We Need A Malcolm X Day

He was the ultimate public-intellectual-as-freedom fighter, and he deserves to have a federal holiday

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Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Malcolm X in February 1965.

Every Martin Luther King day I swell with pride as we celebrate an extraordinary black American and remember King’s magnanimous ideals. But I also hear a voice in my mind saying, “I wonder if there’ll ever be a holiday celebrating another black American?” Is there just one black American who merits a holiday? The bulk rate one-month-fits-all celebration called Black History Month is great, but there’s something special about having a day and surely there’s one other black person from the long stretch of American history who merits it, who’s made such an extraordinary and lasting contribution that they deserve the American version of canonization. There are several black Americans who it could be argued should have a day — Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and others — but I think we should seriously consider a national holiday celebrating the life of a man who indelibly changed America: Malcolm X.

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What ideals would be celebrated on Malcolm X Day, May 19, his birthday? Many. Malcolm’s not a static intellectual figure — his mind journeyed throughout his life, he held firm to his principles but was also strong enough to re-evaluate his beliefs and change when he deemed change is right. He was far from a flip-flopper who moved because it was politically expedient — and thankfully not an intellectual mule who refused to change when he uncovered new information and perspectives. Malcolm was intelligent and bold enough to be open-minded. His courage to be a truth seeker is part of what we’d celebrate — his willingness to reconsider his principles, to be protean, to challenge himself and be willing to grow and thus embody the transformative potential of American life. We would celebrate not just his willingness to journey but also his journey itself, which concludes with militancy being defeated by humanism and with racial hatred being defeated by globalism and multiracial acceptance.

Malcolm ended his life rejecting anti-whiteness and nationalism in favor of a bold multiculturalism that was and is still willing to welcome anyone into his international interfaith anti-oppression movement: to judge by creed and not by race. He grew to understand it took all types to make the human family complete and explicitly rejected racial hatred and espoused a universal law of justice. He was a man who challenged the status quo in necessary ways, who was a public intellectual activist and a proponent of voting rights who believed in using the electoral system to achieve meaningful change. And more, Malcolm was someone who saw himself as a global citizen, traveling and taking his critique of America to the rest of the world and treating America like the global citizen it is. This country is special in part because we are composed of people who relatively recently came from somewhere else and Malcolm fully embraced the diasporic nature of Americanness and thought of himself as a member of the world community. All of this would be celebrated on Malcolm X Day.

Surely some will not be able to wrap their heads around supporting a Malcolm X federal holiday because they will get stuck on the image of Malcolm as violent. This misunderstands several things. King was, at a time, considered dangerous and was hated too and, more importantly, Malcolm merely proposed that oppressed people had a right to armed self-defense — an inherently American principle. King, who preached steadfast non-violence, represents America as it wishes it were, while Malcolm symbolizes America as it is. Malcolm never equated self-defense with violence for its own sake and he never fomented violence. He was wiretapped and followed inside and outside the United States by the FBI, the CIA and the NYPD for years and years — if he had incited violence, even in a private conversation at home, he would surely have landed in legal trouble. Indeed, the FBI noted its difficultly in neutralizing him because he did not conspire to break laws and lived by a stringent moral code. A New York police officer surveilling him went to his bosses and told them they should be helping Malcolm — such is the righteousness of his positions to someone who truly listened.

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Malcolm was a man unreservedly committed to the cause of liberating black people by any means necessary and his fierce but loving advocacy helps move the country forward as much as King’s Gandhi-ist movement. We cannot separate Malcolm from his era in that he conveyed the righteous anger of the black masses during his time but linked it to an articulation and a brilliance that was inspiring as well as a geopolitical, economic, spiritual and religious strategy. Malcolm was angry because we were, but instead of sparking riots he incited deep self-pride and linked the civil rights struggle to human rights. His militant advocacy was as stunning as it was necessary, to force the issue and imbue millions with the confidence and spirit and strength needed to overcome. He knew power gives up nothing without a demand and inspired millions to not accept victim status and imbued them with the agency to force America to become as democratic as it claimed to be. Malcolm is the true father of Black Power (and its son hip-hop), which deeply inspires all identity freedom movements that follow it.

