In my more militant youth, I used to argue that May 19 should have been a national holiday. And if it couldn’t be one, then at the least I could sacrifice a day of school or work to commemorate Malcolm X’s birthday.
In retrospect, that was stupid (maybe immature is the better word) because if anything, Malcolm probably would have insisted that I stick my head in a book or pound away on a keyboard somewhere.
There was work to do.
And on the anniversary of what would have been Malcolm’s 85th birthday, there still remains much work left undone.
But we’re a helluva lot closer than we were when he was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom.
A few years ago, “The Boondocks” spent an episode imagining what Martin Luther King, Jr., would have thought of the world 40 years or so after his assassination. I won’t share all of my thoughts here – I wasn’t all that impressed – but I think the show sold all of us short.
The story of our lives since 1968 amounts to a lot more than Jordans, rims and ass-shaking on “Uncut,” no matter what Aaron McGruder might think of it. We’re a lot more than trifling, shiftless, good-for-nothing niggas, if you ask me.
Compare the world Martin and Malcolm left behind to the one that moved on without them: people were killed for even attempting to register black voters in the ’60s, and now the country has a (insert racial identification here) duly-elected president with roots in Kansas, Hawaii and Kenya.
It almost feels trite to list out the differences. If you don’t think things are better, ask someone who knows better – your mama or your grandfather or your barber.
Anyway, know this: Malcolm X was probably the most interesting and influential historical figure to 13-year-old Ink.
I devoured his autobiography in no more than three days. My father pulled me out of school earl one day to see Spike Lee’s biopic about his life. I’ve got a shelf full of X caps that are gathering dust these days. And I briefly flirted with the idea of converting to Islam, though there wasn’t much support for that in my mother’s home at the time.
It shouldn’t be hard to understand why a teenager would be spellbound by Malcolm. He was a proud and disciplined man, one who preferred to outwit you with words but made no bones about the fact that he’d defend himself if it came to that.
On that latter point, in the ’60s, that meant you were a virtual superhero. How else could you explain a black man who dared to threaten another white man and feared no reprisal?
Sure, everyone couldn’t be Malcolm X. But maybe everyone could be redeemed and then live an honorable life. Maybe everyone could be saved from ignorance, or prison, or bacon, or immaturity. Maybe we could all strive to be better just because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
I have little doubt that Malcolm would have become a better, more influential version of his earlier self. And if there’s a yet another tragedy to Malcolm’s early death, as Jonathan Pitts-Wiley mentioned earlier today, it’s that the world didn’t get to know El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
We all missed out. But at least we had him for as long as we did.
P.S. Via The Root, I found a link to this feature on Malcolm in the Sept. 1964 issue of Ebony magazine. Here’s the final line of the story (sorry for the spoiler): “Only one thing is clear: neither the Black Muslim movement without him, nor the rights movement with him will ever be the same.” Truer words, no?