Remembering Malcolm X
February 21, 2015 1:34 AM   Subscribe

February 21st is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. This might be a good time to review this African-American civil rights activist’s life and discuss his legacy.
posted by Sir Rinse (47 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
If anyone is around Durham, NC, there will be a discussion of this topic at 2:00 pm today at the Hayti center.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:52 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The realest of the real. It's simply incredible that he did all that he did by the time he was 40. At no point in my life has there been an intellectual force that possesses even one flake of glitter to compare to the mirror he held up to America. The very definition of "punching up."
posted by rhizome at 2:18 AM on February 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Although his ideology was often divisive, no one could deny that he was a central figure of the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s.
central to what? what did Malcolm X accomplish? What did he even try to accomplish?

if Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam didn't exist, the FBI would have had to invent them...
posted by ennui.bz at 2:21 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


what did Malcolm X accomplish?

He certainly accomplished the writing of his autobiography, which is among the most amazing books ever written.
posted by colie at 2:57 AM on February 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


what did Malcolm X accomplish? What did he even try to accomplish?

Malcolm articulated black rage, anger and resentment in a way that King couldn't; he helped give black Americans a sense of themselves not as downtrodden victims but as a people with their own proud heritage; he spoke to an idea of black self-reliance that still resonates; and by providing a militant counterpoint to the nonviolence of MLK presented a stark choice in the potential outcome of the 1960's civil rights movement (as well as in the growth and development of black American political consciousness). Malcolm's legacy—his ideas of black self-reliance, and of the inherent racism of white American culture—resonates more with black intellectuals and activists than the legacy of MLK does; read Ta-Nehisi Coates, for instance, and see what he has to say about Malcolm's importance and influence. And see also things like this.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:17 AM on February 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


by providing a militant counterpoint to the nonviolence of MLK presented a stark choice in the potential outcome of the 1960's civil rights movement

but in order to provide a counterpoint, Malcom X, as a civil rights activist, has to actually do something... unless you consider organizing the Nation of Islam to be a counterpoint to MLK i.e. is joining an insular, violent, intellectually cranky religious cult really more militant than going to Selma?

The true militants of the civil rights era were in SNCC, as versus MLK's SCLC and it was precisely the sort of crypto-right wing, "power" oriented politics, espoused by people like Malcom X which ended up destroying SNCC as a political organization. So, Malcom X does actually represent the choice made during the civil rights era, to the extent that SNCC ended up being dominated by "black power" activists. The consequencess of that choice are pretty clear.

But the fact is that Malcom X was never a civil rights activist. Being black and giving speeches does not make you an activist, you have to actually do something. He was a media personality (I mean it's not really fair to Alex Haley to call him an author... what other books did he write?). He would be huge on twitter.

Just as a side note. This debate is usually framed as between "militant" black-power separatists i.e. X and "liberal" integrationists like MLK. But black separatism as a long history as a reactionary strain in black thought. If you are a militant in the civil rights era, the only choice is to be under the "integration" banner. But "integration" can mean radically different things. As I said before, "militants" like Malcom X always destroy radical movements from the inside. If he wasn't an FBI agent, the FBI would have found someone to play his role.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:01 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


(also, just to be clear, I doubt Malcom X was an agent of the feds, unlike, say, Al Sharpton, but he might as well have been and I suspect he had a rather complicated relationship with the FBI and the NYPD...)
posted by ennui.bz at 5:13 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]



He certainly accomplished the writing of his autobiography, which is among the most amazing books ever written.


I've just barely started Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm X, but even just from the first chapter the book has already complicated and deepened the picture I had of his life from the autobiography.

As I said before, "militants" like Malcom X always destroy radical movements from the inside.

I don't see any way this is true for the civil rights and black nationalist movements, nor for other social movements that I am aware of.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:29 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


What is your point here ennui.bz? That Malcolm X wasn't important or somehow doesn't count? Because whatever you're trying to argue doesn't make much sense and sounds like you have an axe to grind.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:40 AM on February 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


what did Malcolm X accomplish? What did he even try to accomplish?

