By Wendell P. Simpson
It was February 25, 1965, and I was nine years old. My father was intently listening to a radio broadcast which I really couldn’t hear, and besides, I was too involved in playing with the dye-cast metal Texaco tanker truck I got for Christmas.
Understand that my father was one of the toughest men I ever knew—so imagine my horror when my father ran out of the den with tears streaming down his face. I had never seen my father so much as bat an eye over any crisis, but here was a man who, as far as I was concerned, was made of steel—and here he is bawling.
He took a wide swing at a kitchen chair, taking half of the kitchen table with it. My mother, hearing the commotion, rushed into the room.
“What’s the matter,” she said furtively, for she, too, did not know this collapsed and pitiful shell standing where the man of steel should have been.
“They assassinated Malcolm,” my father cried, “just like I knew they would.”
I probably would have reacted, but I was too young to know what the word ‘assassinated’ meant.
That was the day our pride, our manhood died—and we have yet to recover.
Here we are, 45 years later, and Black folk are still facing the many of the same struggles. Largely disenfranchised, our communities in economic and psychological disarray, our women still disrespected and disregarded. The prisons are disproportionately filled with wayward young Black men, and, even with the ascension of a Black president, we are still dealing with rampant and overt racism and covert discrimination.
Our recent history is one of intellectual stagnation and economic and political regression.
Malcolm X’s story was that of a man who constantly sought to remake himself as someone better than the day before. Ever learning, ever broadening his horizons, Malcolm was always reconfiguring the information to fit a changing paradigm. He was never static, but dynamic and dimorphic. He understood that revolution itself was not an end unto itself, but rather, a process of material and psychic evolution.
The level of Malcolm’s courage and the prowess of his intellect were irrefutable. He stood in the face of the storm and dared to challenge it. He rebuked any notion that his station in life was decrepit or fixed and he dared us to do the same. He flipped the slanted histories that were fed to us and turned them on their bigoted heads.
His vision was broad, his reach ambitious. Malcolm sought to internationalize the struggle of Black people in America by linking them to human rights struggles everywhere. He challenged the inequities of America in the global court of opinion. He made us uncomfortable by forcing us to gaze at ourselves in the mirror and he dared each of us to be something better.
Malcolm was also pious, virtuous and disciplined. His principles were as unshakeable as the Rock of Gibraltar, a feature sadly missing in this era of paper-thin morality and religious profession as just another fashion accessory. Malcolm’s faith moved him to act; ours just sits there in a jar, only to be brought out for the Sunday morning fashion show.
I often ask myself what Malcolm must be thinking from on
high as he gazes upon the world we’ve made atop the ashes of his sacrifice.
I wonder how he’d feel, in 2010, about the 1-in-5 Black men who reside under the jurisdiction of a racist and economically discriminatory criminal justice system; or how, after all of this so-called integration, one-third of all Black people fit the US Census Bureau’s criteria of poor; or how young Black women willingly responding to being categorized as ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’’; or how Black men gunning down other Black men over turf they don’t own translates into some kind of perverse heroism.
I wonder how he’d feel, this steadfast advocate for Black economic control and empowerment, to know that a dollar only circulates one time in the Black community as opposed to 15 times in the white community..I wonder how he’d feel to know that the Black community allows outsiders to own stores in its midst drain its economic resources without demanding some kind of reinvestment. What would he think of a Black middle class that has abandoned its traditional enclaves, leaving gentrification and the destruction of their legacies?
How would he feel, the man who proclaimed the ballot of the bullet, to know that less tan 20 percent of the eligible Black voters even bother to show up at the polls?
We talk a lot about honoring our heroes, but saluting Malcolm should be about more than ‘X’ hats, ‘El Hajj Malik El Shabazz’ tee shirts and every once in a while buying a bean pie from the Muslim on the corner.
It’s about participation in the process, in the community, in the world around. It’s about turning off “For The Love Of Ray-J” and getting some face time with a book or some internet news, if you just have to be on the computer.
It’s about knowing who your Congressmen and Senators are and demanding accountability and transparency. It’s about putting down that gat and that 40 and picking up a ballot.
It’s about respecting your mothers and your sisters and your wives or girlfriends. It’s about boycotting the stores that do not reinvest in the community.
Malcolm never did anything the easy way because there is no such thing. That’s why he called it the struggle.