Happy Birthday, Malcolm X
“Malcolm X is too dangerous. He was too radical. We can’t celebrate that.” –Anonymous Friend on why we don’t celebrate Malcolm X in the same way that we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I cringe when I hear people say that Malcolm X is “too dangerous” or “too radical”. He was entirely too complex to be reduced to a single moment of his life. To have his legacy built on “Ballot or Bullet” or “By Any Means Necessary” is laughable. Like everyone else, Malcolm X’s ideas and world views are mutable. The environment and conditions that nurtured his never-ending development and growth were always shifting. And like any person who struggles to make sense of his surroundings, Malcolm X was constantly reacting to these changes. If we are to reduce him to a single idea, we do him a disservice. To condense his legacy to stringent Black Nationalism laced with a belief in self-defense, is to deny his place in history.
Taking up arms, it is this notion that scares many of us away from him. Ballor or bullet. A sound bite. Much like we have allowed ourselves to reduce MLK to “I Have a Dream”, we have carved out a singular bit of Malcolm X’s legacy and regarded the rest as the wall upon which a great piece of art hangs. A singular moment chosen to define the legacy of a great hero. A singular idea that we hand pick to build his history. A disservice done to a great man.
Malcolm X wasn’t dangerous. He was before his time. He was fed up, like many American Blacks at that point in history but many of them feared his ideas just as much as White Americans. So no, Malcolm X was not dangerous.
El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was dangerous. His ideas of uniting across racial barriers to bring about social change were much more damaging to the order of things and far more frightening to the establishment. It is perhaps for this reason that he was assassinated. His death would ultimately bring about the very thing that was so frightening about him. For it was his death that mobilized a group of determined young revolutionaries. This is perhaps the scariest and most unfortunate part of his legacy that he was able to mobilize the Black community in death, in ways that he was hardly able to accomplish in life.
The sudden and brutal loss of such a leader is dangerous. And if we should feel compelled to reduce Malcolm Little aka Detroit Red aka Malcolm X aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz and his legacy to one word, let that word be: Revolutionary. He was a Revolutionary. His life was Revolutionary.
Happy birthday, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.