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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Remembering Malcolm X 49 years on (Part 2)

One development that disturbingly remains unchanged since the assassination of Malcolm has been the incarceration of people of colour in the US as well as racist killings of people of African descent. Currently in the US there are approximately 2.3 million people incarcerated from 1980 to 2008. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), ‘Today, the US is 5% of the World population and has 25% of world prisoners.’ Furthermore, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.’ According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in the US, every 28 hours a black person is killed. The journalist Margaret Kimberley points out that modern day lynching of African Americans continues and of late in the US, ‘there has been a spate of killings and assaults on black people committed by white people whose actions are obviously based on race hatred.’ She argues ‘Stand Your Ground laws ought to be called Right to Kill for White People laws because that is precisely what they are. Self-defence means nothing when a black person asserts that right.’ A second development that has remained since the murder of Malcolm is the internalised self-hatred among some Africans and people of African descent. Malcolm was absolutely clear on the need for African Americans to reconnect with Africa and he was committed to efforts to erase the negative images of Africa and for people of African descent to embrace a positive African identity. Again to cite him at some length, he said to a crowd of African Americans the following: ‘Now what effect does the struggle over Africa have on us? Why should the black man in America concern himself since he’s been away from the African continent for three or four hundred years? Why should we concern ourselves? What impact does what happens to them have upon us? Number one, you have to realise that up until 1959 Africa was dominated by the colonial powers. Having complete control over Africa, the colonial powers of Europe projected the image of Africa negatively. They always project Africa in a negative light: jungle savages, cannibals, nothing civilised. Why then naturally it was so negative to you and me, and you and I began to hate it. We didn’t want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans. In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves, without even realising it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree, and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself. .. they very skilfully make you and me hate your African identity, our African characteristics. You know yourself that we have been a people who hated our African characteristics. We hated our heads, we hated the shape of our nose, we wanted one of those long dog-like noses, you know; we hated the colour of our skin, hated the blood of Africa that was in our veins. And in hating our features and our skin and our blood, why, we had to end up hating ourselvesナ Our colour became to us a chain ヨ we felt that it was holding us back; our colour became to us like a prison which we felt was keeping us confined, not letting us go this way or that way.’ Today, white supremacist beauty standards, norms, and aspirations have been globalized with people of colour i.e. Africans, Arabs and Asians being ‘judged, valued and devalued’ according to European/Western definitions of beauty. The effects are profoundly pernicious and damaging to the physical bodies and psyches of people of colour, while the beauty industry continues to reap billions of dollars of profit in skin bleaching creams, weaves, cosmetic surgery, etc. Surely if Malcolm were alive today he would not remain silent on the continuing self-hatred that manifests itself in black inferiority complexes around the notion of beauty and would question who’s standard of beauty people of African descent aspire to? 


Malcolm predicted the rise of China in the 1960s

Malcolm was not only a superb orator but in the 1960s he was prescient in his prediction of the rise of China now considered to be a threat to the West and its interests around the world. In one of his many speeches Malcolm made the point that China was on the rise and as this was the case, the American derogatory expression ‘you don’t stand a Chinaman’s chance’, which was very common during the 1950s and 60s, was no longer valid. In a very short film clip taken in the 1960s, he expresses that Europe’s stranglehold on power has shifted to Africa and Asia; that these new continents are coming into their own definitions and that ‘the European yardstick is not necessarily the yardstick’ that others will adhere to in the future. Much has been written and will continue to be written on Africa’s relationship with China and whether it is good or bad for Africa. However, as the Pan-Africanist Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem points out: ‘If China is a threat to the West, should we worry when the West has always been a threat to our very existence?’ In the West, the debate over Africa and Chinese relations is ethically repugnant to the extent that the West ‘even define for us who are our enemies and who are our friends.’ Furthermore, ‘the current discourse in the West about China is very much reminiscent of the cold war days where the West thought, acted and behaved as though Africa was its exclusive preserve for exploitation and domination. It’s like a vulture scaring off other vultures from its perch.’  Ultimately, the challenge remains for African countries to deal with China not on a bilateral basis, for as Abdul-Raheem points out, the bilateralism may suit China but ‘it undermines our sub-regional and Pan-African institutions and commitments.’ 


