Thursday, May 19, 2005

Malcolm X and Me

Today is Malcolm X's birthday. How do I know this? Because outside my window, somewhere on 125th St. a man is yelling about black power, the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X's birthday. Sure enough, I look this up, and indeed, May 19th is Malcolm X's birthday.

Malcolm X is an important figure in black history. His membership in the Nation of Islam and subsequent conversion after his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca to orthodox, traditional Islam represent an alternative path to Martin Luther King's nonviolence, but also reflect a maturation process and a transcending of the purely militant black identity that Malcolm X adopted as a part of the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King, he was assassinated, but unlike Martin Luther King, it was by black men, members of the Nation of Islam who were angry at his departure from the movement.

I remember reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X at a fairly young age. I was fascinated. As a white kid growing up abroad I knew nothing about the Nation of Islam and militant black movements of the 1960s. But Malcolm X was a compelling figure. He evolved. To the white community, he wasn't this mythical, venerated figure like Martin Luther King. He was more gritty. More real. And in some ways, odd as that seems, more like me. I saw something of myself in Malcolm X, and I admired the honesty of his autobiography (although it was written by Alex Haley, it is a very insightful and bluntly honest look into Malcolm X's life). He faced life head on. He changed when he felt change was necessary. And that made him somewhat like me. Even with the carbine, and the militancy, and his clear dislike for people like me.


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