Monday, February 21, 2005

Malcolm X

Forty years ago today Malcolm X was murdered - gunned down at a political rally in Harlem. His life was remarkable and is well told
here and here. The most important aspect was not his transformation from an impoverished and victimised childhood through self-education nor his struggles with more mainstream, middle class civil rights leaders or increasingly deadly disputes with the Nation of Islam demagogue
Elijah Muhammad. Those were necessary stages in his evolution from marginalised anger to inchoate rebellion. The real legacy, it seems to me, lies in Malcolm's political conversion near the end of his life and how it speaks of an informed radicalism. Basically the shift was from self-help and racial autonomy to a wider understanding of the connectedness of the struggles against the ruling class, both in America and beyond. This is the mature Malcolm speaking a year before his death:
We are living in an era of revolution, and the revolt of the American Negro is part of the rebellion against oppression and colonialism which has characterized this era .... It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.
Malcolm X has been greatly misunderstood - reviled by many and turned into an icon by others. But his life, his experiences and his politics tell us something of what John Simon calls "human possibility" in bleak times.


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