Minister, civil-rights activist, writer, public speaker, scholar, student, brother, father, husband, friend, criminal, reformer, martyr, citizen, human.
posted by Fizz at 6:35 AM on February 21, 2015 [13 favorites]


Malcolm X led a million Americans to reconnect with their muslim roots that had been stolen from them. Around one in five Africans arrived in America as muslims, and glimmers of consciousness of their muslim history and faith survived up to the civil war. There were more muslims in America than Catholics or Jews at the turn of the 19th century. Islam is an American religion and Malcolm X brought it back.
posted by BinGregory at 6:39 AM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is going to sound shallow but Denzel Washington should've won the Oscar for his portrayal of Malcolm X in the movie.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:47 AM on February 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sorely disappointed by Manning Marable's book personally, Dip Flash. The analysis of Haley's contributions to the Autobiography were interesting. The probably identity of the true killers isn't news. And the rest felt like a real hatchet job and read like it was written by committee. The book I'm most interested to get hold of is Visits Abroad
posted by BinGregory at 6:51 AM on February 21, 2015


It's parenthetical to the conversation, but I read his autobiography in 7th or 8th grade (on my own, not for school) after having read Roots. I grew up in NH in a very white milieu and as a Jewish kid was used to sort of providing the diversity for everyone, and also having adults congratulate me and be impressed by my interest in things that were outside of my immediate experience. And then I read Malcolm X's autobiography and it was really amazing. But I realized that he probably wouldn't have particularly liked me, or been interested in my input in any way, or thought that reading his autobiography was any cause for self-congratulation. It was my first major lesson in "You are not so special. Your voice is not always welcome," and also "Learning about something does not mean you are making any sort of impact or change in the world. It's a first step, but that's all and you don't get any special points for just knowing things."
posted by ChuraChura at 7:19 AM on February 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Around one in five Africans arrived in America as muslims...

This is interesting. I'm by no means a scholar of the Africa-to-America slave trade, but have always been given to understand that the majority came from sub-Saharan west Africa which, I think, was not an area where Islam was prevalent. Can you explain this further? What is your basis for this percentage and is it generally accepted by scholars? Obviously it's complicated, but 20% Muslims among Africans brought to America is a surprisingly high number to me.
posted by slkinsey at 7:23 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Malcolm X was instrumental in changing the focus of the Black freedom struggle from the South to the cities in the North and West. Black Power may not have succeeded in ending racism and changing the relations of power, but it was an important period in making the old status quo impossible, and creating new conditions. Malcolm put together many of the ideas that would fuel that movement. (He was also important to many related ideas, such as studying Black history and an orientation toward Africa.)

The need for a Black Lives Matter movement today tells us that Malcolm's ideas are still relevant today. He talked about replacing the Civil Rights struggle with a Human Rights one, and sadly I think that this is still needed.

The idea that militants derail movements is a lie, and deserves nothing less than scorn. It is the most militant members of every movement that keep it driving forward, and the "moderates" and "realists" who end them.
posted by graymouser at 7:30 AM on February 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Actually, Islam is incredibly important in West Africa. There are huge Muslim populations in Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, etc. and have been for a very, very long time.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:32 AM on February 21, 2015


From Precious Rasheeda Muhammad's "Muslims and the Making of America" (PDF):
Among the population of those “people of the United States,” “those unhappy men,” were men, women and children of Muslim heritage. In fact, people of Muslim heritage would come to number an estimated 15 to 30 percent of the American slave population over the course of slavery in colonial America and the United States.
She cites a couple of further sources, if one is interested in more information.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:51 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Sorely disappointed by Manning Marable's book personally, Dip Flash.

That's too bad. I'm only one chapter into it and enjoying it so far, but I'll see how it goes from here.

I'm by no means a scholar of the Africa-to-America slave trade, but have always been given to understand that the majority came from sub-Saharan west Africa which, I think, was not an area where Islam was prevalent. Can you explain this further? What is your basis for this percentage and is it generally accepted by scholars? Obviously it's complicated, but 20% Muslims among Africans brought to America is a surprisingly high number to me.

