“You’ve got to be realistic about being a nigger”.
Malcolm X’s original name was Malcolm Little, right?
Wrong! “Little” was the nickname that a white master gave to a black slave of his who was an ancestor of Malcolm. He was way too Big when he was reborn –free of passions and prejudices – to be named Little.
The first time that he was born was on May 19, 1925, in Nebraska. His father was an active member of UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association).
Six years after the birth of his third child, Malcolm, he paid for his audacity. His body with his skull shattered was found on the tram track cut in half. The cronies of Ku Klux Klan had done their job.
Malcolm and his five siblings grew up eating porridge made of corn flour and boiled greens. At school, they were “the niggers”.
His mother was cleaning houses of white people but at some point she broke down and she was taken to the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital. The children were separated to different foster families.
Malcolm was a very good student, better than the majority of his white classmates. But when a teacher asked him what he wanted to become in the future and he replied that he harboured ambitions of becoming a lawyer, the teacher’s answer left him speechless:
“You’ve got to be realistic about being a nigger. A lawyer, that’s not a realistic goal for a nigger. Why don’t you plan on carpentry?”
Like a decent nigger, he made no more dreams about becoming a lawyer, he started to straighten his hair, wearing cool clothes and selling drugs.
When he turned 15 years old, he moved in his elder sister’s house and he embarked on his career in crime.
“Straightening my hair”, writes in his biography, “was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair”.
For five years he was verifying the white people’s stereotype that black people were nothing but the parasites of society, natural born criminals and racially inferior.
Until he was arrested for an armed robbery (his white wife was a mitigating factor) and was sentenced for eight years to Charlestown State Prison; and that’s where X was born.
In prison he got acquainted with the Nation of Islam, a movement that was promoting the faith of Islam as the natural religion of the black people. It represented their independence, the pride of their race and the right to self-defense.
Malcolm believed in something for the first time in his life and that is what saved him. He dropped criminal behavior and fights and began to educate himself. He read so many volumes under such poor light conditions that he had to put on glasses.
(He later found out that the founder of the “Nation” Elijah Muhammad was equally corrupted with the “white devils” and he was working hand in glove with Ku Klux Klan. But a fair amount of time elapsed before he put his finger on it.)
Malcolm got out of prison seven years later, determined to “devote the rest of my life to telling the white man about himself—or die”.
He got two for two.
As a Muslim and X, Malcolm became pretty soon the number two in the Nation of Islam. It was
not just his utter commitment to the cause but mainly his astounding skills as a speaker.
Wherever he gave a speech –even at the black Gomorrah- his brothers, the Afro-Americans, the coloured people, the black ones, the Negroes, the niggers, were abandoning their former prodigal life and they were following him; because he reminded them who they really were.
As we saw in the self-titled movie by Spike Lee with Denzel Washington as Malcolm X: “Before there was any such thing as a Republican or a Democrat, we were black. Before there was any such thing as a Jew or a Christian, we were black people. In fact, before there was any such place as America, we were black!”
But 1959 was the year that white people got to know Malcolm X – and they were shocked.
They saw on television a “nigger” who wasn’t asking for favours, he wasn’t imploring to be integrated into their society, he was not begging them to accept him.
Malcolm held in contempt the society of the white people and reviled them for their crimes against his race. They saw a black America standing proud and fearless against its predator.
The white people surely preferred the more modest stance of the pastor Martin Luther King.
Malcolm X, the Muslim, made them feel uneasy.
King spoke of a dream, about an equal society in the future. Malcolm spoke of the present, “bitter and deprived of any answers”.
The first one was hoping for a change to come. The other, was demanding things to change there and now.
When they met each other –in 1964, shortly before they both were murdered- they admitted that their goal was common, but with a different time horizon.
Yet Malcolm’s arch enemies were the leaders of Islam. The sons of Elijah Muhammad envied X’s popularity and they wanted to get rid of him. It turned out that they didn’t have to act on that.
When Malcolm found out that his hero Elijah was not the paragon of Islamic morality (he had children with three, at least, of his secretaries) his faith began to fail.
On the occasion of his statement about the assassination of Kennedy, Malcolm was forced to leave the “Nation”. Why?
Because, as his teacher had told him, he was a nigger and a realist. He was not a politician, so he “dared” to state that Kennedy’s assassination was nothing else but a case of “chickens coming home to roost”.
Malcolm abandoned the Nation of Islam, founded an organization of his own and set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca (literally).
Outside America, he met for the first time white people who treated him with respect. He began to understand that there were white people who could look on him as a brother.
He describes a characteristic incident in his biography:
Once, while he stopped his car for a traffic light (in Egypt or Israel?), another car drove alongside and the white driver extended his hand.
“Do you mind shaking hands with a white man?
“I don’t mind shaking hands with human beings. Are you one?” Malcolm answered him.
After touring Middle East and Africa, Malcolm returned to the USA strengthened and refreshed. His contacts had made him understand that he would achieve a lot more if he allied himself with the downtrodden wherever they were.
He stated that he did not consider anymore all white people as demonic, although the plight of the Afro-Americans still infuriated him.
He founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity and he was about to take the USA to the UN for its treatment of American Negroes.
The politicians understood that this new Malcolm was a bigger threat than the X of the “Nation of Islam”.
On February 21, 1965, while he was giving a speech at Harlem, three men shot him 21 times. The murderers, members of the “Nation of Islam”, confessed that they were hired but they never revealed by whom. Malcolm was 39 years old.
Fifty years after his assassination, an Afro-American entered the White House.
But it would not mean much to Malcolm since the jailed black people outnumbered those in the Universities. And he would never stop preaching:
“Our position has never changed. If you sit at the back of the plane and it’s going a hundred miles an hour, and you’re on the back of the plane, well it can start going a thousand miles an hour; you’re going faster, but you’re still at the back of the plane. And that’s the same way with the Negro in this society, we started out at the rear and we’re still in the rear.”
For the new president of the USA Donald Trump, Malcolm X would count thrice as much as an enemy; because he was black, Muslim and, mainly, uncompromising. If he said the things he said about Kennedy, the beloved president of the people, just imagine what he would say about Trump!
Even though I have an inkling that he would dislike even more the Oreo cookie president Obama (outside black, inside white).
Sanejoker drew material form Malcolm X’s biography, written by David Downing.
I recommend you see Spike Lee’s movie about Malcolm, whose script was written by another great Afro-American writer James Baldwin. He was not a Muslim but a homosexual. His best book is Go Tell It on the Mountain. And there is a documentary about him I am not your Negro.