Malcolm's Rebirth

As a cultural icon, Malcolm continues to be a work in progress
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Malcolm X lived many lives, and in in some ways, continues to live through his cultural and political legacy. But he also continues to live a multifaceted narrative and multifarious identity through his permeation of social movements around the world. As a grassroots activist whose political worldview crystallized in the era of anti-colonial and Third World insurgency, he made black power international and made left internationalism a black movement. Whether he's seen as a martyr, a freedom fighter, a sprirital leader or an ideogical icon, we remember him for breaking boundaries in each phase of his political evolution--starting in the American streets and ending on a global horizon of radical resistance. At the same time, we remember him even more for his graceful fluidity and resistance to definition itself. Unlike many ideologues and politicians of his day (and today), Malcolm came to see no merit in clinging to a single agenda or political theory as a show of political strength. Rather, he saw tremendous value in change, movement, momentum, and above all, refusing to follow the political and historical lines that tend to circumscribe our everyday freedom struggles.

As an itinerant who came to identify as a part of the African diaspora, Malcolm was an internationalist by nature. It was often through his travels and interactions with other cultures that he progressed in his political thinking. As Lynn Burnett writes in "The International Malcolm X," he had a philosophical breakthrough during his pioneering visit to the United Kingdom, where he befriended anti-colonial activists in Britain's ethnic communities. Observing the social justice campaigns that were flourishing in migrant communities from around the Commonwealth-- 

'he viewed the ex-colonized people living within England --and France as well --as a potential “internal resistance force” that could fight neocolonialism from the inside.

Malcolm admired the way that Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Asians worked together in England to solve the common problem of racism. Returning home, he told his followers that they could accomplish much more if all people of color worked together. Although Malcolm did not allow whites to join his Organization of Afro-American Unity out of his belief that whites often came to dominate the organizations they joined, the organization welcomed all people of color. Malcolm would die in the arms of one of its Japanese members, Yuri Kochiyama, whose family had been forced into internment camps during World War II and who worked with atomic bomb survivors.'

How strange it is that we often remember him on the anniversary of his assassination. Today, May 19, was--is--his birthday. And remembering him in terms of birth, and reincarnation, may be a more illuminating way to view his life. Revolutionary poet Sonia Sanchez spoke to Malcolm's polyglot legacy as one not only of premature endings but of endless beginnings and potentials, never afraid to begin again on a different land, in another language, through another faith--as long as a historical consciousnessness remains.  


do not speak to me of martyrdom, 
of men who die to be remembered 
on some parish day. 
i don't believe in dying
though, I too shall die. 
and violets like castanets 
will echo me. 
yet this man, 
this dreamer, 
thick lipped with words 
will never speak again 
and in each winter 
when the cold air cracks 
with frost I'll breathe 
his breath and mourn 
my gunfilled nights. 
he was the sun that tagged 
the western sky and 
melted tiger-scholars 
while they searched for stripes.
he said, "fuck you, white 
man. we have been 
curled too long. nothing 
is sacred, not your 
white face nor any 
land that separates 
until some voices
squat with spasms." 
do not speak to me of living. 
life is obscene with crowds 
of white on black. 
death is my pulse. 
what might have been
is not for him/or me 
but what could have been 
floods the womb until I drown.

--Sonia Sanchez

--May 19, 2017


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