“I’ve never been one of inaction. Everything I’ve ever felt strongly about, I’ve done something about.”
– Malcolm X
From the start, I will confess my fanatical obsession with Malcolm Little or famously known as Malcolm X. It’s a bizarre monomania. A friend recently remarked: “You are beyond help.” He could be right. It’s a journey that has led me to soaking into the speeches of Malcolm with new fervor every waking day. If it’s not a Message to the Grass Roots (The most mature political speech he gave) then it’s The Ballot or the Bullet; By Any Means Necessary or still, Advice to the Youth of Mississippi. The mentioned speeches are only a miniscule of the entire body of the militant ranting and raving that defined an indignant man who called the white man ‘the devil.’
Apart from speeches, there are also explosive and racist-ridden interviews that only Malcolm X could participate in when other Civil Rights leaders ‘begged’ for integration. He said it point blank. No holds barred. Later they would call him the ‘angriest Negro’ in America. And not once did he deny the charge. In fact, he wholly embraced it.
However, it’s in his book The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a collaborative effort with Alex Haley who interviewed him for close to two years that most readers will for the first time have a real glimpse of the inner life of a man who hustled in Harlem streets. It’s a candid text full of illuminating insights and knowledge; how a person can reform him/herself in spite of a troubled past. In the chapter ‘Black Muslims’ he extends grace to those ‘in the mud of society.’ He notes:
“Once he is motivated no one can change more completely than the man who has been at the bottom. I call myself the best example of that.”
The book is a race against time. The passages are timeless. In his early years, he learns a lesson that forever defines him.
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
I believe there is no succinct statement well expressed than this. It evokes an honest courage. No hypocrisy or fear of hurting feelings. It’s absolutely blunt.
Even in his new phase after visiting Mecca, Malcolm X still spat fire [Malcolm X underwent a lot of metamorphoses he later admitted them himself. His ideals and philosophies reached a point where one could not clearly explain what he stood for. Philip Roth in novel The Human Stain about race relations mocks him indirectly].
Malcolm X confessed: “I’m man enough to tell you that I can’t put my finger on exactly what my philosophy is now, but I’m flexible.”
However, that did not deter him from ruffling the usual white feathers. Speaking to reporters towards his last years:
“I don’t advocate violence, but if a man steps on my toes, I’ll step on his.”
On existence and the usual vanity that comes with it:
Anything I do today, I regard as urgent. No man is given but so much time to accomplish whatever is his life’s work. My life in particular never has stayed fixed in one position for very long. You have seen how throughout my life, I have often known unexpected drastic changes.
Accordingly, Malcolm X admonished against reckless judgment on others without first walking in their shoes. His advice is similar to that of the narrator in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald where he recalls what his father told him:
“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”
Malcolm X cautions:
But people are always speculating – why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.
Having been a hustler himself in the gritty streets of Harlem, he learnt things the hard way. And experience became an additive to his street credibility. He observes:
“Any experienced hustler will tell you that getting greedy is the quickest road to prison.”
And to those just venturing out; making a debut out there in the tough world of hustling, he doesn’t forget them. He gives them fortitude and street wisdom.
“What I was learning was the hustling society’s first rule; that you never trusted anyone outside of your own close-mouthed circle, and that you selected with time and care before you made any intimates even among these.”
And that does not mean he felt any proud of the circumstances that turned him into a hustler. A parasite feeding off the white man. He scathingly castigates the excesses of the white man especially when he remembers one of his buddies.
“In the ghettoes the white man has built for us, he has forced us not to aspire to greater things, but to view everyday living as survival — and in that kind of a community, survival is what is respected.”
Is that not a replica of our country and other African nations where ethnic kingpins lord it over the have-nots while playing the usual tribal card?
Some of his visions were often chilling and martyrdom-filled.
“Deep down, I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently. I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time.”
He did die violently as foretold on February 21st, 1965.
At another time during his prison years when he was learning public speaking and debating; the growing hatred of the white man beginning to take root in him, he declared:
“It was right there in prison that I made up my mind to devote the rest of my life to telling the white man truth about himself – or die.”
A time-conscious person, he reflects how time defines his routine.
“And you won’t find anybody more time conscious than I am. I live by my watch, keeping appointments. Even when I’m using my car, I drive by watch not my speedometer. Time to me is more important than distance.”
He later told Alex Haley:
In all our deeds, the proper value and respect for time determines success or failure”
I will close from where I started. As a fanatical follower of Malcolm X, I believe he stood for something greater than mere rhetoric and militancy. To me, he is an embodiment of rebellion in a world bubbling with pretensions, ass-kissing, and conformity. He is the poster child of anti-establishment when promising lights are easily co-opted into the system and the power structures of this world and corrupted later to oppress and rob ordinary citizens. Malcolm is bravery in the face of an ever unyielding storm.
Amol Awuor also blogs at http://sikuzijazo.blogspot.com/