Wikipedia offers citations for the 20-30 percent figure, and ChuraChura's link gives a good overview of the history of Islam in West Africa. It's interesting how vanishingly little most people in the US know about that region, given how intimately connected it is to the history and creation of the United States. I think my high school history textbook had one paragraph on the triangle trade routes, and one other paragraph later on the creation of Liberia, and that was it, for example.

It's also interesting (and sad) how few people can contextualize MLK and Malcolm X within the intellectual history of even modern black nationalist and civil rights thinkers, such as Marcus Garvey. They didn't come out of nowhere and they were both drawing on a deep history of thought and action; the two men do not by any stretch of the imagination represent the full spectrum of the movement.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote this poem about Frederick Douglass, but in many respects, Malcolm X fits the same shoe (despite some significant differences in political approach), as an individual who attempted to speak truth to power.

A hush is over all the teeming lists,
And there is pause, a breath-space in the strife;
A spirit brave has passed beyond the mists
And vapors that obscure the sun of life.
And Ethiopia, with bosom torn,
Laments the passing of her noblest born.

She weeps for him a mother's burning tears--
She loved him with a mother's deepest love
He was her champion thro' direful years,
And held her weal all other ends above.
When Bondage held her bleeding in the dust,
He raised her up and whispered, 'Hope and Trust.'

For her his voice, a fearless clarion, rung
That broke in warning on the ears of men;
For her the strong bow of his pow'r he strung
And sent his arrows to the very den
Where grim Oppression held his bloody place
And gloated o'er the mis'ries of a race.

And he was no soft-tongued apologist;
He spoke straight-forward, fearlessly uncowed;
The sunlight of his truth dispelled the mist
And set in bold relief each dark-hued cloud;
To sin and crime he gave their proper hue,
And hurled at evil what was evil's due.

Thro' good and ill report he cleaved his way
Right onward, with his face set toward the heights,
Nor feared to face the foeman's dread array--
The lash of scorn, the sting of petty spites.
He dared the lightning in the lightning's track,
And answered thunder with his thunder back.

When men maligned him and their torrent wrath
In furious imprecations o'er him broke,
He kept his counsel as he kept his path;
'Twas for his race, not for himself, he spoke.
He knew the import of his Master's call
And felt himself too mighty to be small.

No miser in the good he held was he--
His kindness followed his horizon's rim.
His heart, his talents and his hands were free
To all who truly needed aught of him.
Where poverty and ignorance were rife,
He gave his bounty as he gave his life.

The place and cause that first aroused his might
Still proved its pow'r until his latest day.
In Freedom's lists and for the aid of Right
Still in the foremost rank he waged the fray;
Wrong lived; His occupation was not gone.
He died in action with his armor on!

We weep for him, but we have touched his hand,
And felt the magic of his presence nigh,
The current that he sent thro' out the land,
The kindling spirit of his battle-cry
O'er all that holds us we shall triumph yet
And place our banner where his hopes were set!

Oh, Douglass, thou hast passed beyond the shore,
But still thy voice is ringing o'er the gale!
Thou 'st taught thy race how high her hopes may soar
And bade her seek the heights, nor faint, nor fail.
She will not fail, she heeds thy stirring cry,
She knows thy guardian spirit will be nigh,
And rising from beneath the chast'ning rod,
She stretches out her bleeding hands to God!

Paul Laurence Dunbar
posted by CincyBlues at 9:20 AM on February 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wish he were here today. Wish he had been here for the past fifty years. One of the most brilliant speakers and thinkers I've ever had the privilege to read. Reading his words always turns my mind on like a light.
posted by sallybrown at 9:40 AM on February 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Malcolm articulated black rage, anger and resentment in a way that King couldn't

This is why King's critiques of militarism and capitalism have been whitewashed away, while Malcolm X was radical enough to have been deliberately forgotten.

The powers would have you believe that the entire Civil Rights Movement was one guy who's dead now saying "I have a dream".
posted by anemone of the state at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


If you look at newspaper comment sections there are no end of white racists saying "Martin Luther King would be so disappointed!" about the Black Lives Matter protests.

They don't say Malcolm X. Why?

