This past Monday we observed the national holiday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s day is marked on every calendar and schedule just like the 4th of July, Presidents Day, and the like. And it is well deserved. But I have a question for you all today, “what about Malcolm?” It is noted by many black history connoisseurs that Malcolm X, not Dr. King, was the image of black manhood that most influenced our culture. His relatable story of going from country grammar to the streets is watching and ending up a leader of men is a story told over and over again by Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, and 50 Cent. Their rise to fame is more closely tied to Malcolm’s than Martin’s. Malcolm is even the most oft quoted and cited figure in black culture, with his “by any means necessary” being used far more than any of King’s quotes. Historically, it was the threat of violence that Malcolm and the Nation of Islam presented in the northeast that helped to move along the non-violent movement of Dr. King in the south. The CIA labeled them both as “Black Messiah’s” and enemies of the state, but only one get’s that messiah-like adoration. If you go to an old Baptist church that still passes out fans, I PROMISE YOU that they have a MLK fan before a Jesus one!!
*Side note: brothers been hustling merchandise since FOREVER! I have seen footage from when Dr. King was still alive and cats was waving a fan with his picture on it. You know that wasn’t licensed merchandise. *
So I pose the question again, “what about Malcolm?” Where is the love for Malcolm? I know there are only so many national holiday’s to go around, so I give the fed a pass on that one but what about you? What about us? (Brandy voice)
For a man that shaped so much of our culture and provided the mold for some of our more radical leaders, Malcolm doesn’t get much love. He is more commonly featured on t-shirts than on TV. No monuments are being planned for Brother Malcolm. Is it because he was militant or because he was Muslim? Maybe it’s because he is glazed over in most history books and rarely mentioned in NAACP ads or campaigns. I don’t know about you but I like Malcolm, heck, I love the Afro-American (a term he helped make popular). I remember when the movie X came out. I was in the 6th grade and my class took a field trip to see the movie. Most of the kids feel asleep a few times, but I was glued to the screen. I could relate to the things I saw. Not the abject hate and racism from his childhood, but the hustle, the genius behind his education, and his thirst for knowledge. But above all, he never lost the hustle, EVER! I saw in Red how a nigga from the streets could become a man respected and revered by black and white people alike. In his transformation from inmate to Islam I saw the redemptive power of acknowledging there is something/someone greater than you. I finally saw the power in what my gramps was telling me about always “dressing sharp and talking smooth”. I was so proud to see the power a black man could have in his finger (check the clip if you don’t know what I’m talking about). This was great stuff for a 6th grade kid on the south side of Chicago with no pops and on the cusp of making serious decisions. I don’t want to give Malcolm all the credit; my people had the most influence over me, but seeing it on screen helped.
I’m not trying to take anything away from Dr. King, nor am I trying to idolize Malcolm X. I am simply asking, “What about Malcolm?” Why are we fed the image of a less threatening Dr. King instead of the volatile Malcolm X? Ossie Davis warned us we would forget about him and that history would attempt to twist his image and impact. He knew that I would be asking this question and he gave an answer:
Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain—and we will smile. Many will say turn away—away from this man; for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man—and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate—a fanatic, a racist—who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them:
Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did, you would know him. And if you knew him, you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood!
Why do you think Malcolm doesn’t get as much press and pub as Martin? Is it even an issue? Is it a C-O-N-spiracy?