El-Shabazz’ 95th Birthday: Happy Birthday Brother

Today would have been El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’ 95th birthday. I’ve been told by friends and mentors that I can’t have him as a hero if I want to be involved in politics. Dr. King – good. El-Sabazz – bad.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925. In prison he joined the Nation of Islam and became Malcolm X. In the 1960s he left the Nation of Islam, he performed the Muslim ritual pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj), embraced the Sunni Islam, and became known as el-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.

What changed him? Many things played a role in his evolution. Among them was the way his chosen faith truly saw people. During his ritual pilgrimage (the Hajj) he saw people of all colors, races, and ethnicities coming together. For someone who was indoctrinated by the Nation of Islam to believe that white people are devils, standing shoulder to shoulder in Islam’s holiest sanctuary with people with white skin and blue eyes in brotherhood and sisterhood had to have been confounding.

Coupled with his exposure to the diversity of Islam outside of the Nation of Islam, he toured various African nations, met with the leaders of several African countries, and engaged with the different people from these various nations. He was welcomed and loved. In his tour of African nations he saw the rich cultures, traditions, and heritage of black peoples and saw an opportunity to fight for justice in alliance with oppressed people across the world.

When he made his break with the Nation of Islam, and particularly after he returned to the United States after the Hajj and his tour of Africa, he renounced his racist views of white people. But he continued to speak truth to power (to the chagrin of many), and he remained focused on pointing out (and fighting against) the grave injustices that white America continued to heap on Black Americans.

So why would such a person be a bad role model for me or any other American today? Why is Malcolm X not revered in the same way that Dr. King is revered?

Maybe it’s fear. Malcolm X believed that self-defense was not a vice. He believed in fighting for freedom IF necessary.

He was assassinated on February 21, 1965. Dr. King was assassinated a little over three years later. They were assassinated because they were a danger to white supremacy.

Fast forward to 2020. It has been over a half a century since the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which came 101 years AFTER the emancipation proclamation, which came after centuries of enslavement).

America’s prisons and jails are disproportionately filled with black men, women, and children.

Unarmed black men are killed by law enforcement with impunity while white men can take over federal lands armed with AR-15s and other weapons of war and walk out safe and sound and we as a society cannot seem to see the disparities.

A 25 year old black man can be lynched in broad daylight while jogging, and despite having a video recording of his murder, the police fail to arrest the killers (remember – the killers were not arrested when law enforcement saw the video, but rather, when we saw it too).

Droves of white men and women can occupy a Michigan statehouse with massive amounts of firepower screaming and yelling at law enforcement, and they are able to leave unscathed.

Neo-nazi and white supremacist groups remain the number one source of terrorism in America.

Maybe holding up a man who stood for self-defense against violence scared our political leaders. Maybe our political leaders knew back in the 1960s that there was still a long and bloody road filled with violence to be traveled before de facto justice in the lives of Black people caught up with de jure freedoms consecrated in our law books.

If it’s acceptable to arm oneself with military assault rifles, handguns, ammunition, and engage in highly provocative behaviors when denied a haircut or a meal at Applebee’s, then wouldn’t it be at least as acceptable for those threatened with actual violence to arm themselves and to protect themselves?

What Malcolm X stood for is the same thing you and I stand for – a resolve to protect our families from those who would try to beat, rape or murder our loved ones and from those who would burn down our homes, our churches, and other holy places.

For most of us, this isn’t really a fear. It’s different if you are the “other” in the binary world view of hateful people. If you are a Black person, or a Jew, a Muslim, gay or transgender, an immigrant, and so on, then these fears in 21st century America are real.

Why can’t Dr. King and Malcolm X both be revered? Why can’t their respective strategies be joined together? Why can’t we be strong, prepared, and non-violent?

I want to pursue justice through non-violence as a choice, and not because I have no power to fight back. Non-violence for me is fine but not at the cost of failing to protect my family.

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