We are Malcolm X

By Lamont Lilly

“It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”

— El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964

Not one time was I really taught about Malcolm X in school; once I discovered him I clearly understood why. Could you imagine all the Black men the U.S. has incarcerated converting into disciples of Malcolm X, all the political prisoners? Why, the oppressed would have their own nation by now!

Malcolm’s teachings were simple: Black is beautiful; love your roots, family and community; feed the mind and atone within; know thyself and the rest will follow. Though quite the humble type and gentle giant you might say Malcolm was, he did possess an unwavering commitment to Black liberation. Was it true that Malcolm openly declared war against imperialism, colonialism and white supremacy? Damn right! But understand that Brother Malcolm wasn’t just a Negro leader; he was a global figure for the entire African Diaspora, for the working, poor and oppressed worldwide — a Nation of Islam apostle turned international Pan-Africanist and human rights advocate.

Malcolm loved The People — his people and all people. And as for any institution, organization or government that wasn’t for The People, yes, Malcolm called them out! To Brother Malcolm, one was either for the oppressed or against the oppressed, regardless of race or social class. This from a man so complex, that at times he would even check himself. To Malcolm, no one was exempt from being accountable to the masses. No one was exempt from being accountable to the truth. That was Malcolm, a mercenary for justice.

Not only was Malcolm an avid reader, he was equally the profound listener. Brother Malcolm would take your own words and hang you with them if you weren’t careful. Yet Malcolm never spoke and wrote to impress folk. He would instead communicate in a language all could understand, from the highest to the lowest, from the youngest to the oldest. Malcolm was The People’s Champ — a street prophet who could relate to Oxford University’s most esteemed professors just as sincerely and effective as with Kenya’s revolutionary wing, the Mau Mau.

In many regards Malcolm was long before his time. It was Malcolm who charged human rights over civil rights — workers’ rights over capitalism. He championed women’s rights. In organizing his Organization of Afro-American Unity, Malcolm systematically sought strong sisters who could play equal roles in planning and teaching, in helping to build a revolutionary movement. He poignantly articulated upon his return from Ghana, Guinea and Algeria that “Africa will not be free until it frees its women.”

More so now than ever, it will be critical amidst our mounting struggles that people of all nations thoroughly re-explore the full range of Malcolm’s thoughts and analyses — his actions and his deeds — his personal evolution and stages of development. For many of his ideological building blocks are just as relevant today as they were in 1965.

While today we may have a Black man in office, there’s far too many in prison. Job loss and urban renewal continue to wreak havoc, while police brutality seems to have gone up in the Black community — at least from Oscar Grant’s perspective. The NAACP is fighting resegregation in Raleigh, N.C. This is what Brother Malcolm was trying to get us to understand almost 50 years ago.

The beauty of Malcolm was that he represented the truth of the Black experience with such fury and eloquence — he dissected the brutality of U.S. hypocrisy with such fearless clarity, with such an impenitent passion. With heart and mind, body and soul, he awoke the dead and led the army … from the front … in the street … in the rain … in the middle of the ghetto … right in front of Mr. [FBI head J. Edgar] Hoover and his COINTELPRO.

In the end, Malcolm was me and Malcolm was you. Malcolm was The People and the beat of our hearts, the one who came and gave life as he went. We didn’t lose Brother Malcolm; he gave himself. Thanks Brother Malcolm — Black lives on. I too am Malcolm X; the oppressed live on.

The writer is a master’s candidate at North Carolina Central University’s Department of Sociology, works with Black Workers for Justice and traveled to Colombia with Witness for Peace.


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