Malcolm X; Countering My Students False Conclusions About This Brother.

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( Unfortunately, the assertion that Malcolm X was violent is a familiar refrain that my cadre of undergraduate students insists on repeating. Two decades of teaching informs my view that it is rare to encounter a young person who has matriculated through the standard K – 12 educational system that has not come to this conclusion; while simultaneously insisting that their teachers never taught them anything about Malcolm X.

Although I realize that I have much company in my belief that Malcolm X’s story is an essential one that holds power to lessen this nation’s obstructed view of racial matters, this classic story remains a relative taboo to far too many Americans. Despite what many may believe, Malcolm’s viewpoints would aid anyone, regardless of their racial classification or ethnicity, in understanding America’s dogged misunderstandings of Race. Make no mistake about it, Race, a social construct, holds real-world power in the land of the brave and the home of the free. To the chagrin of most, Race holds as much sway in the lives of non-whites as class, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Consequently, it should not be very difficult to understand that Race is central to understanding the American experience. The centrality of Race to the American experience makes many appear as fools when they seek to deny either its existence or ability to influence generations of Black America.

The unsupportable assertion that Malcolm X was the epitome of violence reveals much about black students infantile understanding of Race. The fact that weighty conclusions are made regarding Malcolm before admissions that they have neither read anything written about brother Malcolm nor heard any of his breathtaking speeches should trouble the entire nation. There is little doubt that Malcolm X has become the most maligned and misunderstood black historical figure to ever live. Consider for a moment that so many villify Malcolm while others agree with Ossie Davis eulogy of our fallen leader.

“Here – at this final hour, in this quiet place – Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes -extinguished now, and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought – his home of homes, where his heart was, and where his people are – and it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again – in Harlem – to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who have loved her, have fought her, and have defended her honor even to the death.

It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us – unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to : Afro-American – Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted – so desperately – that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans too.

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain – and we will smile. Many will say turn away – away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man – and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate – a fanatic, a racist – who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them : Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him.

Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. Last year, from Africa, he wrote these words to a friend: ‘My journey’, he says, ‘is almost ended, and I have a much broader scope than when I started out, which I believe will add new life and dimension to our struggle for freedom and honor and dignity in the States. I am writing these things so that you will know for a fact the tremendous sympathy and support we have among the African States for our Human Rights struggle. The main thing is that we keep a United Front wherein our most valuable time and energy will not be wasted fighting each other.’ However we may have differed with him – or with each other about him and his value as a man – let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now.

Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man – but a seed – which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is – a Prince – our own black shining Prince! – who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

It is a desperate desire to illuminate my students minds that I vowed long ago that The Autobiography of Malcolm X would be a staple inside of my classroom. Although they may moan and groan regarding the assignment, my students will read this classic text that reveals so much about the black experience. To ensure that the lessons that Malcolm’s life teaches us, I usually supplement the reading with the documentary Make It Plain. Before the semester ends, I am usually pleased that not only have my students engaged Brother Malcolm, but also understand that the man was many things, violent is most certainly not one of them.

Staff Writer; Dr. James Thomas Jones III

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One may also connect with this brother via TwitterDrJamestJones.