It was a perfect tribute to Malcolm X. The country almost forgot to recollect or celebrate him on the day he was assassinated 41 years ago. It was perfect because he would have loved it this way.
He would not have loved to be idolized, by the system of exploitation he gave up his life struggling against. Neither would he have liked to be converted into a heritage site or a street name or a public controversial holiday. He would not have liked to be eulogized by the presidents nor discussed over in a relaxed talk show. He would not have wanted us to remember his face on the postage stamp nor to have him imprinted on colorful tees that could be worn in rallies.
In every way, the silence of betrayal that spirals the country’s knee-jerking responses to his death anniversary was the befitting tribute to Malcolm X. The betrayal is deafening at the point when God is being called upon every so often to bless America, as though the destiny of this good country were being authored by the people who inhabit it. Malcolm would have greatly differed today as he differed back in 1964 (April 3, in Cleveland, Ohio; “The Ballot or the Bullet”) :
“Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner. You must be eating some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America doesn’t make you an American. Being born here in America doesn’t make you an American.”
Malcolm would have hated us to glorify him in this age of war-mongers and indifferent citizens voting the same military-industrial complex back to power time and again. He would have opined similarly as he did back in 1963, while speaking in New York City:
“If violence is wrong in America, violence is wrong abroad. If it is wrong to be violent defending black women and black children and black babies and black men, then it is wrong for America to draft us, and make us violent abroad in defense of her. And if it is right for America to draft us, and teach us how to be violent in defense of her, then it is right for you and me to do whatever is necessary to defend our own people right here in this country.”
Malcolm would have chided us for our naiveties. For the misplaced faith of the collective whole on reactionary forces. For mistaking hunger-for-power as democracy. For lack of conviction as successful personality. Just as he never minced his words while criticizing the most beloved president this country has seen, back on the Valentine’s Day of 1965:
“John F. Kennedy also saw that it was necessary for a new approach among the American Negroes. And during his entire term in office, he specialized in how to psycho the American Negro. Now, a lot of you all don’t like my saying that, but I wouldn’t ever take a stand on that if I didn’t know what I was talking about. And I don’t — by living in this kind of society, pretty much around them — and you know what I mean when I say “them” — I learned to study them. You can think that they mean you some good ofttimes, but if you look at it a little closer you’ll see that they don’t mean you any good. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some of them who mean good. But it does mean that most of them don’t mean good.
Kennedy’s new approach was pretending to go along with us in our struggle for civil rights and different other forms of rights. But I remember the expose that Look magazine did on Meredith’s situation in Mississippi. Look magazine did an expose showing that Robert Kennedy and Governor Wallace — not Governor Wallace, Governor Barnett — had made a deal, wherein the attorney general was going to come down and try and force Meredith into school, and Barnett was going to stand at the door, you know, and say, ‘No, you can’t come in.’ He was going to get in anyway. But it was all arranged in advance. And then Barnett was supposed to keep the support of the white racists, because that’s who he was holding up, and Kennedy would keep the support of the Negroes, because that’s who he’d be holding up. That’s — it was a cut-and-dried deal. And it’s not a secret; it was written, they write about it. But if that’s a deal and that’s a deal, how many other deals do you think go down? What you think is on the level is crookeder, brothers and sisters, than a pretzel, which is most crooked.”
Malcolm would have ridiculed the deep fascination of our present times with the minority celebrities, the well-meaning billionaires, the filthy rich colored sports and music successes. If he would not have brought the analogies of field and house slaves, he would have perhaps talked about tokenism, just as he did four decades back:
“I would like to point out that the approach that was used by the administration right on up until today — see, even the present generation — was designed skillfully to make it appear that they were trying to solve the problem when they actually weren’t. They would deal with the conditions, but never the cause. They only gave us tokenism. Tokenism benefits only a few. It never benefits the masses, and the masses are the ones who have the problem, not the few. That one who benefits from tokenism, he doesn’t want to be around us anyway — that’s why he picks up on the token.”
Or he would have really felt sad witnessing the current false pride among most of us, because we identify our entity and bask in glory, with the miniscule minority of us, assuming that since the ‘few’ among us made it, the onus lies on all of us to emulate (to pick up the tokens frantically and join the system unquestionably). He would have become infuriated at the repetition of the “dream” (which according to him, led to nothing other than the Black people marching from one dead president’s statue to another dead president’s statue) He would have felt exactly the way he did the year he was killed when he was 39:
“Whenever you see a Negro bragging about “he’s the only one in his neighborhood,” he’s bragging. He’s telling you in essence, “I’m surrounded by white folks,” you know. “I love them, and they love me.” Oh yes. And on his job “I’m the only one on my job.” I’ve been listening to that stuff all my life, and the generation that’s coming up, they’re not going to be saying that. The generation that’s coming up, everybody is going to look like an Uncle Tom to them. And you and I have to learn that in time, so that we don’t pose that image when our people, when our young generation come up and begin to look at us.
The masses of our people still have bad housing, bad schooling, and inferior jobs, jobs that don’t compensate with sufficient salary for them to carry on their life in this world. So that the problem for the masses has gone absolutely unsolved. The only ones for whom it has been solved are people like Whitney Young, who’s supposed to be placed in the cabinet, so the rumors say. He’ll be one of the first Black cabinet men. And that answers where he’s at. And others who have been given jobs — Carl Rowan, who was put over the USIA, who is very skillfully trying to make Africans think that the problem of Black men in this country is all solved.”
You know, the problem of the Black people in this country is still not solved. And therefore, you reside in our minds, brother, and your words reverberate.