Because the idea of Malcolm X still means something.
posted by anemone of the state at 10:29 AM on February 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


Part of the issue with disseminating knowledge about Malcolm X, as Manning Marable found out, is that Malcolm X's legacy was left in a complete shambles. Betty Shabazz refused access to his papers and belongings to researchers and left them rotting (Marable's word, not mine) in her basement for 30+ years and repeatedly sued writers and researchers who quoted from his documents and speeches. One of her daughters, Malikah, transferred Malcolm X's papers to a lockbox in Florida and then sold a portion of them to a speculator because she'd not paid the rent on the storage facility. The speculator offered the stuff he'd bought up for auction on Ebay for $600k. Finally, after a bunch of other twists and turns, the material ended up where it should have ended up to begin with: the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The FBI has had a vested interest in suppressing Malcolm X's legacy -- or more to the point, the legacy of its unparalleled surveillance and tracking of Malcolm X. Most material about that surveillance is still heavily redacted or unavailable for FOIA requests 50+ years on. The FBI and the NYPD both surveilled the hell out of Malcolm X during his short span in the public eye. Tens of thousands of pages were collected by the FBI alone.

If you stop to think about the reasons that contested figures and their legacies may be complicated to research -- because of continued interest in keeping their stories and lives covered up or sanitized, for whatever reason -- you begin to think about the notion that it's a very simple matter to bury for posterity someone you want buried by restricting or denying access to the historical record about them.

And often this is, in large measure, how you wind up with people scratching their heads in later generations and shrugging and asking, "Well, what did Malcolm X ever do?" How do you know what he ever did if you don't have access to the record of it in the first place? How do you construct a narrative about him without the materials and documents that comprise that record? As Marable writes, "Those who sought to silence him did so with recognition of how dangerous it was to those in power to permit his voice to continue to be heard."
posted by blucevalo at 10:34 AM on February 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yesterday CBC posted this archival video of Malcolm X on Front Page Challenge.

Front Page Challenge was a news quiz show where participants (notable journalists and thinkers) would try to guess the mystery guest--someone who was recently in the news. Once their identity was revealed, they interviewed them. This clip is the interview portion with Malcolm X, and is pretty interesting. (Check out the archive for the show for other interesting people!)
posted by chapps at 10:49 AM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I always thought it really sucked that Malcolm X was murdered just as he was starting to embark on a new stage of his life. His Hajj seemed to have taught him that God/Allah is color-blind, and just wants us to love each other. We can only guess what he would have done with his newfound outlook on life.
posted by luckynerd at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Malcolm was also cut down just as his ideas were moving toward socialism and internationalism. He considered the Socialist Workers Party (then the main Trotskyist party in the US; they still publish his speeches) a consistent ally and spoke at their events. His thoughts were in the middle of a major change. George Breitman wrote several books about Malcolm and his last year.

I can't recommend the Marable biography. Black activists I know have said it's too revisionist on Malcolm's political trajectory and tries to cut out the real ideas and politics.
posted by graymouser at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2015


This is going to sound shallow but Denzel Washington should've won the Oscar for his portrayal of Malcolm X in the movie.
posted by girlmightlive at 6:47 AM on February 21 [3 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Reading this post made me realize I always assumed he did win. Wow. That is such a profoundly good film.
posted by 4ster at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Malcolm X was also a great speaker. See this classic: The Ballot or the Bullet. You can feel the electricity in the air in that auditorium.

I will echo that his autobiography is a great book. It's a story of his political and spiritual evolution and also his resilience in the face of many obstacles. Marable's subtitle for his biography (which I haven't read), "A Life of Reinvention," seems appropriate to Malcolm. He went from crime to Islam / black nationalism and ended up at a kind of socialist internationalism. His story is a kind of microcosm of the life and struggles of urban black America around that time (or, perhaps, even up until today).

He's also very quotable.

"I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver—no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare."

"This is why I say it’s the ballot or the bullet. It’s liberty or it’s death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody."

