Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On who killed Malcolm X

I just finished reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told by Alex Haley and the epilogue by Haley, and the endnote "On Malcolm X" (reproduced below) by Ossie Davis who had delivered this moving eulogy.

I am thoroughly shocked by the brutality of the military-style execution that ended Malcolm X. (And immensely moved by who Malcolm X was, and his absolute dedication to justice by exposing the paired crimes -- at the societal and individual levels -- of organized oppression and of accepting one's own oppression.)

I'm also stunned by Malcolm X's depth of understanding of societal phenomena as historically formed and sustained by individual psychology and the degree to which he constantly pursued this understanding. I am awed by his intellectual honesty and by his incessant quest for meaning in action and in influence. Nothing in Haley's or Davis' words come close to the truths that X was perceiving about the nature of societal and individual forces.

In my opinion, this was no simple honour killing by sectarian opponents, as Malcolm X himself came to understand. The murder's planning and precision and evasion by most of those involved strongly suggest the dominant presence of a powerful military organization, experienced in political assassinations. Similar assassinations include those of Kennedy and King.

The US industrial-military-complex thrives on war and continental exploitation. Malcolm X created international outreach to solidify ties with independent African and Asian governments and he was assassinated. Kennedy moderated attacks against Cuba and moderated war-machine diplomacy and he was assassinated. King moved to direct black civil power against the Vietnam war and he was assassinated.

Below one can witness in words the personal impact Malcolm X had on at least one intellectual (Ossie Davis).

Tirelessly insisting that oppressed people stand up for themselves, as did Mother Jones in a previous era -- who also focused her relentless agitation on the "paired crimes" (my term). There was that unique kind of depth in Malcolm X. In that sense, I see him as a black brother of the white sister Mother Jones.

Each of us who recast and do not wish to understand Malcolm X are contributing to his death. Each of us who instinctively feel the necessity to defend oneself and who by practice experience this struggle for dignity contribute to keeping him alive.

Ossie Davis, ON MALCOM X:

Mr. Davis wrote the following in response to a magazine editor's question: Why did you eulogize Malcolm X?

You are not the only person curious to know why I would eulogize a man like Malcolm X. Many who know and respect me have written letters. Of these letters I am proudest of those from a sixth-grade class of young white boys and girls who asked me to explain. I appreciate your giving me this chance to do so.

You may anticipate my defense somewhat by considering the following fact: no Negro has yet asked me that question. (My pastor in Grace Baptist Church where I teach Sunday School preached a sermon about Malcolm in which he called him a "giant in a sick world.") Every one of the many letters I got from my own people lauded Malcolm as a man, and commended me for having spoken at his funeral.

At the same time-and this is important-most of them took special pains to disagree with much or all of what Malcolm said and what he stood for. That is, with one singing exception, they all, every last,black, glory-hugging one of them, knew that Malcolm-whatever else he was or was not Malcolm was a man!

White folks do not need anybody to remind them that they are men. We do! This was his one incontrovertible benefit to his people.

Protocol and common sense require that Negroes stand back and let the white man speak up for us,defend us, and lead us from behind the scene in our fight. This is the essence of Negro politics. But Malcolm said to hell with that! Get up off your knees and fight your own battles. That's the way to win back your self-respect. That's the way to make the white man respect you. And if he won't let you live like a man, he certainly can't keep you from dying like one!

Malcolm, as you can see, was refreshing excitement; he scared hell out of the rest of us, bred as we are to caution, to hypocrisy in the presence of white folks, to the smile that never fades. Malcolm knew that every white man in America profits directly or indirectly from his position vis-a-vis Negroes,profits from racism even though he does not practice it or believe in it.

He also knew that every Negro who did not challenge on the spot every instance of racism, overt or covert, committed against him and his people, who chose instead to swallow his spit and go on smiling, was an Uncle Tom and a traitor, without balls or guts, or any other commonly accepted aspects of manhood!

Now, we knew all these things as well as Malcolm did, but we also knew what happened to people who stick their necks out and say them. And if all the lies we tell ourselves by way of extenuation were put into print, it would constitute one of the great chapters in the history of man's justifiable cowardice in the face of other men.

But Malcolm kept snatching our lies away. He kept shouting the painful truth we whites and blacks did not want to hear from all the housetops. And he wouldn't stop for love nor money.

You can imagine what a howling, shocking nuisance this man was to both Negroes and whites. Once Malcolm fastened on you, you could not escape. He was one of the most fascinating and charming men I have ever met, and never hesitated to take his attractiveness and beat you to death with it. Yet his irritation, though painful to us, was most salutary. He would make you angry as hell, but he would also make you proud. It was impossible to remain defensive and apologetic about being a Negro in his presence. He wouldn't let you. And you always left his presence with the sneaky suspicion that maybe, after all, you _were_ a man!

But in explaining Malcolm, let me take care not to explain him away. He had been a criminal, an addict, a pimp, and a prisoner; a racist, and a hater, he had really believed the white man was a devil.

But all this had changed. Two days before his death, in commenting to Gordon Parks about his past life he said: "That was a mad scene. The sickness and madness of those days! I'm glad to be free of them."And Malcolm was free. No one who knew him before and after his trip to Mecca could doubt that he had completely abandoned racism, separatism, and hatred. But he had not abandoned his shock-effect statements, his bristling agitation for immediate freedom in this country not only for blacks, but for everybody. And most of all, in the area of race relations, he still delighted in twisting the white man's tail, and in making Uncle Toms, compromisers and accommodationists - I deliberately include myself - thoroughly ashamed of the urbane and smiling hypocrisy we practice merely to exist in a world whose values we both envy and despise.

But even had Malcolm not changed, he would still have been a relevant figure on the American scene, standing in relation as he does, to the "responsible" civil rights leaders, just about where John Brown stood in relation to the "responsible abolitionists in the fight against slavery. Almost all disagreed with Brown's mad and fanatical tactics which led him foolishly to attack a Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry,to lose two sons there, and later to be hanged for treason.

Yet today the world, and especially the Negro people, proclaim Brown not a traitor, but a hero and a martyr in a noble cause So in future, I will not be surprised if men come to see that Malcolm X was,within his own limitations, and in his own inimitable style, also a martyr in that cause.

But there is much controversy still about this most controversial American, and I am content to wait for history to make the final decision.

But in personal judgment, there is no appeal from instinct. I knew the man personally, and however much I disagreed with him, I never doubted that Malcolm X, even when he was wrong, was always that rarest thing in the world among us Negroes: a true man. And if to protect my relations with the many good white folk who make it possible for me to earn a fairly good living in the entertainment industry, I was too chicken, too cautious, to admit that fact when he was alive, I thought at least that now when all the white folks are safe from him at last, I could be honest with myself enough to lift my hat for one final salute to that brave, black, ironic gallantry, which was his style and hallmark, that shocking _zing_ of fire-and-be-damned-to-you, so absolutely absent in every other Negro man I know,which brought him, too soon, to his death.

1 comment:

Steven Augustine said...

On a related note and very interesting indeed (@4:51 esp):