Malcolm X would have been 90 years old last week if he had not been assassinated at the age of 39 in 1965.
His impact on Black America, the African Diaspora, and on human history, is inestimable, but I believe Brother Malcolm’s greatest contribution to the struggle for human dignity lay in his unrelenting critique of the political structures and behavior of Black America.
Malcolm X made it legitimate and virtuous to engage in full-throated, soul searching, icon-searing debate about the past, present and future of those who were then called Negroes. Most importantly, he did not give a damn if White people heard all the Black-on-Black commotion, or not – because they were not his audience, even when his arguments were broadcast on White corporate media.
Advocated public debate
Malcolm broke with the taboos against criticizing Black leadership within ear or eye range of White people, which in the late Fifties and early Sixties was viewed as airing dirty linen in public.
Malcolm’s position was that many of these Black leaders were actually creatures of the White power structure and its media. He questioned their loyalties and very legitimacy, and challenged Black folks to choose their own leaders, who would fight uncompromisingly for Black interests.
Malcolm took on the so-called “Big Six” – the NAACP, the National Urban League, CORE, SNCC, Dr. Martin Luther King’s SCLC, and the legendary A. Philip Randolph – who had gained the cooperation of the Kennedy administration to hold the 1963 March on Washington.
Malcolm was not impressed. He called it the “Farce on Washington,” and derided the Big Six for diluting Black people’s power by putting “cream in the coffee.”
This was not a cat-call for racial exclusion, but a demand for independent Black politics. Millions of Black people, especially the young, understood Malcolm’s meaning, and acted upon it.
Race and class
There is no doubt that Malcolm was a Race Man. But when it came to his analysis of Black America, he was a “class” man, too. His elevation of the “Field Negro” over the fawning, obsequious “House Negro” was an admonition to resist cooptation into what even Dr. King later recognized was a “burning house.”
Malcolm wielded his “House Negro” analogy like a sword, shaming and delegitimizing those Blacks who identify with and serve oppressive institutions, rather than the interests of the masses of the people.
Malcolm’s harsh, but lucid, juxtapositions gave clarity of vision to a movement that would shake America to its foundations.
What would Malcolm say if he were returned to us? His critique would begin with the present sorry state of the Black America, where the House Negro has held sway for the past two generations, with disastrous results. But he would also hear the voices of his great-grandchildren stirring among the Field Negroes of Ferguson and Baltimore, and he would say, “Show me a capitalist, and I’ll show you a bloodsucker.”
Then he would immediately set about denouncing and organizing against those Black people that have sided with the bloodsuckers.
Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.