"The government has failed us; you can’t deny that. Anytime you live in the twentieth century, 1964, and you’re walking around here singing “We Shall Overcome,” the government has failed us. This is part of what’s wrong with you -- you do too much singing. Today it’s time to stop singing and start swinging. You can’t sing up on freedom, but you can swing up on some freedom."
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 12:48 PM on February 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


blucevalo,

Your post makes it sound like it was Malcolm X's own family, far more than the government, that helped silence him. Why did his wife and daughter fight so hard against anyone seeing his papers?
posted by Sangermaine at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jacobin: The Legacy of Malcolm X by Ahmed Shawki (author of Black Liberation and Socialism)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


ennui.bz: "But the fact is that Malcom X was never a civil rights activist."

This follows in the tradition of white folk's arrogant assumption that they get to choose who is relevant to black folks civil rights.

Malcolm X's articulation of black pride, Pan-Africanism, black solidarity and unwillingness to compromise with white supremacy is one of the major inspirations of the Black Power movement. Hell, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale explicitly claim that the assassination of Malcolm (and subsequent termination of his idea for the Organization for Afro-American Unity) is a big part of what inspired them to start their own organization.

But seriously, you don't get to decide who leads/represents black people. If a lot of us choose Malcolm because his message resonates with us, then you just have to deal with it.
posted by anansi at 3:40 PM on February 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


ennui.bz: " it was precisely the sort of crypto-right wing, "power" oriented politics, espoused by people like Malcom X which ended up destroying SNCC as a political organization. "

And another thing . . .

A different interpretation of the demise of SNCC is that it was full of "well meanng" white liberals who felt that they had the right to dictate what the direction and pace of black progress should be. When Stokely Carmichael kicked them out, the organiztion did not survive that turmoil.
posted by anansi at 3:46 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


"But the fact is that Malcom X was never a civil rights activist."

Uh huh. Thanks for reminding us why Malcolm X was so important.
posted by wuwei at 11:36 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


A different interpretation of the demise of SNCC is that it was full of "well meanng" white liberals who felt that they had the right to dictate what the direction and pace of black progress should be. When Stokely Carmichael kicked them out, the organiztion did not survive that turmoil.

Or to put it another way, once the "well meaning" white liberals were no longer part of the organization, the organization failed, as did all the other would-be radical groups of the time. A great challenge for those taking the "liberals ruin everything" stance is the utter lack of achievement by the radicals.

Malcolm X is interesting in part because he marks the point when "activism" starts referring to rhetorical inspiration within a group rather than action to change the society in which the group operates. Ta-Naheshi Coates has a lot to say about the impact Malcolm X had on individual black people's consciousness, which was tremendous. And the people he influenced certainly had an impact, each in their own way. But unlike King, or DuBois, or Jackson, Malcolm X inspired no legislation, and the organizations he founded were effective at little but extracting money from parishioners.

In another era, he would be regarded as a great speaker and writer, while others would be credited as activists inspired by his thinking. But he came up in the 60s, when culture jamming seemed like the most exciting form of social action. Whether one agrees with that thesis, or whether one regards it as a tragic capitulation, will have a lot to do with your evaluation of his legacy.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:16 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


ThatFuzzyBastard: "Or to put it another way, once the "well meaning" white liberals were no longer part of the organization, the organization failed, as did all the other would-be radical groups of the time."


This is what I'm talking about. There seems to be, in the minds of many white Americans, this issue that groups are only effective and/or relevant if the groups include them.


Your argument that all of the "would be radical groups" failed is ahistoric. To claim that groups like the Black Panthers failed requires two mistaken assumptions. First it requires one to be unaware of the programs that the Panthers initiated, such as Free Breakfast for School Children Program (which was so successful that it was eventually emulated and adopted by the Federal government). Secondly, it requires one to categorize infiltration by the government, police assassinations, and racist legislation as "the Black Panthers failed."

