It’s unfortunate that Malcolm X doesn’t have a holiday. He clearly is deserving of a holiday. If anyone should have a holiday, it should be him.
I have been trying to think about why he hasn’t gotten one, though he has been honored with a stamp. It’s one of the reasons I was pleased that we put on the First Annual Minnesota Malcolm X Conference last week. It was long overdue.
There are several reasons that come to mind when I contemplate why Malcolm X doesn’t have a day of recognition, though as well known internationally as Martin Luther King, Jr. or even Muhammad Ali. It’s possible he has been shortchanged because of his earlier separatist views and his harsh views and attacks on Whites during his Nation of Islam days (pre 1964). But I don’t think that’s the reason.
Considering the recent climate, it’s likely that he may not be getting his due because of his religion — especially considering the enmity directed at Muslims these days by this government — but I don’t think that is the reason either. I think it has something to do with his uncompromising stand.
Ultimately, I think he has been left off the official pantheon because in the last year of his life he preached openly about what this country’s so-called forefathers preached about and are praised for: revolution. Malcolm X spoke openly about the need for revolution in this country and what it takes. And he talked about violence.
This country has a strange relationship with violence. The U.S. is nearly always involved in some kind of violent intervention or outright land grab, and neither the adjective “violent” nor is its noun form “violence” used. But when other folks start to defend themselves or take to the street in peaceful protest, too often the one-percent’s documenters out of nowhere begin to talk about the threat of violence.
Unlike King, who can smoothly be folded into an American narrative, if you cut and paste from his seemingly more innocuous statements and speeches, Malcolm X cannot be so easily pasteurized. While King practiced active nonviolence and preached about the beloved community and adhered to — promoted the idea — of Christian love for one’s enemies, Malcolm X preached a religious doctrine of justifiable self defense. He said his God would have no problem with him defending himself.
“I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Anytime I have to accept a reliogion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people. I say to hell with that religion. That’s why I am a Muslim, because it’s a religion that teaches you an ‘eye for an eye’ and a ‘tooth for a tooth.’ It teaches you to respect everybody and treat everybody right. But it also teaches you if someone steps on your toe, chop off their foot. And I carry my religious axe with me all the time.”
The birthday of the one who was eulogized at his funeral as our “shining Black prince” is still our prince. And we should pick up his teachings and learn from him. While everything has changed not much has changed.
Let’s continue to say with Malcolm: “We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.