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Every good story has a hero and a villain. Americans fill seats in theaters and slouch on couches invested in stories told by Hollywood’s best and brightest. However, no Oscar-winning actor or civil rights leader captivated the soul quite like Malcolm X.
Though often villainized if not outright ignored by the mainstream, the heroic legacy of a man so few personally knew continues to intrinsically transcend generations of Black people well over 50 years after his clouded demise.
Though the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and Harriet Tubman are often praised in the mainstream, many within our community see Malcolm X as the epicenter of Blackness, though he and his family are regularly omitted from such public praise.
Malcolm X was a leader among leaders
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925 as Malcolm Little, nearly one hundred years later, the life of Detroit Red, Malcolm X, and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz continues to represent a masterclass in the tenacity and fortitude of the human mind.
Much like our leaders who are considered controversial while alive, once removed from public eye or unable to speak on their own behalf, we’ve seen an embrace for them. Men like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali were demonized and “cancelled” as if their cultural shifting contributions to the betterment of humanity never occurred at all.
Much like how the general public became favorable of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. decades after the civil rights era, in 2024, Malcolm X will be inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
While it is certainly another worthy and long overdue acknowledgement, his words are at risk of being co-opted much like Dr. King’s and the newly minted Juneteenth holiday.
Black legacies must be protected from hovering vultures
Now that Juneteenth has been widely embraced, it’s become more commercial and less cultural. After all, it was less than a year ago when Wal-Mart apologized for selling a Juneteenth-inspired ice cream, quickly snatching the apparently emancipation-flavored treat from the shelves. However, X’s backlash was much more consequential than merely a bad week of public relations.
That is why The Black Wall Street Times reached out to daughter of Malcolm X, Dr. Ilyasha Shabazz to celebrate their family and her father’s 98th birthday.
Dr. Shabazz stated in part, “My father was not this wayward child, he became that way when local officials decided they were going to impose themselves on my father’s young family.” She furthered, “His father was a member of the PTA, his father was a minister, and a landowner. He purchased premium land that was reserved for whites only [at the time]… so that he could have his family in a proper home.”
We believe our stories need to be told by our people and not watered-down to fit a more convenient narrative, in particular when many of the societal ills X spoke about continue to plague our community to this very day.
“It’s just like when you’ve got some coffee that’s too Black, which means it’s too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won’t even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”Malcolm X
In 1992, Spike Lee’s film dedicated to the revolutionary icon notched only himself as a cinematic and cultural visionary, but also provided Denzel Washington an opportunity to solidify himself as one of — if not the greatest actor of all time.
Washington said in 1990, “I don’t see how you could tell the story and not be controversial. He was an extremist. That’s how he lived his life. Rebelling against his parents, getting thrown out of school. Being the best at being the worst person he could be, and then turning himself completely around and becoming a man who practiced what he preached. An unbelievable life.”