During the month of May, we pay special attention to the impact of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, born May 19, 1925. On this day, if not assassinated, the freedom warrior would be the same age as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter — 96 years old. As we remember Malcolm X, it is a good time to reflect on how many aspects of his legacy shine brightly upon the world today.
When we remember Malcolm X, we should remember that he began his journey as Malcolm Little. He lost his father to violent white supremacists when he was just six years old and entered the foster care system after his mother suffered a nervous breakdown. In 2021, there are scores of children being shuffled through a child welfare system that can often lead to abuse and homelessness. Let us think of young Malcolm Little as we push towards finding a better way for these children.
When we reflect on Malcolm, we should reflect on his life as “Detroit Red.” Detroit Red was a hustler, a gambler, a liar, and a thief. Neither his friends or his enemies had any idea that he would become an iconic, magnetic speaker, and leader. When we see our brothers and sisters doing what they have to do to survive the many barren, unforgiving, urban environments across the United States, let us not forget their potential — especially if they find themselves at odds with “the law.” Let us help to ensure that they have the resources necessary to better their lives.
As we call to mind our brothers’ trials and tribulations, let us conjure up Malcolm’s six and a half years in prison. It was during his incarceration that he began to educate himself and to develop his uncanny oratorical skills. In a country where Black and Brown men are disproportionately railroaded into the prison system, it is essential that we don’t write these people off. The system is designed to exploit and ultimately destroy these men. Let us identify and dismantle the systemic traps set for us and let us create opportunities and paths to mental, physical, and economic liberation. We must free all political prisoners and welcome those who wish to fight for freedom and peace after surviving the hell that is the American prison system. Let us work towards abolishing this barbaric penal institution.
Surely, in the time of “wokeness” and identity politics, we will remember that brother Malcolm showed us how white supremacy controls every aspect of Black life. He called for us to defend ourselves against our enemies. He encouraged us to love ourselves. He knew then that there would be people of all ethnicities who would willingly enforce capitalism, racism, and imperialism to the detriment of the masses. We must not be pacified by tokenism or symbolic rhetoric as we continue to be killed in the street by the police. We must fight and win. We must abolish the police.
By the time Malcolm had become El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, he had begun to contemplate effective ways to fight oppression all around the globe. He sought to unite with all who were willing to do the work. He spoke against the oppression of the Palestinians under the boot of invaders. As Palestinians are being slaughtered today, we must stand in solidarity against Israel’s illegal occupation and demand restitution. As the police commit atrocities against people in the Congo, in St. Louis, in Colombia, and all over the globe, we must commit ourselves to freedom, justice, and equality for all oppressed and marginalized peoples around the world.