Also, I'm really baffled by various posters insistence that Malcolm X was not an activist. I guess that attempting to get the UN to investigate Human Rights abuses in the US is not activist enough?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiNOMnLbQuk

Malcolm X is unlike King, DuBois, and Jackson in that he was not an integrationist. Malcolm X addressed black people not white America. If you can not see how activist this stance is (insisting upon agency for the oppressed, rather than bargaining with the oppressor for rights) then I would argue that you truly do not understand the situation.
posted by anansi at 8:39 AM on February 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


But I realized that he probably wouldn't have particularly liked me, or been interested in my input in any way, or thought that reading his autobiography was any cause for self-congratulation. It was my first major lesson in "You are not so special. Your voice is not always welcome,"

Really? This is the exact opposite lesson I think should be taken from the autobiography. It sounds like you stopped reading halfway. What I mean by that is, in the middle of the book, when he is in his black nationalist phase, a white girl asks him what she can do to help and Malcolm says "nothing." She leaves in tears. At the end of the book he is remorseful over that episode because he realizes that his struggle is not a black sectarian struggle but a struggle to free all humanity from oppression, in which everyone is entitled and should be encouraged to play a part.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:45 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]



This is what I'm talking about. There seems to be, in the minds of many white Americans, this issue that groups are only effective and/or relevant if the groups include them.

Nope. Groups are only effective and/or relevant if they can point to material changes in the lives of the people they seek to work for.

Your argument that all of the "would be radical groups" failed is ahistoric. To claim that groups like the Black Panthers failed requires two mistaken assumptions. First it requires one to be unaware of the programs that the Panthers initiated, such as Free Breakfast for School Children Program (which was so successful that it was eventually emulated and adopted by the Federal government).

The programs the Panthers initiated barely lasted a year. The Federal government was able to make it a long-term, wide-ranging program.

Secondly, it requires one to categorize infiltration by the government, police assassinations, and racist legislation as "the Black Panthers failed."

Yes, if your group cannot overcome its enemies, than your group has failed. The Panthers, like a lot of radical organization, seemed much more interested in noble martyrdom than achieving anything, and your comment exmplifies that.

Malcolm X is unlike King, DuBois, and Jackson in that he was not an integrationist


That is one difference, yes. The other, and more relevant difference, is that those three figures effected large-scale social change by forcing white society to reshape itself in response to their demands. Malcolm X did not. The idea of demanding agency for the oppressed is very appealing, but only if it results in the oppressed gaining agency. Otherwise it's pretty talk.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2015


The question of whether the Black Panthers failed or not begs the question of what their objectives were. As a group they were so politically jumbled that identifying some kind of coherent ideology is difficult. Judging by the standard of achieving anything that they articulated in the original Ten Point Program, however, they clearly failed.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:14 AM on February 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I should note that all the above does not mean that Malcolm X isn't relevant, or important. As a writer and intellectual, he inspired a whole lot of people. But I think it's worth maintaining a distinction between theorist and activist, and I find it frustrating that so much of our contemporary clicktivist culture is about obscuring that distinction.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Your argument that all of the "would be radical groups" failed is ahistoric. To claim that groups like the Black Panthers failed requires two mistaken assumptions. First it requires one to be unaware of the programs that the Panthers initiated, such as Free Breakfast for School Children Program (which was so successful that it was eventually emulated and adopted by the Federal government).

really? the panthers were utterly destroyed by the FBI, but they were allowed to do a lot of damage before they went down. but you're doing them a disservice by holding up a federal "free breakfast" program as evidence of a successful legacy.

the point about "integration" isn't about letting black people into the party but changing the context from the "black question" to talking about everybody, america as a whole.


A different interpretation of the demise of SNCC is that it was full of "well meaning" white liberals who felt that they had the right to dictate what the direction and pace of black progress should be. When Stokely Carmichael kicked them out, the organiztion did not survive that turmoil.


and women:
"the only position for women in SNCC is prone."

but, either way, Carmichael and SNCC were at least doing things. Again, what did Malcolm X do? No, a "UN human rights" publicity stunt doesn't count.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:57 PM on February 22, 2015


but, either way, Carmichael and SNCC were at least doing things. Again, what did Malcolm X do?

It gets pointed out every time this comes up, but one of the things that radicals do is to create political space and opportunities for more pragmatic or moderate activists. It really helps to have a Malcolm X out there talking about responding to violence with violence if you are trying to get traction for a moderate agenda, for example. It's not at all clear that SNCC and its allies would have done as well as they did without the panoply of other groups and activists that were out there, some of whom were much further along the radical spectrum.

