Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Honoring the Legacy of Malcolm X

64 years ago yesterday on February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. Many people know of Malcolm X after reading about his life's story in The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Others have perhaps seen the Spike Lee Bio-pic, Malcolm X. And for a few others, they may have actually had the honor of hearing Malcolm X speak--or perhaps they even knew Malcolm X.

Although Malcolm X is often figured as a radical, particularly in opposition to the way we have sainted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the truth is, Malcolm X's message of black pride and black strength and black nationalism does not seem out of the ordinary at all--certainly not radical. The idea that an oppressed and disenfranchised minority would finally grow weary of mistreatment by larger institutional forces and would want to fight for basic rights and to assert their essential humanity. This is not a radical idea.

[Aside: One need only look to the recent uprisings in the Middle East to see that people the world over will always try to fight against tyranny when they have been pushed to a breaking point]

Yesterday on The Story with Dick Gordon (and NPR staple in my area) his special guest was Malcolm Shabazz, Malcolm X's grandson. I was, unfortunately, unable to hear the entire interview, but thankfully the entire show is available online (click here) and the part I did catch was apropos, for me, because Malcolm Shabazz recounted how, during his time in prison, friends of his grandfather reached out to him, reminding him of his grandfather's legacy and putting him in touch with other political prisoners--people fighting for justice. The first of his grandfather's friends to send him a letter was Yuri Kochiyama, a close friend of his grandparents and the first person besides Betty Shabazz to rush to Malcolm X's side after he was gunned down. In fact, she started CPR in an effort to keep him alive (this was recounted on The Story).

I had just been talking to my Asian American literature class that the field of Asian American literature and Asian American Studies owe a huge debt to African Americans, particularly those who took part in the Civil Rights movement. Asian Americans and African Americans have a history of shared struggle, which often gets ignored in more sensational and violent conflicts like the Red Apple Boycott or Latasha Harlins.

The legacy of Malcolm X--what his work and words meant--is larger than just his influence on African Americans. His words were for all of us--especially for any group of people who had been oppressed by a majority government and culture. And while it is fitting that I'm writing this post in his honor during African American Heritage and History month, we should be remembering and honoring Malcolm X's legacy every month of the year.

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