“We are black first and everything else second.”1 This was the nature, state and life of African American in the United States since the founding of America. One of the enduring myths of our time include Columbus discovered America, America independence from the British was on the fourth of July and most enduring is that President Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation freed Africans from slavery. The strong psychological attachment of both African Americans and white Americans to their racial groups has affected the beliefs and attitudes toward each other. The opinion attitudes and treatment of African Americans was based on this separation. A true master-slave relationship existed between them.
In the 1960’s the African Americans lived in perpetual fear of whites they were killed, hunted, lynched, raped, and were subjected to constant physical and psychological abuse. This was the culture and atmosphere Malcom X grew up, lived and ultimately died in. This was the society he was to influence. What significance did he have? His significance was not in so much in what he did. It was more in what he represented. What he said, what he pointed out and the changes that occurred as a result to the new debates and the influence on the dominant dialectic that was then and now and since. Who was Malcom x he was the only man in America who had the stones to say to white America” you did this, this is your legacy in the world, you are terrorists and you need to change."2
THE BLACK IMAGE AND SELF HATE
“America's greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”3 African Americans had been robbed of their history and their identity. They lived in the squalor of poverty drunkardness and prostitution. The reason according to X was this self-hate. He advocated for African Americans to have self-esteem and pride. This ultimately lead to such phrases like, “black is beautiful.” African Americans began to question their place and their role in the history books beyond that of them coming as slaves.
He promoted black pride to the extent he questioned African Americans belief in Christianity as a still part of the master slave white social construct that he was against. "Brothers and sisters, the white man has brainwashed us black people to fasten our gaze on a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus! We're worshipping a Jesus that doesn't even look like us!”4
1 Goldman, P. “Malcolm X: Witness for the Prosecution,” (University Illinois Press, 1982).p78
THE MEDIA AND RACISM
The is a long established culture of reducing entire communities to a sterio type that is filled with only but the most negative perceptions of that community. This has always been used by the dominant community to contextualize a particular group into a narrow dialectic in which the wider dominant community can understand their complexity in a few simple words and images.
“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. because they control the minds of the masses.”4 The truth of the matter is that the images that dominate mainstream media are of white America. Though Obama has declared a post racial America the reality is very different. Beyond the rhetoric we find that the stereotypes still remain. However Malcom X had advocated for the setting up of institutions to combat this very phenomena. Today BET is a channel dedicated to African Americans and advocated the very black pride Malcom X advocated for.
The influence of media on young minds cannot be over stated or understated. Mr X was one of the first to advocate for having an African American run and controlled media to counter these effects. "If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." 5
ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
In the 1960’s several African countries were gaining independence from their colonial oppressors. His words were well received in a continent that had been the receiving end of European brutality and murder for more than 700 years. Several movements of liberation had gone the way of violence and been successful. These nations and their young students had been inspired by his speeches on black pride as well as the concepts he promoted like self-reliance.
The civil Rights movement outside America was designed to promote American propaganda and cure Russian influence. The allure of Russian influence was inticing when put in the context of what was happening to African Americans in the US. This is best seen when Malcom x was making statements like “We, in America, are your long-lost brothers and sisters,” 6
4 Malcolm X, “To Mississippi Youth,” in The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, ed. Clayborne Carson et al, (New York: Penguin, 1991), p. 201.
This made members of the state department very nervous. These were real concerns in Africa about the conditions of African Americans and it brought in to question the sincerity of Americans. This would prove to be true in later years with the several coups and assassinations of African leaders who promoted and advocated for pan-Africanism. It is also interesting to note almost every leader that Malcom X meat with was assassinated and replaced by a western backed and supporting puppet. His statements worried many in both sides of the ocean. “As long as you take money from America, you’ll have only the external appearance of sovereignty”7
Malcom X brought global awareness to the civil rights movement in the US. This had the effect of significantly influencing government policy. This was in the context of the cold war. How could America lecture the world and talk of freedom when its own could only share a door way with a dog but not a fellow human of the same color?
"The greatest accomplishment that was made in the struggle for the black man in America in 1964 toward some kind of progress was the successful linking together of our problem with the African problem, or making our problem a world problem"8
Interest in Malcom X was only revived years later after the race issue propped up again in American society that has never found a way to solve it. Now the president is black and there are claims of a post racial America. Malcom X’s influence came after his death with groups like the black panther. His stance on violence and advocating for taking of rights put pressure on the government at the time to make haste with legislation such as brown vs the board of education. Advocating for African Americans to set up their own institutions lead to media houses like BET. His advocating for the civil rights movement abroad made the American government to not see it as a an isolated state problem confined mainly to the south but one of humanity as a whole as soon as it affected their foreign policy.
Following the hype he received in the 1990’s that brought a successful launch of an auto biography and movie starring Denzel Washington shows his mass appeal. The million man march in 1995 can be seen as a consequence of the revived interest and not the pacifism nature of Dr.King. He was a great speaker and an icon of our time.
Malcolm X, “To Mississippi Youth,” in The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader, ed. Clayborne Carson et al, (New York: Penguin, 1991)
Goldman, P. “Malcolm X: Witness for the Prosecution,” (University Illinois Press, 1982).