Honoring Malcolm X
African American Breakthrough Series
The month of May marks the birthday of Malcolm X, one of the most influential voices and leaders of the twentieth-century. The African American Breakthrough Series is proud to celebrate the life and achievements of Malcolm X.
Malcolm X’s legacy is expansive and profoundly insightful and instructive. To ignore his body of work would be to leave us intellectually impoverished, socially stagnated, and politically immature.
Revisiting Malcolm X
Malcolm X came to the forefront of America’s consciousness in the Age of the second Black Awakening. He was born Malcolm Little in May 19, 1925, at the height of the first Black Awakening, also called the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro, Marcus Garvey Movement. By the time he was a teenager, the KKK killed his father who was a member of the Marcus Garvey Movement, his mother was placed in a mental institute, and his family split apart and place in foster care.
Malcolm’s transformation from street hustler and ex-convict to world renown leader and spokesperson for the African American nationalist movement is a personal narrative demonstrating what can be achieved even in wretch conditions and among the possible the disposed, a powerful lesson for black men.
Malcolm’s prophetic thought, incisive political and social analysis, and ethical grounding and insights, gives us a much needed compass and blueprint to navigate the ideological confusion: political ineptitude, economic catastrophe, and social decay- which has griped not just African Americans, but the 99 percent.
The Moral Focus of Malcolm X
The subject of Malcolm X invariably turns to his political philosophy and his advocacy of violence. Yet, his emphasis on the morality of blacks and their ethical codes of behavior undergirds his nationalist philosophy. Anticipating Amilcar Cabral, Malcolm pushed for African Americans to overturn their moral weakness as a prerequisite and condition of political and social development. Cabral brilliantly observed:
We refer here to the struggle against our own weaknesses. Obviously, other cases differ from that of Guinea; but our experience has shown us that in the general framework of daily struggle this battle against ourselves — no matter what difficulties the enemy may create — is the most difficult of all, whether for the present or the future of our peoples. This battle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality…We are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not based on knowledge of this fundamental reality runs grave risk of being condemned to failure.
Similarly, Malcolm believed in the moral imperative of cleansing the black community of its vices and anti-social behaviors. “The social philosophy of black nationalism,” he asserted, “only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other evils, destroying the moral fiber of our Community.” In light of the manifold destructive vices and behavior which has taken root in too many black neighborhoods and which has reached a tipping point, Malcolm’s social philosophy is much needed and serves as the starting point for any uplift or rebuilding effort.
And, again, anticipating Cabral, Malcolm insightfully called for the elevation of the moral standards in the African American community. Cabral in advancing the moral case revolution in the African country Guinea, said: “This shows us, to a certain extent, that if national liberation is essentially a political problem, the conditions for its development give it certain characteristics which belong to the sphere of morals.”
Likewise, Malcolm in explaining his philosophy black nationalism of declared, “We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, the standard of our community to a higher level, make our own society beautiful.” Thus, Malcolm’s declaration remains one of the major challenges for black leadership and the black community. Ignoring his call for moral uplift and daily practice has exacted a heavy toll on African Americans, especially black males (high levels and involvement of gang violence, entrenched criminality, youth prostitution, and glorification of criminal life). To be sure, this has contributed to the arrested the development of the African American Movement for social change as well as a significant segment black youth and young adults.
Malcolm X and the Lessons of Morality
Malcolm X left us a rich body of material on ethics and morality. In our breakthrough series, we will explore the many lessons and instructions which can be extracted from Malcolm’s work. Clearly, as indicated above, he was concern with the state of morality in the black community, believing it stunted and stifled the development of black people.
Thus, one of the profound and powerful takeaways from Malcolm’s moral focus is what Cabral so insightfully and elegantly stated: “if national liberation is essentially a political problem, the conditions for its development give it certain characteristics which belong to the sphere of morals.” Malcolm asked blacks to get their communities in order by raising the moral standards and moral codes which inform their behavior. And, as Cabral stated, Malcolm understood that the political development of African Americans and the advancement of the Freedom Movement was predicated on African Americans overcoming and overturning their moral weakness.
As we will discuss in a later post, Malcolm X expanded the moral sphere beyond individual vices and personal corruption. Absence of cultural knowledge and political cowardliness and timidity (refusal to defense oneself and people) he saw as moral offenses. These are the lessons, unlearned and ignored, that we must return to. In studying and employing these lessons, we honor Malcolm X, our shinning black prince and prophet.