s Praxis In 1965
As you are reading February 1965, you literally are introduced to Malcolm’s seemingly perennial energy. Malcolm literally does not have time to catch a break at all. If he is not being denied entry into France (for reasons that were never adequately explained to him, other than Uncle Sam put the word out to deny him entry), he is narrowly escaping assassination attempts only to re-emerge the next day at a radio show or speaking engagement seemingly un-phased. The message of Pan-African unity was not going to be stifled in the least bit by rapacious forces determined to isolate and/or end Malcolm’s life. We only have to look at the controversy aroused at Malcolm’s sojourn into England and the Pan-African message he gave to the London School of Economics as one of many examples that Malcolm was simply not one who could be intimidated or isolated. He states at the London School of Economics why a constituent element of imperialism is to make its Black colonized subjects hate their origins:
Why? Because once we in the West were made to hate Africa and hate the African, why, the chain-reaction effect was it had to make us end up hating ourselves. You can’t hate the roots of the tree without hating the tree, without ending up hating the tree. You can’t hate your origin without ending up hating yourself. You can’t hate the land, your motherland, the place that you came from, and we can’t hate Africa without ending up hating ourselves. The Black man in the Western Hemisphere-in North America, Central America, South America, and in the Caribbean-is the best example of how one can be made, skillfully, to hate himself that you can find anywhere on this earth. The reason you’re having a problem with the West Indians right now is because they hate their origin. Because they don’t want to accept their origin, they have no origin, they have no identity. They are running around here in search of an identity, and instead of trying to be what they are, they want to be Englishmen. [Applause] Which is not their fault, actually. Because in America our people are trying to be Americans, and in the islands you got them trying to be Englishmen, and nothing sounds more obnoxious than to find somebody from Jamaica running around here trying to outdo the Englishman with his Englishness. [Laughter and applause]1
As you can see, there was nothing in Malcolm’s analysis that can be myopically defined as being focused on “American Negros” in the slightest bit; this man was a Pan-Africanist to the bone. There are those people who think, or perhaps are relying on Spike Lee’s utterly uninspiring biopic depiction of Malcolm, that Malcolm went to Mecca and Egypt did some prayers, and had a transcendental moment when a white person handed him a plate of food. What the fuck! Let the film tell it, all Malcolm needed was a “good white person” and time to get his yoga on in Africa. Spike Lee’s film depoliticizes Malcolm’s trip abroad, and makes it analogues to a middle-class white person that goes to find themselves on the “Dark Continent” (Malcolm just needed a vacation! He was too uptight!). This interpretation of Malcolm’s trip to Africa is purposeful misdirection. Malcolm’s travels throughout Africa helped him to develop his understanding of the problem facing Black people around the world as colonialism; this trip didn’t make Malcolm have some “personal transcendental” moment so he could express himself, but fortified his burgeoning Pan-African analysis. Malcolm’s meetings with anti-colonial leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Ben Bella were not just for some mere personal satisfaction, but for forging political alliances for the liberation of humanity. Malcolm’s objective was to move our analysis regarding the material conditions of Black people around the world from a theological basis to a material understanding of our oppression, resulting from colonization. This was scary and unnerving shit for the Western imperialist system. The imperialist nations were shitting bricks after having lost Cuba, Algeria, and now Malcolm is running around saying “it doesn’t matter if you are a Muslim or Christian, or atheist, your problem is because you are Black! You got a colonial problem!” Oh yeah they were scared! One of the reasons Malcolm is so thoroughly misinterpreted, many times intentionally, as being anti-White is because people do not understand the colonizer/colonized dynamic. The colonizer cannot believe in his or her superiority without first dehumanizing the colonized. Since no human being is superior to another, the colonizer’s job is to MAKE what is not natural appear natural. The Martinique born African revolutionary Frantz Fanon says it best in The Wretched of the Earth when he states, “The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”2 Whether one is conscious of it or not, Western (white) values have been made into normative values through colonialism, and its polar opposite, Black values (which do in fact exist) represent an unadulterated evil. Malcolm understood this dialectical relationship between white and Black, and always sought to destroy it. A point Malcolm makes in February 1965 time and time again is that you cannot destroy this colonial axiom by being a supplicant:
I say again that I’m not a racist, I don’t believe in any form of segregation or anything like that. I’m for the brotherhood of everybody, but I don’t believe in forcing brotherhood upon people who don’t want it. Long as we practice brotherhood among ourselves, and then others who want to practice brotherhood with us, we practice it with them also, we’re for that. But I don’t think that we should run around trying to love somebody who doesn’t love us.3
This point was crucial not only in its implications of the political project of Pan-Africanism, but it also reconstructs the terms of humanity for African people worldwide. Malcolm makes it abundantly clear that the African is not outside of humanity, and is not a creature that must be assimilated into the human (Western) family—not at all! The African is a subject in the world who is just one of many people/nations within the human family. Malcolm knew that the problems many Black people had is that we believed we were inferior and that anything we have done historically was because of our contact with Western (white) civilization. So as Malcolm sought to organize, he was always aware of Black peoples’ colonized mentality. Here is what he had to say about this issue to the Village Voice’s Marlene Nadle in an interview released on February 25, 1965, 4 days after his assassination:
“The greatest mistake of the movement,” he said, “has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.” Wake them up to their exploitation? “No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage. The biggest difference between the parallel oppression of the Jew and the Negro is that the Jew never lost pride in being a Jew. He never ceased to be a man. He knew he had made a significant contribution to the world, and his sense of his own value gave him the courage to fight back. It enabled him to act and think independently, unlike our people and our leaders.”4
The aforementioned point is reiterated in the Organization of Afro-American Unity’s (OAAU), the Pan-African organization Malcolm founded in 1964, Basic Unity Program:
Careful evaluation of recent experiences shows that “integration” actually describes the process by which a white society is (remains) set in a position to use, whenever it chooses to use and however it chooses to use, the best talents of nonwhite people. This power-web continues to build a society wherein the best contribution of Afro-Americans, in fact of all nonwhite people, would continue to be absorbed without note or exploited to benefit a fortunate few while the masses of both white and nonwhite people would remain unequal and unbenefited.5
So anti-white? No! Malcolm was anything but that, Malcolm was pro-human. The thing that makes Malcolm such a hero to all, but especially to Black people all over the world, is that he never apologized for being African—what scared the colonizers about Malcolm is that he woke people up from their apathy towards Black oppression. The powers that be were like, “We better assimilate these niggers or else!” Malcolm had gone from having Black people question our abject position in the world, to actively developing solutions to this wretched position—and to the horror of Western powers—the solutions being sought were not inside of their colonial system. It was Malcolm’s praxis that made him a marked man. What we always have to remember about Malcolm when we consider his political maturation is that he was a man whose development did not come from the “proper channels.” So often I hear people say, “You know I have to get my PhD, and then I will be able to be smart,” or “Well, Joe Blow does have a degree from Harvard….” Look at Malcolm—a high school dropout, a “Gangsta”, a pimp, and one the most intelligent minds this world has ever known. This intelligence did not come from someone granting him a scholarship. You do not make people like Malcolm at a university. There is no “Malcolm degree” that will allow you to replicate the brilliance of this man. When one reads February 1965, it is important to always be cognizant of the fact that this man’s intelligence was not purchased at a “highly respectable educational institution” which, in actuality, are nothing but training grounds to teach people how to fit into a fucked up world. The solutions to humanity’s problems will not come from sanctioned spaces, and this is what makes Malcolm X’s writings invaluable for organizing against the ever present oppressors of humanity—and why Malcolm X is still a marked man.