This piece was originally written for Malcolm X’s birthday.
It’s Malcolm X’s birthday, and social media is soon to be bombarded with his speeches, images, and quotes, with a general theme of romanticized revolution. Although the content shared of Malcolm varies, a specific side of Malcolm is often depicted: the politically strong, passionate Afro-American that was bluntly outspoken about racism and white-supremacy. Through this, there is a communal indulging in Malcolm’s rage. In “Malcolm X and Black rage,” Cornel West (1992) refers to Malcolm as the prophet of rage. West points out his deep passion for Black African freedom, and profound belief in Black self-love fuels his rage. West indicates that as the evolving black identities continue to deal with perpetuated aggressions such as racism and misogyny, they relate and utilize Malcolm’s rage as point of reference. Not surprisingly, the alluring nature of his rage rooted in passion has also captivated other communities – even those that don’t relate to Malcolm’s vision of justice. For instance, in his chapter, “Malcolm X and the New Blackness,” Joe Woods (1992) discusses how neo-Nazis engage in Black rap because they relate to the anger it embodies. Although neo-Nazis’ anger has a different intent than that of black rage, their desire to identify with it goes deeper than an attempt to wear black subjectivity (wanting to be black). I believe it demonstrates the empowering nature of Black rage. Similarly, West (1992) points out that Malcolm believed the Black diaspora’s justified rage could be the foundation for seeking communal justice.
As indicated by West (1992), Malcolm didn’t live long enough to establish a theological or practical means of, “channeling Black rage in constructive channels to change American society.” Nevertheless, the continuation of his legacy includes oppressed communities identifying with his need to transform rage into proactive revolution. As a Black Muslim woman, I often attempt to conceptualize how the Muslim community relates to this productive rage he attempted to achieve. Due to Malcolm’s Muslim identity, and the relatable nature of his rage against white-supremacy, it is no surprise that the Muslim community places him at the centre when discussing Islamophobia.
To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Muslims’ expanding Malcolm to resist against racism and sexism which correspond with anti-blackness. Woods (1992) argues that Malcolm’s spirit is fluid, in that various communities “wear Malcolm’s mask” and identify with his rage. Similarly, when discussing the allegations of Malcolm being sexist, Angela Davis (1992) in, “Meditation on the Legacy of Malcolm X,” argues that when analyzing Malcolm’s legacy an innovative approach is required. Davis suggests that we shouldn’t restrict Malcolm to the time frame he lived, but focus on how his reasoning could be expanded to the present. Thus, expanding Davis’s (1992) argument, I believe utilizing Malcolm to discuss Islamophobia is innovative. It has the ability to expand discourse, and therefore, advance our knowledge of Islam in North America. While there is a common assumption that Islam in the Americas is due to mass Arab migration, its origins began with Muslim Black slaves that were kidnapped, and taken to the Americas.
However, my frustration arises from the manner in which the Muslim community engages with his rage, forcefully prioritizing their oppression over the needs of the Black community Malcolm served. While Malcolm was Muslim, the drive for his passionate anger was the ending of Black injustice, and belief in the endurance, superiority, and ability of Black subjectivity. Thus, utilizing Malcolm, as Joe woods (1992) points out, “is engaging in African American discourse.” Woods (1992) explains that each story that is written about Malcolm shows a certain side of him, but also hides another. Similarly, Muslims investing in Malcolm’s rage as the foundation for their liberation shows their oppression, but erases his Blackness and reduces him to a revolutionary tool. I believe this mimics White narratives, as discussed in Toni Morrison’s (1992) “Playing in the dark,” where literature silences Black agency, and reduces blackness to a literary tool to understand white ontology.
Therefore, the spirit of Malcolm is one associated with questioning and critiquing the oppressions the Black diaspora faces.Thus, when Brown and Arab Muslims engage with Malcolm’s rage, but ignore how their communities perpetuate anti-blackness he resisted, they are not loving Malcolm. It is very similar to the situation Joe Woods (1992) depiction of neo-Nazis ironically engaging with Black rap. It is iconizing his rage. It is reducing Malcolm to a commodity. Moreover, it is placing Malcolm’s legacy on a shelf for Brown and Arab self-gain, where he is fetishized, and engaged with only when their being is jeopardized, but placed back and silenced when the very Black community that inspired his rage is oppressed. Loving Malcolm is allowing him to become a symbol of justice by unpacking the anti-Blackness that exists within Muslim communities.
- Davis, Angela. (1992). Meditations on the Legacy of Malcolm X. In Malcolm X: In our own image (pp. 36-47). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
- West, Cornel. (1992). Malcolm X and Black Rage. In Malcolm X: In our own image (pp. 48-59). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
- Wood, J. R. (1992). Malcolm X: In our own image. New York: St. Martin’s Press.