America in the Age of Malcolm X
The influence and impact of Malcolm X on the 1960s Freedom Struggle and America in general is beyond category and measure. Any lack appreciation of Malcolm X’s contribution to advancement of the Black Freedom Struggle and the radicalization of America is due in large measure to his powerful anti-establishment message and the instructiveness of his life and political and even religious (Islam) orientation. The black awakening in the 1960s- black power, black arts and cultural nationalist movements- were all influenced by Malcolm X. Equally important was the influence which Malcolm had on some of the civil rights organization, namely Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Congress of Racial Equality, and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. As Peniel Joseph advances in his book Dark Days, Bright Nights, “Malcolm’s years of political activity paralleled extraordinary historical events, ones that he profoundly influenced at the local, national and later, and the international level.”
Malcolm X formal arrival on the national political scene was through the Nation of Islam (NOI), a religious organization founded by Elijah Muhammad which advocated an ethos that promoted self-determination in the form of entrepreneurship, diligence, and community control. After joining the NOI, Malcolm quickly distinguished himself as a critical thinker and an organizer, becoming the Nation’s chief strategist, main recruiter, and organizational architect. Besides being the national spokesperson for the NOI, Malcolm created Muhammad Speaks, one of the Nation’s most profitable and important enterprises.
Perhaps it is Malcolm X’s severe critique of America and its racism and its impact on black people and his advocacy of a black nationalist approach to the 1960s Freedom Struggle and black life in general which places him among the pantheon of historical leaders. Both and during the modern day civil rights movement, Malcolm was delivering a hard and critical message of American democracy and racism and the promoting a black nationalist alternative:
On American democracy: I am not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy… And I see America through the eyes of a victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an America nightmare.
On citizenship: Well, I am one who doesn’t believe in deluding myself. I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on the plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American.
On the Civil Rights Movement: The entire civil rights struggle needs a new interpretation, a broader interpretation. We need to look at the civil rights thing from another from another angle…So we’re giving a new interpretation to the civil rights struggle…And these handkerchief-heads who have been dillydallying and pussyfooting and compromising-we don’t intend to let them pussyfoot and dillydally and compromise any longer.
On Black Nationalism: So I say in spreading a gospel of black nationalism, it is not designed to make the black man re-evaluate the white man-you know him already-but to make the black man re-evaluate himself.
On Self-Respect: I’m the man you think you are. And if it doesn’t take legislation to make you a man and get your rights recognized, don’t even talk that legislative talk to me. No, if we’re both human beings we’ll both do the same thing. And if you want to know what I’ll do, figure out what you’ll do. I will do the same-only more of it.
On the method for achieving freedom: If we don’t do something real soon, I think you’ll have to agree that we’re going to be forced either to use the ballot or the bullet. It’s one or the other.
The philosophy and teaching or Malcolm X influenced a generation and gave a much broader and bolder vision to the Black Freedom Struggle. His insightful critique of America is still relevant today as is his approach to solving the crisis in the ghettos, especially black youth who are caught-up in a web of gangs, drugs and violence. Whether we are talking about the corruptness of elected officials, the betrayal of middle class blacks, or the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, Malcolm X is required reading and studying. The words of Ossie Davis who s eulogizes Malcolm X is still inspiring and instructive.
Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man—but a seed—which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.