I have been meaning to write a blog about Malcolm X for quite sometime but I just never got around to it. If you know me or have read my blog at some length, you will know that my heroes in life are intellectuals. I had always knew about Malcolm X growing up, but never knew the details about him until the last few years. Malcolm X is often dismissed by many as a loud, angry, militant black Muslim, and that is also how I understood him for so many years. When I began reading about him, and watched his speeches and debates and the documentaries about him, I began to see the human being behind the facade. I have to admit I was quite impressed with his agility with words considering he was largely self educated in prison, and his polemic nature. Malcolm X was a true intellectual, and for that reason he has my utmost respect.
Now it may come as a shock to some who have read my philosophy on religion, particularly Islam, why a polemic black Muslim like Malcolm X could have gained my respect. But Malcolm X was different. He was no Lewis Farrakhan, or a Khalid Abdul Muhammad, rather he is up on the pillars of black intellectuals along with Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin. Malcolm X didn't spend his time preaching radical Islam, he spent his time largely speaking out against the institutionalized racism against black people all over the world at the hands of their white oppressors. It was civil rights, not religion, that was the issue of his day.
Now some have called Malcolm X a racist. I see Malcolm X as a black man coming to gripes with the nature of his reality, within the confines of a culture that at that time, saw him as less than a human, and not guaranteed any of the rights that all Americans were told that they have and should enjoy. He reacted as only one could imagine, given his life experiences. He experienced racism throughout his life, his father was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, his family house burned down by them too. He experienced just about every form of racism you could throw at a person that it is no wonder that Malcolm X was as pugnacious as he was.
One of the characteristics that Malcolm X had that made him different, was his moral character. After he left the Nation Of Islam, he began to expose the corruption he saw within its ranks, particularly of its leader Elijah Muhammad, who Malcolm accused of having eight children with six of his teenage secretaries. These allegations later turned out to be true. Other corruptions Malcolm exposed of the NOI involved the mishandling of funds to buy expensive jewelry and clothes. It seemed that Malcolm was uncorruptible in his ways and lived according to the philosophy he preached. He was never involved in any sexual misdoings; he never committed any violence towards others. He certainly did professed using violence as a means of self defense, but few of us will argue against this on moral terms.
Towards the end of Malcolm X's life he softened up a bit on his views towards white people. In early 1964 he made the Hajj, the pilgrimage required by all able-bodied Muslims to make to Mecca. There he saw Muslims of all races coming together to celebrate their common humanity and to worship. It was this sight, that Malcolm later spoke of that encouraged him to review some of his opinions on racial attitudes. I am glad that Malcolm made this transition, just a year before he would die, for it bettered his legacy. But what frustrates me, is the idea that a black man from the U.S. would have to travel so far away to foreign lands, and within the Islamic tradition, in order to have to see people of different races come together in unity. What shame this makes me feel for the culture of the United States of America at that time, preaching freedom on the one hand, while turning on the fire hose with the other. Although I proudly affirm the core principles of our secular democracy, the history of American racism and prejudice written in blood sometimes makes my stomach turn.
Whether Malcolm X was assassinated by members of the NOI or whether it was part of a larger conspiracy I am not qualified to say. It would have been interesting to see how Malcolm's views changed with the times had he lived. He died right as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was beginning to be implemented and he never lived to see what became of it. Prior to this legislation it can be argued that most previous attempts to enact civil rights for black people were abysmal failures are were never really implemented. Because of this Malcolm X had little faith that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would produce better conditions for his people, and I don't blame him.
Even though Malcolm X was a Muslim and held views that I disagree with, that doesn't mean that I as a pugnacious atheist cannot see him as a human being, struggling for the universal recognition of humanity for him and for his people. His fight was not with atheism, it was for the dignity of black people against white racism, oppression and colonialism, and for this I would fight with him. I deeply sympathize with him and I get brought almost to tears when I think of what he had to go through. He certainly was an interesting human being and sadly died too soon.
Malcolm X (May 19, 1925 - February 21, 1965)
Malcolm X At The Oxford Debates:
PBS Documentary Malcolm X: Make It Plain:
Malcolm X Interview At UC Berkeley: