Saturday, May 19, 2007

Malcolm X 2007- What If...

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. --the late Ossie Davis, Eulogy for Malcolm X, 1965.

Today is the birthday of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, known to most of the world as Malcolm X, who had he lived would have been 82. The fiery activist achieved something akin to sainthood upon his tragic death on Feb. 21st 1965, and saw a revival of his presence especially within the Hip Hop cultural and political “Golden Age” of the late 1980s to early 1990s, culminating in the Spike Lee biopic bearing his name. There are still streets which memoralize him, along with grassroots organizations that seek to carry on his legacy and his movement. But gone today are the Malcolm X buttons, clothing and assorted paraphernalia that defined half a decade of black cultural expression, and influenced members of my generation. Last time I saw someone wearing an X cap, it was on an undocumented Mexican immigrant worker who had gotten it from a free clothing store—which seemed, oddly enough, fitting.

Still, on his birth and death Malcolm X and his politics tend to come alive again. The head of Harlem’s Schomburg Center Howard Dodson noted as much to Amsterdam News:

Each year on those 2 dates - his birthday, May 19th, and the anniversary of his assassination, February 21st - we try to bring to the public some consciousness of his place and role in the making of our history, our heritage and communicate to the world, especially the young people, the meaning of his life and the lessons that can be learned from it.
Each year around this time I tend to ponder Malcolm as well, and may end up spending a few hours reliving some of his speeches. Whenever I do so, I always look at our contemporary world and wonder what if...that fateful day in Feb. of 1965 had never happened? What if...Malcolm was still alive today? How would the 1960s icon have existed in our times? I tend to call it, WWMD--What Would Malcolm Do? Here are just a random sample of 20.

· What would Malcolm make of Hip Hop? Would he find art and expression and politics in it, or condemn it as detrimental and debilitating to black America?

· What would Malcolm make of the “new black conservatism” found in the likes of Bill Cosby? Would a former street hustler still believe the lowest among us could yet be redeemed?

· How would Malcolm’s preaching of “self-determination” co-exist in the black era of “prosperity preachers” and ideologies of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps?” Would he blame the poverty of the poor on their own shortcomings, or the system behind it?

· What would Malcolm make of the moral majority and religious right in America? What would he make of gay marriage or gay rights?

· Would Malcolm ever step on the set of FOX News?

· How would 82 year-old Muslim Malcolm have reacted when cameras and microphones were thrust in his face to demand an explanation on where he stood on Islamic radicalism?

· What would Malcolm have said of the Iraq War, Abu Gharib and the continued occupation?

· After September 11th would Malcolm have been caught up in the large sweeps, surveillance and imprisonment that affected thousands of Muslims in the U.S.? Would an 82 year-old man have been placed in an orange jump suit in Guantanomo?

· Would Malcolm have attended the Million Man March? Would he have spoken? How would he get along with his former protégé, Minister Louis Farrakhan? The Nation of Islam?

· Would Malcolm have cheered on all those (mostly) white kids at the Battle of Seattle and spoken out forcefully about neoliberalism, unfair trade and the global political economy?

· How would Malcolm have felt to watch the implosion of Somalia, the genocide of Rwanda or the devastation of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

· Would Malcolm speak out about Darfur and before that the conflict in South Sudan?

· How vocal would Malcolm be about the AIDS epidemic?

· What would Malcolm have made about the present state of Africa and its marginalizing in global affairs? Would he be out fighting for debt cancellation and condemning the IMF and World Bank? Or would Malcolm just have taken up Bono’s invitation to attend Live 8 and put on a ONE band?

· When supermodel Iman asked Malcolm to smear some paint on his face and pose in an ad declaring, I AM AFRICAN to fight AIDS, what would have been his reply?

· Would Malcolm think The Boondocks or Dave Chappelle was “revolutionary?”

· Would Malcolm sill have a U.S. postage stamp in his honor?

· Would Malcolm still have lived in the U.S., or would he have by now been forced to flee to Cuba?

· Would he have marketed his own brand of baseball caps, buttons and t-shirts bearing his likeness, and sued anyone for unlawfully using the patented trademark of his Bill Gates funded corporation Malcolm Inc.?

· Would Malcolm ever get to appear on Oprah?

Just some thoughts that run through my head is all. Can’t say I know many of the answers. But they are interesting to ponder while I listen to The Ballot or the Bullet and try to reflect on if Malcolm's ideologies were meant only for his era, or whether they would have fit--and evolved--in our own. At any rate, Happy birthday Malcolm.

Take all the action that's going on this earth right now that he's [the white world] involved in--tell me where he's winning. Nowhere.

Why some rice farmers--some rice farmers...ran him out of Korea. Yes, they ran him out of Korea. Rice eaters with nothing but gym shoes, and a rifle, and a bowl of rice took him and his tanks and his napalm, and all that other action he's supposed to have and ran him across the Yalu. Why? 'Cause the day that he can win on the ground has passed. Up in French Indo-China those little peasants, rice growers took on the might of the French army and ran all the Frenchmen -- you remember Dien Bien Phu. No.

The same thing happened in Algeria, in Africa--they didn't have anything but a rifle. The French had all these highly mechanized instruments of warfare, but they put some guerilla action on, and a--and a--and a white man can't fight a guerilla warfare. Guerilla action takes heart, takes nerve, and he doesn't have that. He's brave when he's got tanks. He's brave when he's got planes. He's brave when he's got bombs. He's brave when he's got a whole lot of company along with him, but you take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose in the woods with a blade, with a blade--that's all he needs, all he needs is a blade--and when the sun comes down--goes down...and it's dark, it's even-steven!

---El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, on the end of western imperialism and empire in his 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet.

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