I bet in many minds Malcolm’s “violent” image would make him a less viable candidate for a holiday than, say, Nelson Mandela, who could easily get his own day if only he were American. Interestingly, Malcolm and Mandela are more similar than some may realize: yes, Mandela is an inspiring racial reconciliatory and a drum major for peace in South Africa, but in his pre-prison years he believed in the necessity of armed struggle. Think of Malcolm not as an intellectual thug but as a Mandelaesque figure who advocated righteous and political-minded self-defense when that was necessary and later grew into peaceful humanists.

It is possible to think of American history in terms of pre- and post-Malcolm. He’s not just the model of ideal blackness for many in the generations that follow him, but he’s also the model of masculinity for millions of men and the ultimate public intellectual as freedom fighter. That is part of why Malcolm X Day is already celebrated in Washington and Berkeley, Calif., and why streets in Harlem, Brooklyn, Dallas and Lansing, Mich., bear his name and why schools in Newark, N.J., Chicago and Madison, Wis., are named after him.

It’s time he had his own day.

11 comments
_HelloGawgeous
_HelloGawgeous

one of the greatest pieces I have read about Malcolm X.. thanks

Rodri
Rodri

Malcolm X was a terrible man.

He went from being a confused racist with bizarre theology to be an out right Islamic fundamentalist. 

He was a staunch opponent of multiculturalism and feminism and believed the whole world should be subjected to Islamic theocracy.

Read his autobiography carefully, he did not intend to liberate African-Americans, he intended to enslave them, forbidding them alcohol,
sex outside of marriage or freedom of religion.

He had nothing in common with Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, both real leftists and liberators who believed in equality and progress. 

Malcolm X was a dye-in-the wool reactionary.

mjwiley
mjwiley

@Rodri 

I think it's more likely you're just paid to troll news on anything that comes near to touching Islam. You shout the words of old but in this day and age more people read and research what they are being told. You're an authority on NOTHING. You're a NOBODY and so you shall remain most likely.

mjwiley
mjwiley

@Rodri

You haven't a clue what an islamic fundmentalist nor do you come near to knowing his story.

He was a staunch opponent of multiculturalism... HOW

How much do you want to bet YOU believe the whole world should be subject to Christianity?

He had moral character of which you have none... enslave them? Seriously... you goof. Prohibiting sex outside of marriage? Proposing people follow values that protect child and family?... again you're a goof.

You're a waste of good font.


Rodri
Rodri

@mjwiley

Dear Mjwiley, I used to think I liked Malcolm X, hearing stuff about him second hand. 

I imagined him as being some sort of more hard-line MLK. When I read his book I was shocked to find out a completely different figure then the one I Imagined.

 If you actually read his autobiography you would know Malcolm X was dead set against multiculturalism. In his Nation of Islam phase he defends segregation and tells us the only thing he likes integrated is his coffee. In his fundamentalist phase, he praises Saudi Arabian culture and derides Lebanese culture when he arrives to Beirut, noting that women there were not covered the way they were in Jeddah. 

As he goes on and on in his final monologue he clearly expresses his ideal world as being one where all countries around the world lose their native culture and resemble Saudi Arabia.

I bear no ill will towards Islam. I have many Muslim friends and by no mean do I want to see Christianity rule the world. I am just against the particular brands of “Islam” Malcolm X promotes in his ideologue. 

The first version of “Islam” he sets forth in his book isn’t Islam at all! “Islam” as explained by the Nation Of Islam goes against the very definition of Islam, they believe Wallace Fard is Allah!!!! The very definition of Islam is that Allah is the ONLY one true god and that Muhammad is his last prophet. The second version of “Islam” Malcolm X puts forth is nothing but a radical form of Wahhabism hostile to any sort of freedom and human right, a true perversion of the Quran. 

Executnr
Executnr

@Rodri @TheWire  Malcom X having a holiday don't change the fact that there are kids like Trayvon being gunned down and stereotyped all over the country just because they are black an are deemed suspicious. Rodri I sense heavy trolling from u.

