He would have celebrated 91 years of life today (May 19). What can be said about a man who captivated a nation? Malcolm X or Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz as he was known in the years prior to his death, is considered by many one of the most important voices of conscious thought. Ask any millennial what they love about Malcolm X and you are certain to hear one of his infamous quotes roll quickly off their tongues; “By any means necessary,” or his mantra to everyone, to “make it plain.”
Much has been written about Malcolm X and his views on race and the experiences of the Black American. He was a skilled orator who was unrelenting and unapologetic in his critique of America. It is his legacy of words that continue to resonate as issues of race, and bias draw lines of division across the country today. He believed that the path to equality for African Americans was based in America’s ability to embrace the humanity of all its citizens. “We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens until we are first recognized as humans,” El-Shabazz said.
And while Minister El-Shabazz was speaking about African Americans, his words beg this question: Have we as American lost our humanity as it relates to citizens who are different from us?
He was a man with a criminal past but who did not seek to hide his story. “To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace. I was formerly in prison and I’m not ashamed of that. You never can use that over my head,” Malcolm X said.
The man who once warned the nation about the “blue-eyed devils” “changed his pattern of thought” after he accomplished the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964. “You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage what I have seen and experienced, has forced me to rearrange much of my previous conclusions,” El-Shabazz wrote.
“Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and the overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood. I hold firm to my convictions but I am a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life as new experience and new knowledge unfolds. I have always kept an open mind, which is necessaryto the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.” The truth that he discovered about Muslims of all colors changed his life and his rhetoric.
“During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass and slept on the same rug while praying to the same God with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white.”
Many have written that the life of Malcolm X could be chronicled in three stages: as Malcolm Little the Machiavellian, Malcolm X, the Prophet of the Nation of Islam, and Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the voice of racial unity and equality. Malcolm X did not expect to live a long life. He told us so. The life of Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz transformed us as a nation but he was also transformed. In one of his final interviews he warned us of making sweeping indictments about any racial group. America, are we listening?
“I am not a racist. In the past I permitted myself to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race, and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to hurt. Because of my spiritual enlightenments I no longer subscribe to make sweeping indictments of any one race.”
Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz