The misunderstood Malcolm X
The Toronto Star February 21, 1992, Friday, AM
Copyright 1992 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star
February 21, 1992, Friday, AM
SECTION: OPINION; Pg. A21
LENGTH: 747 words
HEADLINE: The misunderstood Malcolm X
BYLINE: By Faisal Kutty
EL-HAJ MALIK AL-SHABAZZ, or as he is more commonly known, Malcolm X, is still wrongly associated with violence and hatred. The fact that he was instrumental in liberating the African-American mentality is essentially ignored by mainstream society.
This is changing. There is a new fascination with Malcolm X among the current generation of black youths and intellectuals, including such prominent voices as filmmaker Spike Lee.
Unfortunately, even many of them have the wrong idea, as is apparent from the symbols of violence and political statements such as “By Any Means Necessary” found on Malcolm X paraphernalia. Rather than advancing his cause, this has served to reinforce his negative image.
The misunderstandings about this charismatic figure arise from the fact that many people don’t realize he transformed many of his views prior to his assassination 27 years ago today.
His untimely and violent death meant that he didn’t have the time to articulate the evolution in his thinking – a fact complicated not only by the media and his adversaries, who had an obvious stake in perpetuating his violent anti-white image, but more recently by the many radical socialist and black nationalist groups which endorse his earlier views.
Malcolm X was born in 1925 and, like other young American blacks who faced a life of bleak prospects, turned to crime and landed in jail. There, he was introduced to the tenets of the Nation of Islam, which championed black nationalism and segregation.
The organization, founded by New York-born Elijah Muhammad, practiced a peculiar mixture of Islam, Christianity and other creeds. It sanctioned certain Islamic teachings but, antithetical to Islam, also taught that Elijah was the final prophet, whose mission was to lead the blacks from the indignity inflicted upon them by whites.
Malcolm X was greatly influenced by Elijah’s teachings and ultimately rose to be his right-hand man. He became renowned for preaching that whites were “devils” – especially the blond, blue-eyed ones.
And he passionately believed that assimilation would inevitably annihilate his culture; his greatest fear was of blacks emulating whites, and subconsciously adopting the myth that the white race was superior. He concluded that emancipating the black race from its “mental slavery” was the only way to attain genuine freedom. Brotherhood and harmony within the race had to be established before it could proceed to conquer society. As black leader Troy Williams, remarked, “He taught us how to respect ourselves, and more importantly, that our biggest enemy is ourselves.”
In 1964, Malcolm X broke from the Nation of Islam, taking many original followers with him and helping to sow the seeds of the rivalry that ultimately led to his death. After the split, he embarked on a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he began to profoundly reassess his earlier views.
Islam, he concluded, encompassed all of humanity and transcended race and culture. He later said, “In my 39 years on this Earth, the holy city of Mecca had been the first time I had ever stood before the Creator of all and felt like a complete human.”
In Mecca, he discovered himself mixing with, “fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was whitest of white.”
Malcolm X was so inspired by his pilgrimage, that, in letters to friends and relatives, he wrote, “America needs to understand (true) Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” People were not evil, he felt, merely because their skin was white; it is what is in the hearts and minds of people that make them evil.
Upon returning to America, he embarked on a mission to unite blacks and enlighten whites. He did not, by any means, become a passivist – blacks had to defend themselves and find their own way out of their oppression, rather than expecting and accepting aid from a racist society.
But he was not afraid to acknowledge his errors. He declared, “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against.”
On Feb. 21 1965, he was assassinated in New York while delivering a lecture to the Organization for Afro-American Unity. He did not die a racist. Unfortunately, just as the world refused to accept the truth from Malcolm X when he was alive, it persists in rejecting it now.
* Faisal Kutty is a law student at the University of Ottawa.
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