Say His Name
Why we must continue to say Malcolm X’s name and keep it alive
Just heard these kids don’t know ‘bout Malcolm
And I’m sort of heartbroken ’cause the elders lost hope in our youth . J. Cole
The year is 2020. Donald Trump is president of the United States. The unemployment rate and median wealth of black families have, for the most part, remained the same as it was in the 70s.
The movement of my parents is no more rather it has been canonized in the memories and museums around the country. At the head of that movement is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, a minister and speaker from Atlanta, Georgia, whose words, and writings exist still, looming larger than ever.
But in the background hovering over us all lies the inescapable shadow of El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, known to us as Malcolm X. His words, his fury, and his legacy shine through the darkness and remind us that in spite of it all, we have so much more to do.
But as I listen to the announcements at my school on the 55th anniversary of his assassination, I notice that his name nor the assassination was mentioned. There are no pictures of his face, no mention of his legacy. These are the grandkids of this movement and they don’t have the slightest clue of who he is.
Just last week, a group of students from my school got the chance to visit the National Center for Civil Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. We toured all the various levels and learned of the international and homegrown struggles for civil rights. Last we got the chance to go into the room where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s papers were housed. I peered behind the glass and looked at it in awe. My students after barely an hour asked if we could go to Chickfila.
My heart is broken. That is precisely why I wrote this letter. It’s been 19 years since I first learned of his legacy and now as an adult, I feel I owe it to him to pay homage to his life.
Malcolm on ownership
Malcolm’s father, Earl Little, was an ardent follower of Marcus Garvey, the father of Pan Africanism. Garvey’s insistence on black ownership and wealth was extremely influential and represented one of the major themes of Malcolm’s work that is often ignored.
Newspapers and critics like to lead with the quotes on self-defense and racial supremacy, ignoring his larger and equally important appeals for black ownership. More than anything, this message is important especially in a time where blacks still find themselves victim to the ebbs and flows of our economy.
Malcolm talked about cooperative economics and the need for black people to create enclaves where we could trade with each other. This blueprint would be duplicated and advocated in the years to come with groups like the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers promoting it under their ten-point plan. Dr. King spoke more on this topic towards the end of his life, but for Malcolm, this was the only way to live. This is why we must keep this idea alive.
Lastly, Malcolm was one of the first leaders to embody the idea of Pan Africanism, working with Kwame Nkrumah and other African leaders to build momentum in the universal struggle for freedom. Who do we have doing that now?
Malcolm on politics
On the cusp of one of the most important political elections in years, it is essential for us to reflect on what Malcolm warned us in regards to political parties. The liberals we are clinging to so desperately have sat by complacently and allowed a racist to malign and abuse his powers as he called various ethnic groups rapists.
On the same hand, the conservatives have used political issues like criminal justice reform to fool blacks into thinking they are included, with some of our brightest and richest leaders taking the bait.
What would Malcolm say if he saw us praising a Roc Nation deal with the NFL while allowing Kaepernick to go without work? The eternal struggle between the bourgeoise and working-class rages on.
In his speech, the Ballot or the Bullet, he warned us against using our vote carelessly. Yet and still, the black community remains divided. We are in a chasm. We refuse to hold the party responsible for their lack of follow through with our community yet still pardon the first black president for his failure to advance a solely black agenda. This is yet another reason why we must keep Malcolm’s name alive. He was the voice of our conscience.
Life after death
Since his death fifty five years ago, there have been many people who’ve come who’ve kept his legacy alive. His daughters, in particular, Ilyasah Shabazz, has written books and helped promote the recent documentary Who Killed Malcolm to help keep his legacy alive.
The Black Lives Matter movement for all of its criticism represents a major paradigm shift as this is one of the first black movements that is leaderless in a sense. Now more than ever we see groups mobilizing and working across the table to bring forward a more cohesive and distinctive agenda. Intersectionality would make Malcolm proud.
When I think of what Malcolm would say to us if he were alive today, I reflect on the words of noted author and writer Mumia Abu-Jamal who said in his infamous book Live from Death Row,
This is not the lost generation. They are the children of the LA rebellion, the children of the MOVE bombing, the children of the Black Panthers, and the grandchildren of Malcolm: far from lost, they are probably the most aware generation since Nat Turner’s: they are not so much lost as they are mislaid, discarded by this increasingly racist system that undermines their inherent worth. If they are lost, find them.