African American History Black History Month

Feb 15: Malcolm X

By Jonathan Neil

When I say that Malcolm X is an individual who should be taught about in Black History Month, it is not because of his achievements, or what he was trying to achieve, but rather his character development.

From a young age, Malcolm X, originally born Malcolm Little, suffered the consequences of the white dominant society. His father, Earl little, was a supporter of Black Nationalist leader Martin Garvey, and the Little family consistently received death threats forcing them to relocate two times before Malcolm was even four years old. Later in life, after the controversial death of his father, Malcolm X was sentenced to 10 years in prison. During his time in prison, Malcolm devoted himself to the Islamic religion while educating himself. The Islamic religion taught Malcom that white society systematically worked “to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success.” With these teachings in mind, Malcom took on “X” as his new last name as a means of denouncing his slave name and signifying his lost cultural name.

Malcolm X then established himself as a universally renowned advocate of black rights and directly opposed white oppression, all while guiding African Americans to the Islamic faith. He lived from May 19, 1925 to February 21, 1965 and was commonly compared to his fellow advocate of Black empowerment, Martin Luther King Jr., but has since inherited controversial opinions from both foes and supporters due to his opposition to King’s harmless principles. Malcolm X’s principles and beliefs that retaliation from the black population were both inevitable and necessary to catalyze real change in the white dominant world, ultimately inspired the creation of the Black anther Party. It was through Malcolm X’s assassination that the Black Panther Party was formed, and proceeded to inherit his principles, and even engaged in multiple firefights with the police, all in protest of white oppression.

I personally always found the story of Malcolm X to be very interesting. Held within a close, if not the same regard as Martin Luther king Jr., I always felt as though King embodied the right judgment in the hearts of African Americans, while Malcolm X embodied their suppressed, vengeful hearts. During an interview I watched, Malcom X commented on the peaceful protests of King, and the accomplishments achieved by such, in a belittling way. Malcolm X quoted Wyatt Walker, King’s right-hand man, in a manner that suggested King’s accomplishments have led to the Black population being “duped” and in fact, chained even tighter. Wyatt Walker stated that “in some cases, half freedom is worse than no freedom at all” in reference to the current state of the civil rights movement in which federal laws were passed in favor of the African American. By quoting Walker in such a way, it is clear that Malcolm X believed that King’s methods of protest were far from enough for real change to occur. The extremist side of Malcolm X which I find so intriguing is revealed even further when in that same interview, he described the banding together of Black people in likeminded thinking, that when one is attacked, all are attacked, is the only way the brutality against Black people, caused by white people will come to an end. After hearing those words from Malcolm, I truly acknowledged his skill with words in which he was able to voice a threat that cannot truly be called a threat. He is also sending a message to the African American’s who were watching the interview that in order to beat their oppressors, they must band together in retribution. One thing I truly would have loved to see is Malcolm X’s reaction to the Black Panther Party inspired by his death. I would have wanted to see if he would support their practices, or regret sparking a flame that lead to violence and death on both sides.

From my experience in Black history Month in Canada, I came to realize that Malcolm X was never spoken of. If not for my parents and elder sister, I might not have known him even today. That always lead me to think if he was excluded from the Black History Month curriculum due to his practices, or if he was not to be considered a Hero or a symbolic figure in the fight for civil rights. I recall asking a teacher of mine about this, and that was the first time I heard someone refer to Malcolm X as an extremist. It was from then on that I became highly interested in his opinions, character, and boldness that lead him to speak out against white injustice in a threatening way knowing full well of all the dangers and risks that came along with doing so.

Black History Month is dedicated to celebrating not only key players in the fight for civil rights, but the bravery and perseverance of the race as a whole. However, the outstanding individuals in the civil rights movement such as King, are still analyzed and taught about because of the inspiration their stories yield. I think if that is the case, then Malcolm X should be one of those individuals. However, one could argue that his efforts amounted to nothing in the end since the religion he followed and lead people to was figure-headed by Elijah Mohammed, a liar who had sexual relations with children, and it was Martin Luther King Jr. who’s voice truly catalyzed change.

When I say that Malcolm X is an individual who should be taught about in Black History Month, it is not because of his achievements, or what he was trying to achieve, but rather his character development. Malcolm X was very unwelcoming to white people and directed his teachings and ministering exclusively to Black people. However, upon denouncing his faith and reverence to Elijah Mohammed, and visiting the Mosque himself, Malcolm X returned and began ministering to all races, and even stated that he met people with blonde hair and blue eyes that he could call brothers. This is a lesson in itself that can be taught in Black History Month as well, that Malcolm X learned not to direct his hatred towards an entire race, but towards the source of the issue. Martin Luther King already practiced this by refusing to harm his white oppressors, and who knows, maybe before his assassination, Malcolm X sympathized with King’s principles.