Thursday, September 25, 2014

The claim that Malcolm X was a "black supremacist," racism against blacks, and white privilege

As I've mentioned previously, I'm TA'ing a class on Black History called The Black Power Movement. It's one of the most powerful, most important classes I've ever sat in on or taken in my life. It's huge (over 500 students, 6 TAs), and it's nothing like a typical history class, according to students I've talked to. I type my notes, and one of these days, I'm going to sift through them and share on this blog some of what I think needs to be heard and read more widely. Our section on Malcolm X is one of those things - everyone, esp white people, need to know about him through the various (4 main) phases he went through; they need to understand and appreciate the context of Malcolm X's view of the white man is the devil, but they also need to know that Malcolm X changed his view after his pilgrimage to Mecca. I'm not writing this just because I'm a Muslim, and Malcolm X was a Muslim (in fact, for political reasons and my utter hatred for Saudi's politics, I've "controversial" views on Hajj; we'll talk about that some other time, ai), but I'm writing this because, frankly, even the teacher hasn't brought this up in class yet, and we've been talking about Malcolm X for the last couple of lectures. One of the things I have GOT to work on like right now is pointing out such flaws - so while I didn't end up saying this out loud in class (I will on Tuesday in the next lecture, inshaAllah), I did ask the teacher after class if he is going to cover that because I think that's an important phase of Malcolm X's life.

But here's what happened.

A white student in class said, "But wasn't Malcolm X a black supremacist?" And the teacher's response: "No." The white guy: "But, like, didn't he believe that the white man was the devil?" Teacher: "Yeah." White dude: "Well, doesn't that make him a supremacist? If a white person said that about black people, wouldn't that be considered racist and supremacist?" And I loved the teacher's response. I just love this teacher, period, especially the way he handles the challenges from the white folks in the class. God, as he points out, white people are really not used to being challenged, criticized, called out on their racist shit. The typical response from them is: "I know slavery happened and all, but I think we should move past that now." Uh, NO, you privileged piece of ignorance. We don't need to move past anything. You have no problem with the fact that we're sitting here constantly talking about and condemning the Holocaust (as we should, always and forever), but you've got issues with talking about slavery? You've got no issues with not getting over and always remembering what happened on 9/11 (another thing to always be condemned), but you are uncomfortable talking about slavery? You can't sit here and talk about the hell your folks have created around the world, all the genocides that have taken place specifically because of your race, but you're telling black people to get over the three-hundred-plus years of slavery? You see the hell they're going through now, and you blame it all on them, declaring them lazy, illiterate, ignorant, criminal, but you refuse to see how it's all connected to the fact that your race (the white beeblez) are the underlying reason black folks continue to suffer and will for as long as you're going to be saying, "Get over it"? Granted, racism against black people isn't just from white people; it also comes from South and Southeast Asians, Middle Easterners, other Africans, and so on, and I'll write about that, too, one of these days, inshaAllah, but this is specifically about slavery. And, oh yeah, Malcolm X. But before I get to Malcolm X, lemme just say that the next time a black person shares their experiences with you of racism and prejudice, of how hard white people generally and this white supremacist system of ours is making their lives, listen. Don't interrupt them. Listen to them, observe what each race is doing to and saying about black people, recognize that it's wrong, speak against it as openly as possible, support black people and their human rights, and constantly ask yourself (and black people) how you can be an ally, a supporter, how you can help as an individual and as a community member to improve their situation so that we can progress towards a more racially egalitarian society where everyone's equal not just on paper or in spirit but also in practice. And while you do that, never forget that the black population in the U.S. is hardly 13-14%, and let's say that's roughly 6-7% black men; YET.... YET, our prison population in the U.S., where many people stupidly still believe that racism is dead and slavery is dead, is over 50% black men. Let that sink in for a bit, and then continue reading. Thanks.

So Malcolm X. Speaking of whom, did you know that when he was in prison, he read and memorized the English dictionary from head to toe? Explains his eloquence and brilliance quite well.

This is what my teacher's response was to that white boy who said, "But Malcolm X was a black supremacist." Something along the lines of:

No, because supremacy is about control. He wasn’t controlling anything and didn’t want blacks to control white people; he simply wanted black people to advance in a society that has always treated them as inferiors. So, yes, he called white people the devil because he really saw them as the devil because of what they did to people of other races. But, no, he wasn’t a supremacist. He always believed in self-defense, and taught blacks to defend themselves and stand up for themselves and each other no matter the cost and no matter the means (violent or non-violent). Malcolm X was the first person to call out white people on their evil and not apologize for it. White people weren’t (aren’t) used to that, so they started calling him a racist black supremacist because he was defending himself and promoting self-defense. 

He was critical of not just whites (oh, he was more than critical of them), but he was also critical of the way that black organizations and groups, such as the Nation of Islam of which he was an active member for some time, dealt with the violence and prejudice against blacks. He didn't think that the Nation of Islam was doing enough action for the black community but was all words. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm X said on public television (he mentions how the press twisted his words) that JFK "never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon. Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they always made me glad." "Chickens come home to roost" is an English idiom that means that, in this case, JFK's assassination was a consequence of his own bad actions--i.e., he deserved what he got. So when he said this publicly to the press, Elijah Muhammad suspended him from the Nation of Islam, and it became one of the reasons that Malcolm X ended up leaving the NOI. (Other reasons included their, yes, sense of racial superiority, especially after he went to Hajj.)

That said, I want to mention that Malcolm X's pilgrimage to Hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia--which is the 5th pillar of (mainstream, orthodox) Islam, requiring Muslims to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime IF they're able to do so financially, mentally, physically--was a turning point in his attitude towards white people. He remained critical of race relations in the U.S., as he should have and as ALL of us should still be i n2014, but he stopped seeing the white man as the devil. While at Hajj, he met people of all races from all parts of the world, including some good white people, and he realized that they weren't inherently bad or evil but that those in the U.S. This is what he wrote in a letter from Mecca (I encourage you to read the whole letter):
"There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experiences in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and non-white."
So, yeah. There. Malcolm X was a brilliant, beautiful person, and may his legacy live on forever and ever, not just in the black community but also universally, and may he be granted the highest level of Paradise, aameen. God bless his soul.

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