Executnr
Executnr

@Rodri terrible role model to whom? Hes a role model for black Americans an thats all that matters, I'm not gonna get up here an argue over multiculturalism or the nation of Islam, I'm here to say so what. If white people dont like him he must have done something right, and I'm always wary of the love they have for MLK after hes dead so they can use his non violence talk against rightfully upset black Americans but they hated him while he was alive, that tells me everything I need to know. Blacks need to gravitate to black people whites hate and stop following these cowardly, apologizing millionaire athletes an entertainers who are in bed with their oppressors for the love of the dollar, most of the black people alive today that most white profess to like or love wouldn't hesitate to sell their own people down the river.


Martin Luther King did produce many results an was a great man many of them were negative(they still be marching 50 years later smh) although his heart was well intended. I think everything happens for a reason, an MLK did good but Malcom X did just as much he just didn't bow to pressure but they both were assassinated but we see only one is celebrated by white people, hhmmm.


"His dream had our people beaten, water hosed, locked up and bitten by German Shepherd dogs, all for the right to sit on the white mans toilet, drink from his water fountain, and eat at his restaurant. Was the colored toilet, water fountain and restaurant not good enough?"  - ischoolupk

Rodri
Rodri

@TheWire

If I evaluate his entire life I would see he was a great man? That is, of course, if I ignore his juvenile stint as a coke fiend and his career with the NOI and just focus on his last 10 months of his life. Can’t you see, you are the one taking a piece out of Malclom X’s life and judging him on that! I’m not even suppose to judge what he wrote in his autobiography because probably he became a better man the month after it got published?

The Nation of Islam covered his entire political career EXCEPT for the last 10 months of his life. During this short time, even if he DID, which I doubt, embrace a multicultural worldview and wanted to work with anyone to create a better society, why should we celebrate someone who was the spokesman for a clearly delusional and racist organization for 11 years? Why don’t we celebrate someone who dedicated his whole life fighting for equality and produced ACTUAL results like Martin Luther King?

Even in his supposed enlightened period of his life he celebrated such ghastly figures such as Ahmed Sekou Toure and Kenneth Kauda. These people aren’t any better than the KKK!

The USA sure is a racist society, and African Americans have surely been discriminated, killed and lynched. I am not arguing that. That doesn’t change Malcolm X from being a terrible role model.

TheWire
TheWire

You are entitled to your opinion, but I don’t respect it!

No No No, The Nation of Islam didn’t cover his entire political career, I really don’t know where you get your information from. The first mayor speech he made after the break with The Nation Of Islam was that he was going to get involved into the civil rights struggle, and that who would work with anybody as long it created genuine results. Malcolm was planning on taking the United States into The United Nations and have USA charged with the violation of the human rights of 22 million African-Americans. That was Malcolm´s objective.

AS I wrote earlier, when Malcolm was in The Nation Of Islam, he spoke for Elijah Muhammad. After he left he spoke his own words and tried to release his own thoughts. Malcolm even admitted that he did a lot of wrong while he was a member of the Nation Of Islam. If you read the Autobiography, Malcolm clearly states that in 1963 he was talking more and more about politics and less of religion. If evaluate his whole body of work and Malcolm X was truly a great man. Don’t just take a piece out of Malcolm`s life and say that’s what he is about, because you should know better than that.

Malcolm was a pro multiculturalism after he left NOI. You can read it in all his interviews during his last 6 months. Malcolm was right! USA was racist society (and still is), America was preaching integration and practicing segregation.  America (just like South Africa) was using Christianity to suppress black people and discriminating and killing them with impunity. Malcolm wanted to destroy the whole racist structure that had been the American way of life and create equal opportunities and have equal rights among all people. Malcolm wanted to uplift the black man who had been discriminated, killed and lynched for over 400 years. His ancestors were brought to America as slaves and even since the proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln in circa 1863, things hadn´t progressed one bit a 100 years later.

If you see Malcolm X´s Oxford Union speech which was on the 3rd December 194 (3 months before he was killed), you can clearly see and hear that he wants brotherhood for all men. Here you have it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlx3v8RRqUU

Concerning the quote you are talking about, Malcolm thoughts and thinking was changing during his last year, and the speech done France was probably done during his last 6 months alive. Malcolm didn´t have the time to update his Autobiography due to a lot of speaking engagements and travelling.