Malcolm on ‘Uncle Toms’

Malcolm was uncompromising in his verbal attacks on African American leaders who compromised the interests of the people in their communities for their own narrow power, class and egotistical interests, particularly when these leaders were buttressed in all kinds of ways by liberal white society. He dubbed them ‘Uncle Toms.’ Likewise he was relentless in pointing out the hypocrisy and duplicity of American foreign policy. It was his candid public utterance that was used against him by the leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad, to silence Malcolm when he made his famous ‘chickens coming home to roost’ remark in the context of the assassination of President JFK. Malcolm’s famous commentary on JFK’s assassination was preceded by his comment on the US collaboration in the assassination of Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba. As Malcolm was forthright in condemning the ‘stealth imperialism’ of the US, it is most likely, that he would not have remained silent on many subsequent American foreign policy actions ヨ from meddling in Haiti and the UN occupation of that country and in Latin America; the invasions of Iraq under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction that were nowhere to be found; the invasion of Afghanistan; regime change in Libya; and the current proxy war in Syria. In addition to these attempts to impose domination, has been the ‘shock doctrine’ whereby when a nation is economically, socially or politically vulnerable or has been made ecologically vulnerable on account of a natural disaster (e.g. the Haitian earthquake of January 2010), austere neoliberal policies are imposed on it as a kind of ‘good’ medicine that ends up either killing or further traumatising the patient. ‘Humanitarian intervention’ and ‘Responsibility to Protect’ are the reconfigured twenty first century doctrines of imperialism to maintain control in regions of the world replete with natural resources such as hydrocarbons, minerals and oil or to eliminate leaders such as the late Colonel Gadhafi and Hugo Chavez who failed to make their countries client states of America. During the 1960s Malcolm condemned America’s dropping of napalm on innocent Vietnamese people that led to over 2 million Vietnamese deaths and 57,000 Americans returning home in body bags. Today the American government under the leadership of a black president has employed pilotless aircraft, popularly known as ‘drones’ to kill terrorist suspects in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan. Yet it has been innocent civilians who have been killed far more than the so-called terrorists. Hence, in returning to the question that opens this piece, would Malcolm X have dubbed Barack Obama an ‘Uncle Tom’ in the service of imperialism and capitalism, Arundhati Roy, the Indian novelist, eloquently predicted in October 2008, the following: ‘[Obama] will have to prove that he is whiter than the white man. And if it was Hillary Clinton she would also have had to become a white man.’ Furthermore, Obama has continued to expand the military operations of AFRICOM in Africa and increased American troops and joint training exercises to many African countries such as Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia and Nigeria, to name a few countries. It has its only military base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. In the forty nine years since Malcolm’s death the world has become more complex and the problems facing humankind more profound and urgent in regards to climate change; poverty; the gulf between the rich and poor; political conflict fuelled by a multiplicity of factors; gender based violence and discrimination against women in particular parts of the world as well as the dispossession of land held by ordinary people whether in Brazil, Africa or Asia to the greed and profits of agribusiness and GMO cultivation that exacerbates food sovereignty. In the 1960s the FBI implemented the COINTELPRO against black radicals including the Black Panthers, today America arrogates itself the prerogative to listen to anyone’s conversation ヨ even those of its supposed friends such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Dilma Youssef of Brazil in order to defend its own interests. The arrogance of imperial power has not changed since the death of Malcolm nor has its commitment to the military and prison complex of America that has grown exponentially. Since 9/11 the civil liberties of Americans and all human beings are being eroded by the Patriot Act, rendition and racial profiling of Arabs/Muslims. Forty-nine years since the assassination of our ‘shining black prince’ (as Ossie Davis referred to Malcolm in his eulogy), the plight of black youth remains one of high unemployment and dashed hopes, whether they live in Somalia, Paris, Nairobi, Tunisia, Dakar, South Africa, Harlem or Yemen. As for America’s long-term unemployed and low-wage workers, despite Obama’s meeting with elements from America’s financial elite on the issue of long term unemployment, it is clear that the logic inherent in capitalism has no solution for these people since capitalism is the cause of long term unemployment and a low wage economy. As Ajamu Baraka argues it is the task of radical organisations in the US and elsewhere, to provide a counter-narrative and minimum program to neoliberal capitalism. Ultimately capitalism must be overhauled and replaced with a wholly egalitarian economic system that meets the needs of ordinary workers. Such workers and the long term unemployed must see their struggle as one that is connected to exploited textile workers of Bangladesh, Cambodia and the rest of the world. In reflecting on Malcolm’s life, it is clear he had an open mind; his ideological evolution and humility led him to reassess previously held positions. For example, after his Hajj to the Holy land where he had interacted with whites with the bluest of blue eyes, he re-assessed his position on white people and expressed in his ‘Autobiography’: ‘I tried in very speech I made to clarify my new position regarding white people ヨ ‘I don’t speak against the sincere, well-meaning, good white people. I have learned that there are some. I have learned that not all white people are racists. I am speaking against and my fight is against the white racists. I firmly believe that Negroes have the right to fight against these racists, by any means that are necessary.’ In the short but precious life of Malcolm X there are legacies he left people of African descent and all progressive people genuinely committed to his memory and ideology. We must seek to realise these legacies in our current times. 


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