As well, individual activists (including Carmichael, of course) and groups moved back and forth between moderate and radical stances depending on the situation, how things were going, and their assessment of possibilities. This is all over and above whatever Malcolm X and his allies did or did not personally accomplish of their stated agendas -- it just isn't a simple matter to separate out the full extent of where credit lies for such complex thing as the gains from the civil rights movement.

Again, your argument is ahistorical and it (though you personally may not be) is echoing some very uninformed perspectives.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:28 PM on February 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


The notion that Malcolm X was not an activist is a lot of bunk. So what, he didn't have a "Saul Alinksy Club" membership card. There are tens of thousands of people who were challenged by Malcolm X's ideas while he was alive; there are hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by those ideas in the years since his political murder; and there are millions of folks in the past few decades who have found him to be an efficacious and powerful example what it means to lift one's eyes up from subservient acquiescence unto a more powerful "look you square in the eyes" demeanor. I'm not a great fan of hip-hop myself as a musical form, but to deny its cultural agency would be folly. And surely the "Malcolm was not an activist" folks will concede that he was an influential precursor to elements of hip hop as it developed and matured as an art form.

All activity is political activity in a way, but not all political activity can be seen through the prism of the legislative process.

Furthermore, I think some folks here are avoiding one of the fundamental rules of power politics. If someone dangerous comes along who threatens the status quo, as defined by the powers which exist at that time, you marginalize that person. If the person is one of those unique humans beings who is capable of breaking through social containment into broader acceptance among the population, then you either throw them in jail, turn them into a "moral pariah" or you murder them. Does anyone think it an accident that Malcolm was murdered just as he was on the cusp of becoming more mainstream? Or that MLK was murdered just as he was beginning to gain traction by broadening his appeal to working class urbanites? And of course, the murdering of charismatic leaders is a pretty dead sure way of crippling organizations associated with that individual.

I once mentioned in a post that everyone has a jury in their mind--a quorum of people who inform and shape the thoughts and decisions of a person, either directly or indirectly. Now I'm a white dude so this may be presumptuous, but Malcolm X and MLK are both sitting right there next to Thomas More and Socrates on my jury. I've got a helluva jury.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:00 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]


Heh. The Ayatollah Khamenei loves twitter:

@khamenei_ir: "How was US govt.’s treatment against black #freedom movements? They killed them & applied violence against them. 8/14/1991
#MalcomX"
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2015


There are tens of thousands of people who were challenged by Malcolm X's ideas while he was alive; there are hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by those ideas in the years since his political murder; and there are millions of folks in the past few decades who have found him to be an efficacious and powerful example what it means to lift one's eyes up from subservient acquiescence unto a more powerful "look you square in the eyes" demeanor.

Exactly, and I don't think it diminishes his memory at all to call him an educator, at the very least. It seems highly bizarre to say that Malcolm X never did anything, on logical par with creationism.

To compare to someone a little more close to home, what has Noam Chomsky ever done? Pretty sure most peoples' connection to him has nothing to do with containment hierarchies of formal grammars.
posted by rhizome at 12:14 PM on February 23, 2015


Life and Legacy of Malcolm X:
Dr Umar Faruq Abdullah of Chicago's Nawawi Foundation and Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna College discuss the relevance of Malcolm X to American Muslims in a documentary vignette by the Ta'leef Collective.
posted by BinGregory at 4:43 PM on February 23, 2015


I agree that the discussion over whether one does or does not earn the "activist" label is stupid. You don't need to be singing "We Shall Overcome" in a black and white photograph for me to consider you an activist. There's no activist purity test. There's many different ways to participate in politics.

I'm not sure what the comparison with Noam Chomsky is trying to illustrate (that he has been politically influential without being an "activist"?), but he has been active in a variety of single-issue causes (closer, I think, to the contemporary understanding of "activism"), aside from his political philosophy or linguistics or media criticism, all of his life including the first political issue he spoke out on (and got arrested for, and got put on Nixon's Enemies List for), the Vietnam War.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 5:36 PM on February 23, 2015


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