You should understand more of the society and the turburlent 60s, where so many historical people died in that era (and I am not talking about the Kennedy brothers). Malcolm X was really the peoples champion and you can even see it today wherever you go in the world. Malcolm definitely made the cut, he was the cut. He was the most brilliant and respected spokesman for African-Americans in the 60s on a national and international stage. There was no one more sincere and a better leader than him!

NO! YOU would fit perfectly in at FOX NEWS with their hypocritical outlook on the world!

Rodri
Rodri

@TheWire

No, TheWire, when I first heard his name, I had a very positive opinion of him, basing my opinion on what I heard about him secondhand. I starting disliking him when I read his autobiography and thought about him for myself.

First of all, his time with the Nation of Islam covered his entire political career EXCEPT for the last few MONTHS, not years ,MONTHS. We are suppose to ignore everything he said before that and just celebrate him for what he was in the last months of his life?

And anyway what do you mean he was pro-multiculturalism after he left NOI? Really? In the final chapters, he talks about the USA being a bastion of Christianity and stresses the need to overthrow it and purify it with the right kind of culture. Hardly a multiculturalist!

I am out of my mind to say he sees Saudi Arabia as an ideal world? Did you read the biography at all? He might have not said he that SA is the ideal country, but he definitely praises the way they structure society and condemns moderate Lebanon. Malcolm X wants an international brotherhood? Where does he say that ?

The quote you found was uttered by Malcolm X in front of a liberal French audience. It stands in stark contrast to everything he mentions in his autobiography. In his own work he extols sharia dressing code for women:

“immediately my attention was struck by the mannerisms and attire of the Lebanese women. In the Holy Land [Saudi Arabia] there had been the very modest, very feminine Arabian women—and there was this sudden contrast of the half-French, half-Arab Lebanese women who projected in their dress and street manners more liberty, more boldness. I saw clearly the obvious European influence upon the Lebanese culture. It showed me how any country’s moral strength, or its moral weakness, is quickly measurable by the street attire and attitude of its women—especially its young women. Wherever the spiritual values have been submerged, if not destroyed, by an emphasis upon the material things, invariably, the women reflect it. Witness the women, both young and old, in America—where scarcely any moral values are left.”

I understand the 1960’s was mired in a deep cultural war. Many African Americans felt the need to have a more hardline Martin Luther King. But Malcolm X just doesn’t make the cut. Even other extremist like Huey Newton and Harry Haywood were much better than Malcolm.

It is funny you should mention Fox News. Malcolm bigotry would fit perfectly with O’Reilly and Hannity.

TheWire
TheWire

Rodri, your misconception of Malcolm X has been in your mind ever since you first he his name. You should never base your opinion on someone based on second hand, because thats not being objective and that means that you haven't thought for yourself. You must ha read a revised edition of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" done by Fox News. During Malcolm X`s last years Malcolm X was pro multiculturalism and he really believed in it. During his time in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm was talking for Elijah Muhammad and not for himself. 
You are really out of your mind saying Malcolm ideal world was to resemble Saudi Arabia, thats outright lie. Malcolm wanted to have brotherhood among all people, but he didn´t believe in brotherhood with those who didn´t wanted to practice brotherhood with him or African-Americans. 

Well, if you read the book properly and especially the last chapters, Malcolm clearly states that the Nation of Islam wasn´t practising real Islam, thats why he became an orthodox muslim on his travel to Mecca. No where has Malcolm stated that he practiced "wahhabism", and even so if he did, its in his full right to practice what ever he chooses. 
Rodri, you are really out of touch when you are talking about Malcolm X. If you saw Malcolm X in an objective light you will see that none of your proclaims holds any merits. The more you talk, the more you look like a total fool. 

Malcolm X on women

"in every country you go to, usually the degree of progress can never be separated from the woman. If you’re in a country that’s progressive, the woman is progressive. If you’re in a country that reflects the consciousness toward the importance of education, it’s because the woman is aware of the importance of education.

But in every backward country you’ll find the women are backward, and in every country where education is not stressed it’s because the women don’t have education. So one of the things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travels is the importance of giving freedom to the women, giving her education, and giving her the incentive to get out there and put the same spirit and understanding in her children. And I am frankly proud of the contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom and I’m one person who’s for giving them all the leeway possible because they’ve made a greater contribution than many of us men."